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Mac Mini Media Center

©Apple

Using the Mac Mini 2010 as a Media Center

A multi-purpose device plugged in your TV is not easy to find. Imagine that you can read DVD, music, photos, but also surf on Internet from your couch on a single machine. If you are demanding, you would need to broadcast (cable, Satellite or digital terrestrial television) and to record programs. Read videos in high definition would also be very useful. It is possible to perform these activities on a personal computer, some call it HTPC. Network media tanks (like Popcorn Hour ), also known as “Multimedia Hard Drive”, can make a part of wanted tasks, it is sufficient most of the time. Some Broadband modems delivered by ISPs reach the level of service we are seeking, but without the freedom to configure exactly the regulations. The Mac brings a small thing moreover: ease of use and ergonomic. Mac Mini is thus completely adapted to this kind of use. In the absence of HDMI, something was missing to the previous version of Mac Mini. Apple TV is not rather powerful for the tasks normally planned for that purpose, and the version 2 of Apple TV is a closed box which misses flexibility. In its last iteration, Mac Mini connects directly to a television set, a best! Unfortunately, Apple charges expensively: 699$. Add 135$ if you wish a more powerful processor, and 90$ to double the RAM. The price fell, in October were needed 799$ to acquire the basic model. In recent months, the 2010 model lost his DVD player, as well as its graphics card ! Nothing insurmountable if you want to use this machine a media center , especially if your DVDs are in the cellar for a long time ... In the other hand the processor gains in power , the affected hard drive is now 1TB and RAM delivered is 8GB , more than enough. If you run out of resources, now Apple offers "low cost" Mac Mini for € 499 , however I do not recommend it because the processor is really too short to keep up (HD sound stream and Ultra High Definition).

Let's see how this small jewel works in a living room!

1. Requirements

1.1 Hardware

-Mac Mini 2010

-HDMI Cable

-Apple remote. Formerly delivered with the computer, you now need to buy this 19$ device. There are no small profits at Apple! The quality and simplicity of the remote is obviously worth it. Any other compatible universal remote control will do otherwise.

- Keyboard (USB / Bluetooth)

- Mouse (USB / Bluetooth)

1.2 Software

-Plex http:// www.plexapp.com/

-Serviio http://serviio.org/

-Perian http:// www.perian.org/ Still working, although no more update is to expect !

1.3 On option

These accessories will improve your experience, but are not mandatory.

- DTT USB key (EyeTV for instance) https://www.geniatech.eu/eyetv/

- Hard drive (USB and Firewire)

- Minidisplayport adapter, VGA or DVI + Monitor to use Mac as a desktop computer.http://www.apple.com/fr/shop/product/MB570Z/B/adaptateur-mini-displayport-vers-dvi?mco=MTExNzk1MzI

-iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch + Apps: Remote (free) and Touchpad/RowMote (not very expensive)

-Amplifier + optical cable + Toslink adapter (this adapter allows to connect the optical cable in the mini-jack entry of earphones).

Or if you are not equipped with an amplifier with optical entry:

-Amplifier + cable mini-jack towards RCA (the white and red grips which connect directly on the amplifier).

Or if your amplifier is far away from the Mac:

-Airport to receive the sound of iTunes on your amplifier and connect your printer far from the computer. This device is quite expensive though, try to keep the amplifier near the Mac! https://www.apple.com/airport-express/

- Software: EyeTV, XBMC become Kodi https://kodi.tv/, Transmission http://www.transmissionbt.com/

- Windows 7 or Windows 10, depending on the version of OS X you have

 

2. Implementation

2.1 Connections

It is rather easy to organize all the cables, because the grips are all behind the device. Plan the limit of 4 grips USB. You can use them very quickly: for example with an external hard drive, a printer, a keyboard and a webcam. A USB hub (compatible 2.0) allows to add grips if needed. Note that hubs or deported grips (on the wired keyboard for example) may not offer enough electric current for your peripherals. It is indeed necessary to know the USB does not deliver electricity on long distances, for example the external hard drive demand important electric resources. Also think of the Firewire800 grip, which allows connecting an external disk for example, even if the models supporting this standard are rare!

2.2 Starting up

First surprise: it is necessary to connect a keyboard and a mouse. Do not believe that you can use it with the remote control only, as an improved Apple TV. It is at first an excellent computer. Become used to the idea that you can install programs which are going to simplify your life!

2.3 Additional installations

Perian: this software allows reading most of the audio and video formats which circulate on the net.

Plex: A program integrated into OS X allows you to read videos, photos and music on your TV, it is “Frontrow”. Plex allows you to do more, so… get rid of Frontrow! Seriously, the program is very good. Before using it you need to place your music, your photos, your movies and your television series about different directories (best still is to create partitions dedicated on your hard disks). Plex's exploration tool will analyze the contents of these directories. Thanks to free databases as “Freebase”, “Personal Media” or “TVDB”, the detailed information of each file are downloaded. This rather long phase starts in the first use, then after every modification in the directory or in the interval you decided. Believe me, your media library deserves it. Indeed, the synopsis, photos and art of a movie create a real added value in your Media-Center. The year of release of movies or the genre of a television series for example allow a sorting or search criteria. Update: Plex is not the best choice: choose Serviio instead !

2.4 Options

2.4.1 Remote,Touchpad and RowMote

If you have an iDevice (iPod, iPhone, iPad or Android), it is possible to use it as an interface to control the Mac from your sofa. For instance, “Remote” is the official Apple application to control iTunes from an iPhone or an iPod Touch. This application also works on PC. You need to be on the same WiFi network as the Mac. A code is shown on the screen of your device, just type it with your keyboard in iTunes. At this point, you can control the music in the palm of your hand: launch playlists, skip from a song to the other one, change the sound level and find the covers of all your albums.

