With a few tweaks Apple’s new ‘Mac mini’ could be a superb set-top box

“The apparent result of a mandate to shrink different, the Mac mini is a pioneering computer that, unlike previous small consumer Macs, is going to make a really terrible aquarium. It is intended to attract those who might not be ready for an iMac, but who are perhaps i-curious. With a little software and a few hardware tweaks, though, it could be a superb set-top box,” Peter Rojas writes for Engadget.

“At a third of the price and a smaller fraction of the size of the HP living room offering, the Mac mini is closer to the price of an XP Media Center Extender than the Media Center PC that its capabilities approach. It has ample computing horsepower to play and optionally record DVDs, store thousands of music files, and produce beautiful OpenGL-based high-resolution photo transitions that are beyond the scope of today’s best digital media receivers. Rip. Mix. Ken Burns. It lacks video capture and an IR blaster, but these could be added through FireWire or USB at the expense of a little bulk. There are also several capable PC remotes on the market, but Apple could probably design a more elegant one,” Rojas writes.

“While the Mac mini’s hard disk options fall a bit on the wee side for a digital video recorder (especially if Apple continues to embrace its new high-definition religion), there are still plenty of TiVo-based DVRs being sold with capacities of 40GB and 80GB. The computer costs as much as an entry-level TiVo device and lifetime subscription before rebate and, unlike with TiVo, one could easily add an external hard disk for more storage. It’s a foregone conclusion that at least one company, perhaps Elgato Systems, will develop some combination to turn the Mac mini into a capable Windows Media Center competitor, but it will be impossible for anyone but Apple to market such functionality with the support that, say, the iPod has received,” Rojas writes.

Much more in the full article here.


  1. Airport Express plus the Keyspan Remote Express thingamajig. That’s how you’d control it.

    Another thing with the mini is that I suppose you don’t necessarily have to keep it in the tin. If you took it out and put it in a bigger case, you could hook up a fast 3.5″ drive instead, using the same interface (it’s ATA100 isn’t it ?).

    So with the same MOBO, Apple has the hardware to make a PVR/Media centre of their own fairly simply. Big hard drive, Mac mini + some Elgato TV/Cable/Sat box would all fit inside a standard VCR sized box.

  2. I just sent the link to MDN, but I see that they scooped me. What MDN’s take didn’t mention, which I did in my submission, was the writer’s speculation that Apple didn’t introduce such a media center because they’re waiting to see how the CableCard thing pans out. Microsoft and TiVo are pressuring the FCC to accept CableCard, a standard that would allow manufacturers to plug cable-ready cards into their machines, thus giving consumers alternatives to the set-top boxes offered solely by cable companies. I said in my submission that Apple benefits by letting Microsoft use their political clout to push the issue, while at the same time by standing on the sidelines, they don’t appear to be siding with Microsoft.

  3. “Isnt the Mac Mini a computer, not a dvr?”

    Well, yes, but so are most set-top boxes/Media Centers.

    He definitely makes a good point. Add an EyeTV to the $599 Mac mini and you have a home entertainment center for watching/recording/time-shifting TV, viewing photos, viewing music (iTunes visualizer…mmm….), making your own movies, etc.

    About the only drag, as he states, is the hard drive size. Frankly, even if you’re a true do-it-yourselfer who believes that warranties are for wimps, I think the biggest 2.5 inch hard drive you can get is 100MB. That said, I’m not certain if you could have EyeTV use the main hard-drive for recording and then copy the recorded show to an external Firewire drive. If so, that would be solve the problem (as well as giving you all your pre-recorded programs on the go–perfect for viewing on your laptop).

    Again, it’s a neat idea that someone might decide to package up and sell.

  4. How to control it?

    The iPod user interface is a compelling paradigm for the management of photos. It could reasonably be simply a component of a traditional remote. I would look for internal key lighting from a group with their production standards.

  5. I envisage a computer-projector, and the mini is a good start, but lacks the projector lamp to project, on a blank wall, whatever you want, be it your tv screen or your slide show. In other words, add the presentation device to the computer, and now you’ve got a really useful tool to make presentations. And project your movie in a pinch in a motel room. Just make sure you ask for white walls.

    Why not be the first to combine a computer and a slide/computer projecter? It’s a simple concept: who needs to take a laptop and a computer projector on a plane to make a presentation anyway?

    Of course, when I wrote Apple they wrote back to say they didn’t accept new ideas. Well, maybe Dell will. Havaniceraceguys.

  6. What looked intriguing to me was using the Mac Mini / EyeTV combo with some of the freeware streaming stuff to enable all of these:

    1) watching recorded TV from the Mac Mini as a DVR (or any other computer on your network)

    2) watching live TV from another networked computer (when the TV’s in use)

    3) using the Mac Mini / TV as a second computer (when your other computer’s in use)

  7. if only the dang thing would BOOT headless… then we’d have something. Using some type of remote control software(Apple Desktop Remote), you could sit on your couch with your powerbook and tell it what to do.. what to record, what to play back.. and when..

    I LIKE the fact that its small….. but don’t want yet another monitor near my TV.

  8. I have an El Gato EyeTV 200 (I also bought one of the original USB devices) which is a small aluminum box which contains Cable In, Audio In, Video In, and Firewire (2).

    It works great. Software is rock solid (set it and forget it) and comes with a remote control device for playback (not for using the Mac).

    So, it’s still two steps:

    1 – hardware box to convert incoming video to the Mac
    2 – software to schedule and record and playback video

    I’d look for ElGato to change box styles to match the Mac mini.

    Regardless, Apple may not be thinking so mundane as a set top box. Everyone’s got one and TiVo is considered the best. Why re-invent that wheel?

    Besides, isn’t there an initiative called the CableCARD? Isn’t that objective to move the set top box “standard” back into the TV? If so, then the Mac would have a “universal standard” to adhere to.

    Tera (I’ll endorse and iPod shuffle for money) Patricks

  9. Well for the LIFE of me, why all this “Mini Media Madness?

    Sure, its small… but doesn’t someone have an extra Mac laying around doing just this Media thing already?

    I mean I understand how cute it may be next to the Plasma TV, but I just don’t understand why all these media ideas are coming out just because the thing is…… small.

  10. I’ve used the El Gato EyeTV, too. Works great. Very Mac-like.

    I see a problem getting video out of the Mac and into your TV with decent quality. The EyeTV as I understand it uses the Mac screen for your TV, not your TV. I’ve heard of DVI to NTSC adapters but don’t know how they’d work.

    Doesn’t this start to become a very kludgy system, though?

    It’s gotta work seamlessly and it doesn’t. Even ElGato’s EyeTV and EyeHome (more than the price of the Mac mini) doesn’t quite get there, since iTMS “protected” music can’t play.

    BTW – Tera, love you, baby. You can “endorse” my iPod any time.


Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.