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.

  9. I’m sorry but as far as Plex is concerned the software is to complicated and you need to create a whole new database for all your media. Which means now you need to double your storage because what you had in iTunes now has to also go in Plex. If Plex could just read from iTunes it would make much more sense. Plex also can’t seem to distinguish media types either which makes the job even harder to get movies separated from TV shows and so on.

    1. If you store your media outside of the iTunes library, you can have both iTunes and Plex access the same files. There’s a checkbox in the preferences to avoid copying files to the iTunes library. I do this. It does mean adding files to both Plex and iTunes lists, but it’s worth it for the flexibility.

  10. I have a 2010 Mini under my plasma. It goes HDMI for video to my Pioneer receiver and optical to my 24/96 DAC for music, which is then fed to my receiver, which is hooked to my plasma via HDMI.

    I don’t have cable, so I watch iTunes movies, NetFlix and Amazon Prime, but I mostly listen to my LossLess/HiRes music library that is stored on an external FireWire drive, with another external FireWire for SuperDuper and Time Machine.
    I will be switching to USB to the DAC as soon as I get an asynchronous USB/SPDIF converter for coax, which is why I don’t load down the USB bus with peripherals.(My DAC’s USB is 16/44.1)

    I have a trackpad and wireless keyboard (both Apple) to control it, although for music I generally leave the TV off and use the remote app, or if using Audirvana in classic mode, screenshare from my MacBook Pro or iMac….or iTeleport on the iPhone.

    I also have an AppleTV hooked to the receiver and wired to my Extreme (as is the Mini), but the music sounds dull and I have no reason to stream movies that are already loaded on the Mini. It works great, though….

  11. Why did Apple drop Front Row other than to drive buyers to the Apple TV that was promptly ruined by elimination of the HD for the Hockey Puck design?

  12. This article makes it seem complex. AppleTV is great ‘because’ it doesn’t have local storage.

    My setup:

    Synology Diskstation: 12TB raid 5
    Bedroom: Dell mini PC (no longer made) running XBMC 12
    Livingroom: Mac Mini running XBMC

    Both are connected to the NAS. Share the same library.

    If you want Plex: click the ‘install Plex’ button on the synology NAS… Done (I am playing with that now)

    XBMC plays whatever you want in whatever format you rip your DVD and Blue Ray. NEVER download a pirate video!

    XBMC (Plex is a fork, I believe) has all the pugins you want for Vimeo, YouTube, revision 3, TWIT, Apple podcasts. Etc etc etc.

    If only we had Plex iOS app on AppleTV or XBMC on Apple TV… But AppleTV is a competitor for these apps… Oh well.

    But AppleTV does extremely well with Synology iTunes Server

    Why so tough?

  13. Funny … as I read all these posts I have to wonder – at what point is Apple going to get the picture?

    Reports say they’re trying to enter into some kind of super-deal (that surely ends with us paying more, not less) with the studios to get content, and that’s what’s holding up Jobs’ vision of what the ATV could be.

    Yet here it’s very clear that getting content is not the problem – it’s mainly getting the content we already have to play on all our devices in a unified, easy to use interface.

    When Apple makes an ATV that can dvr like TiVo, push content like Roku, store content locally (either on the device or with an external drive), as well as have access to iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, HULU, etc … maybe even hook up an external BluRay drive to … I have a feeling it will be ‘game over’ for any competitors, and the beginning of something great for consumers.

    Corporations can be soooo stupid.

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