Using Apple’s Mac mini as your Media Center

“According to analysts – Gene Munster, of Piper Jaffray, in particular – Apple is soon to launch a revolutionary Apple TV device,” Johnny Winter writes for Mactuts+. “Don’t mistake this for another Apple ‘hobby’ – it’s not going to be a set-top box. This is going to be the real-deal, Siri-enabled, iCloud-attached, iOS-controlled, large flat-panel to dominate your living room! Apparently.”

“But since Gene has been banging on about this for three years or more (Apple has its ‘hobby,’ and Gene has his), the Mac mini makes for a pretty good media centre in the meantime,” Winter writes. “It runs silent, draws little power and can be upgraded relatively easily if you are confident and competent with paint stripper (yes, seriously!) and a screwdriver. Even if you don’t fancy getting handy with tools, plugging in a large external drive to house your media is sufficient, even over USB 2.0.”

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Winter writes, “In it’s current form, neither the Apple TV 2 and Apple TV 3 are able to store media locally nor can they install third party client apps. For that reason, we need to find other ways of getting audio and video to the television. Some of this can be done with Apple’s AirPlay, the rest with third-party software solutions.”

Much more in the full article here.


  1. Me too. Got one at the end of last year. Stuck a second 1TB disk into it. TV shows on the system disk, movies on the 2nd disk. I still mouse around with a wireless trackpad and use QT/VLC/etc., though. I really don’t like Plex or XBMC. Am hoping that the Air Video folks add a “Play On Server” button to their iOS app in the future. (Air Video is a VERY nice, easy, straightforward system.)

  2. Having seen Johnny Winter in concert many times over the years, it’s interesting to see him branch out into Mac journalism, though this may not have been what his brother Edgar meant when he told him to consider setting down the guitar and trying the keyboard.

  3. Whats wrong with the “Computer” feature on the Apple TV? I use the Apple TV to Access my home iMac which stores all my media. I can play anything I want from it. Why do I need a Mac Mini?

          1. Air Video server can transcode on the fly. Air play to ATV. I used to have a mini connected to the tv. Now I have it as a headless server. The only thing you don’t get is plex, xmbc, etc.but I don’t use them anyway

    1. Winter writes, “In it’s current form, neither the Apple TV 2 and Apple TV 3 are able to store media locally nor can they install third party client apps.”

      -you have to jailbreak an AppleTV to play content not supported by iTunes (with a Mac mini you can play all media content via VLC, Plex etc.).
      -you have to have a computer on running iTunes with home sharing turned on to play movies from the “My Computers”. Have the content local eliminates this issue.

  4. This is what I have set up for the last 4 years
    Mac mini
    Multple external hard drives
    1 hard drive stores iTunes data
    Other hard drives used for time machine back up
    HDTV hooked up to mini
    Hd monitor in next room hooked up to mini
    I can control min remotely either with share screen on Mac or a remote app on my phone or iPad.
    Can play content from iTunes, vlc, or hbo go etc
    Works very well
    Also have an Apple TV which can do almost all of that now but was not available when I set this up.

    Cost about $900 including Bluetooth mousepad and keyboard so the mini can be used as a regular computer as well.

    1. @Bob and @Doggonetoo-

      This sounds fascinating.

      Have no idea how it works, but you guys have piqued my interest. Wondering, have you cut the cord, or do you need a cable connection? Also, can you record content like a DVR? Apologies for all the questions.

      Just trying to get a handle on how it ALL works. Any websites or go to information appreciated, thanks.

      1. Have you checked out Play Later? It allows you download almost any content to you computer that is on the Internet. Some channels require a subscription while the major ones that are over the air do not. It does require a one time subscription fee to play later, but you can download tons of tv shoes legally to your computer. It can also tie into Netflix and other pay-for services as well.

  5. I find using the $99 AppleTV to connect directly to the Internet for content and to my iMac for LAN streaming of my movies and music works very well. That, along with AirPlay for direct streaming from an iPhone or iPad for odds and ends pretty much closes the deal. Then, add in a CPU with the power to run Apps and Bluetooth for remotes, along with regular software updates directly from the Internet. Comparing this to Google’s Chromecast dongle is laughable.

    1. I tried that. I find my XBOX and Panny blu ray player are better at it than my ATV3, they have more flexibility for media formats, network and attached device support. Hello USB external drive, why don’t you work on my ATV ? Because SJ said so !

  6. You don’t need a separate mac mini media center — just a mac as your desktop computer anywhere in your house. My setup:
    – Mac Mini in my home office with plex (and air video server for phone and iPad access to videos – works better than Plex for iOS)
    – External hard drive to hold all media files connected to Mac
    – Airport network with house-wide coverage (one Airport Extreme and 2 Expresses do it for me).
    – A cheap Roku unit for each TV, which will run Plex, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, MLB, and if you have EyeTV, recorded TV as well.
    – Airplay direct from Airport Express to stereo amp for music.

  7. I have a 2011 mini I use as a media server in one room, and my AppleTV shares content stored on the mini’s hard drive, connected to a 60″ LCD in another. It’s such an amazing setup that I wonder why more people don’t know about Apple’s prowess in entertainment systems. I can play an HD movie, stored on my mini, in the living room and control everything from my iPhone. Nirvana.

  8. I like the Mac mini, but Apple really needs to scale it back to $499 (or less) again. For something that does not include a monitor, keyboard, mouse nor even optical drive anymore, $600 just seems a bit much for Apple’s most affordable Mac.

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