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Today's Show:
We first talked about using a Mac Mini as a video server way back in March of 2007. It has served us well now housing more than 150 movies, almost 1500 songs and podcasts, and dozens of HDTV that was recorded via the HD Homerun. Just over two years later we have upgraded one of our three Mac Minis with the latest offering from Cupertino. The version the HT Guys chose was the $799 model that comes with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. The older Minis did a good job with almost all the video we through at it. The one exception is overly compressed 1080i content. So how does the new Mini hold up with 1080i and 1080p? Listen in...

Mac Mini Video Server Update

Setup:
The Mac Mini is connected via the DVI port to a Yamaha switching receiver. An HDMI to DVI cable is used for this connection. The new Mac Mini has a mini DVI port but fortunately Apple includes a Mini to regular DVI adapter. Audio is connected to the receiver via a mini TOSLINK cable. They run about $6 and are available at the HT Guys Store. The Mini has two Terabytes of external storage connected to the USB ports. Ara may remove the external storage and connected it to the old Mac Mini and make the old Mini act as a central storage for the entire network. There is also a HD Homerun on the network streaming OTA HD content to all computers on the network.

As far as additional software goes, we added a SlingPlayer so you can watch HD content streamed from the Slingbox Pro HD connected to another TV on the network. We added El Gato's EyeTV which turns the Mac mini into a DVR for OTA content. The El Gato software is nice that it will convert recorded programs into AppleTV format so that if you use the HD Homerun with an iMac you can watch the recordings with an AppleTV. For DVD cataloging the Mac Standard is DVDPedia. When you combine DVDPedia with the free FrontRow Plugin there is simply nothing better out here for cataloging and playback on a Mac Video Server. The last piece of software that ties the system together is Remote Buddy. It turns the Apple Remote into a very powerful device for controlling your system.

1080p:
For this test we downloaded a 1080p video clip from the Internet and we watched Apple 1080p movie trailers. The 1080p movie trailers were a breeze for the new Mini. But to be honest with you the older Minis had no problem with them either. The difficult test was the 15 second 1080p video clip that was downloaded to the Mini. In this case the video was choppy when played on the older Minis. The same video played back smoothly on the new Mini. This was the first indication that the new design showed a significant improvement over the old.

EyeTV:
EyeTV was another place the older Mini had issues. It did a great job recording and playing back 720p content but it had a difficult time with 1080i content. Especially overly compressed 1080i content. The New Mini performed well here too. Our test case was basketball on CBS. There is a lot of fast motion in sports and with the older Mini it was unwatchable. The new Mini did not show any motion artifacts even on 1080i channels.

FrontRow:
Frontrow worked well with the older Minis so it was no surprise that it worked well with the new one.

Hulu, Netflix, and online streaming:
Worked the same as earlier Mini.

SlingPlayer:
This is a place where having more power may come in handy. Once Sling releases the version 2.0 software for the Mac it will allow HD streaming from the Slingbox Pro HD. The current Slingbox software works fine on older Minis but the added capability of HD may require more horsepower. The new Mini should be able to handle the task with no issues.

iTunes:
No problem here. The Mac Mini plays everything locally as well as anything on any networked computers. We tested HD content downloaded via iTunes store on the computer in the media room and had no issues playing over the LAN.

Conclusion:
If you liked the old Mac Minis you love the new Minis. As a media server the new Mini is more capable. You can save some money by buying the low end Mini and adding additional RAM. While the 320GB hard drive is nice you will need to add more space anyway so you may as well spend your money on a NAS or a DROBO. We are still waiting for a true Macintosh HTPC but for those who can't wait the addition of the HD Homerun and El Gato's EyeTV software is all you need to create your own DVD Server/HTPC.

Posted by The HT Guys, March 19, 2009 11:38 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.