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Old May 15th, 2005, 02:33 PM   #1
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Mac Mini as Media Center review

OK... So I've wanted to have a Mac Based media center. The following is a short review of a Mac Mini and a Sony KV-34HS420 HDTV.

The TV.

I'm using a Sony KV-34HS420 which is a 34" Widescreen CRT HDTV. It support 1080i, 720i and 480 (which is most HDTV resolutions). It has several inputs from S-Video, Component, Composite, Coax and HDMI. With a good digital source the picture is stunning, analog feeds are not nearly as good (why Cogeco can't get channels 2-75 through in a digital signal in Grimsby is beyond me).

The Mac Mini

I went with the base model 1.25 Ghz, 256mb RAM 40 GB 4200RPM drive. Very sweet little package... clearly some one thought of this as a consumer item and planned for it accordingly (nice packaging). Literally take it out and plug it in (with a computer monitor that is... more on this in a minute). Took a few minutes to run through the setup and I was able to pull over my music and photos. Plugged in the firewire drive where I keep my iPhoto and iTunes libraries and at first was alarmed because asked me to initialize the drive. not wanting to format my drive I turned the drive off and plugged it in again and the machine immediately recognized it (whew). Copied my photos (~13,500 photos and about 11GB of data) and my music (~3000 songs close to 12GB of data).

I setup up VNC server (which is recommended when using a Mac mini with a HDTV) and couple of other utilities such a Salling Clicker and DisplayConfigX and ScreenRez. Time to plug it in...

The Mac Mini and the Sony 34HS420

I was prepared to use either a DVI to HDMI cable or the DVI to VGA to Composite cable/adapter combination. I first tried the DVI to HDMI cable... nothing blank screen. OK so i try playing with DisplayConfig, still nothing (fine i thought the cable must be bad as I payed $10 for the cable off of eBay as opposed to $150 for the cab;e from the Futureshop). So I switched to the DVI/VGA adapter with a VGA to Composite cable. So I get the screen to flicker and after 20-30 frustrating minutes I have a distorted image on the screen. Now I'm getting very frustrated as this is of course a Mac and these things should be plug and play.

In a fit of frustration I go back to the DVI to HDMI cable... I check the connection, OOOpppsss my mistake the connection at the back of the TV was not all the way in. Push it in all the way and presto, a very bright mostly clear image on the screen. Woohoo! However there is a problem... overscan (which I expected hence why I was using DisplayConfigX). So another 20 minutes of frustration and still no luck I switch to ScreenRez and after looking up some values I get a reasonably clear picture at 1182x686 where most of the screen is visible. The colours are of course vibrant, however there is a lot of geometry problems with the display on the TV (since the Sony has very basic geometry controls I'm SOL and the menu bar has noticeable waves in it).

So now that I have a working screen I can start to play with things. I knew up front that 256 MB of memory isn't a lot... however I was unprepared for the total hit my media would place upon this little box. I run my iPhoto from my 12" PB 867 with 640 MB ram and an external firewire 160GB 7200RPM 8MB cache drive where I store my iPhoto library of 13 000 photos (yes thirteen thousand... I've been busy for the past couple of years with family photos). The combination of 256MB of RAM and a 4200RPM drive and 13000 photos made iPhoto on the Mac Mini incredibly slow. Everything slowed down.

Now I know I can add more memory and relocate the external drive to my TV, but I am totally unhappy with the screen resolution that I have with the TV/Mini combo. I'm spoilt because when I plug my Macs into a consumer device like a Camera or Video Camera... it just works. The hours of fiddling with the TV was a terrible experience and the results are less than stellar.

At this point I'm thinking very seriously about returning the Mini and just adding a GB of RAM to my PB and a 5400 RPM 80GB drive. I can just as easily put it under the TV when I want to look at photos or listen to iTunes.

Anyone else tried this and get better results than I did?
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Old May 15th, 2005, 03:01 PM   #2
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I haven't tried hooking mine up to the tv yet, others are reporting some success...
here's some links....
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forum...hp?forumid=115

http://www.machtpc.com/
http://www.macminicenter.com/wiki/in...itle=Main_Page
http://www.hometheatermac.com/

http://www.centerstageproject.com/

Are you using Tiger?
Also I read somewhere that ATI released new drivers

Last edited by Ottawaman; May 15th, 2005 at 03:56 PM.
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Old May 16th, 2005, 02:22 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ottawaman
I haven't tried hooking mine up to the tv yet, others are reporting some success...
here's some links....
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forum...hp?forumid=115

http://www.machtpc.com/
http://www.macminicenter.com/wiki/in...itle=Main_Page
http://www.hometheatermac.com/

http://www.centerstageproject.com/

Are you using Tiger?
Also I read somewhere that ATI released new drivers
I'm going to load Tiger this evening... I have installed the new ATI driver... it didn't help. Also the Centerstage Alpha won't run nor Quicksilver.

So much potential... If I were to guess at things I think Apple is holding back fixing these issues for a Mac Mini Media Center product.
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Old May 16th, 2005, 03:12 PM   #4
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"I went to my local high end audio and video store here in San Antonio. I brought my Mac Mini so I could see which TV displayed the video the best.

All of the televeisions Samsung, Mistubishi, etc were able to display my Mac Mini very well using a DVI or DVI to HDMI convertor EXCEPT FOR SONY!!"

http://www.macworld.com/forums/ubbth...44&type=thread

"From Fred Connors, Jr. (Thanks!)...
I have had some success in getting my Mac Mini to display on the SONY KD-34XBR960.

First, I discovered that when I removed the DVI cable from back of the Mini and connected the DVI for the SONY, the Mac Mini would in fact recognize the SONY as a 1920X1080 display and sync to that setting, not retaining the setting from the previous monitor. However the SONY will not function at 1080p (only 1080i is supported in the Sony) so the screen was always black. I found this by installing Timbuk2 Pro, remote control software, on the Mac Mini and another Mac on my home network. This also allows me to control the display preference and set the Mini to HDTV720p as a starting point for adjusting DisplayConfigX.

Second, I then found that you cannot adjust the Vertical Front Porch in DisplyConfigX. So I can't correctly setup the vertical positioning of the display. Harald Schweder of DisplyConfigX fame has confirmed this issue and he thinks it will be working in Mac OSX-4, Tiger.

Sorry I cannot give you exact setting figures for the SONY KD-34XBR960, but I will send my interim numbers."


http://tenant.com/mini.php
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