Touchpad software (3,99$ on App Store) allows you to transform the tactile surface of your device into a trackpad. It's also a mini keyboard to make a Google search, or a small remote control. For the application to work, it will be necessary to go at first to the parameters "Sharing", then "Regulations of screen sharing ", and to authorize the takeover by VNC.

Another App is “RowMote” (two versions: 0,79$ for the remote, 3,99$ to add a keyboard and a pad). For Android users, download “RemoteDroid”.

RowMote, does almost the same things. You can choose: « lite » (0,79 $ on App Store) with a remote and« pro » (3,99 $) which adds a keyboard and a trackpad . First download RowMote Helper , who runs on the Mac and transmit the commands. After installation, it runs on startup, and it's doesn't use much RAM. RowMote supports many applications. It's very useful to launch an application from your sofa with this program.

2.4.2 Windows

Thanks to Bootcamp, the Apple software which allows the installation of Windows on Mac, it is possible to have the best of both worlds! The guide to install Windows is available on this address. After a quite long installation of Windows (XP SP2, Vista or Seven) you will have the choice to start your favorite system. At start up, you need to leave the finger on the option button (alt). It is then necessary to double click the icon of the disk you wish to start on. Do not to click the arrow below the disk, it would have consequence to select the default OS: then you start Windows every time.

2.4.3 EyeTV

The decoding of the DTT signal is very practical now that mini Mac is directly connected on the TV! The DTT USB key of the brand Elgato and the EyeTV software are particularly well implemented on Mac. The full screen mode is useful with the Apple remote control. It is even possible to make PIP (Picture in picture) on certain models, as well as to have access to the EPG (Electronic program guide). You can schedule the recording of a program via Gracenote (since the tvtv doesn't work with elgato anymore).

2.4.4 Transmission

The minimalist bittorrent software allows you to download files (legal ones of course). Here is the method if you want to watch the progress of the download on your portable device: specify the address http://x.x.x.x:9091/transmission/Web from home, x.x.x.x being the IP address of the Mac and 9091 the specified port. You can also stop the download, suspend it, etc....

2.4.5 XBMC (Kodi)

Why installing another Media-Center software if Plex gives you satisfaction? XBMC (Xbox Media Center) is the software from which was developed Plex. "Kodi" is the new name of the project.The difference is that Kodi is not Mac-only. It is a question of taste and implementation with the Mac universe, some say “Macosphere”. You thus have to test both to choose! The advantage of the this software is its universality and its ability to react: the development is made in a quasi-voluntary way by passionate persons' team. In other words the improvements are regular and of quality. Without going into details, know that this software offers a largest number of regulations, and the access to scripts and additional skins. Some movies are not recognized by Plex's library tool. You can install this software and watch only the movies you don't want to import in the Plex library.You will also find a virtual remote control for iPhone, completely customizable, available on the App Store.

 

remotetouchpad

vnc

xbmc

3. Regulations

3.1 Dual Screen, how?

The second screen can be used as extension to the main screen, for example if you connect a monitor and a TV as second display. In the preferences, go to "Monitor": the tab "Arrangement" presents a plan with the screens connected to your configuration. You can select the "master" screen by sliding the bar above the screen presented on this plan. If you choose the option “copy video”, both screens are then identical. Keep an eye on the ratio between your TV screen and the monitor. The TV is often 16/9, while your monitor can be 4/3 (the main screen will determine the ratio of the other screen). Black stripes are added to complete the secondary screen. But if you do not duplicate both screens, then you can slide windows on the right to tip over the display on the other screen. To simplify things, and if you do not want to slide windows every time, it is possible to automate certain regulations.

Plex: by sliding the screen of Plex on the secondary screen, the software remembers automatically on which screen to start. Use Serviio instead !

XBMC: on the software XBMC, it is necessary to go to the parameters System and to choose the video output: display "Full Screen 2".

EyeTV: in the preferences, select the tab "Full Screen" and define the display on the TV screen. It is possible to switch off the main screen as soon as the mode full screen is launched.

3.2 Remote control: under control!

With these tips, you will decide which software should be launched, without switching the main screen on. Let's begin with a Mac mini in “sleep” mode.

Start waking up your Mac by launching the “TouchPad” or “RowMote” software. It's the “WOL”: Wake On Lan. Unfortunately, Mac computers produced before 2009 don't have this functionality. You can also press a button of your Apple Remote control, it wakes up your Mac !

EyeTV: If this software is activated (shown in the menu bar on top), then you can press and hold the "Menu" button 2 seconds to launch the full screen mode.

Important notice! For older versions of OS X, FrontRow starts automatically if you press shortly the « Menu » button. To stop this, put FrontRow elsewhere (change its position on the hard drive from System/Library/CoreServices to Documents). Don't delete FrontRow, it might be useful one day ;-)

You can also download « TV Row ». This software lets you decide on which screen FrontRow will be displayed! If you have a TV as secondary display, it's a very simple solution: http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/30081/tv-row

3.3 Loudspeakers

The internal loudspeaker, well… it works, period. It will allow you to listen to a conversation in Skype or to a background music on a website, but not much … Connected to an amplifier via the digital grip, you can obtain a pure sound and without disturbances. Another simpler solution remains obviously to bring out the sound by your television set via the HDMI cable. Of course, it is necessary to leave the TV switched on…

Note: the internal loudspeaker works by default when you launch Windows via BootCamp. If the jack is connected, the loudspeaker works all the same! But you can select another peripheral manually in the control panel.

3.4 Microphone

If you want to record your voice or talking with somebody in Skype, note that you can plug the headphones of the iPhone.

4. Dysfunctions

4.1 Plex /Serviio

The database does not recognize my favorite movie! The movie "Président" with Albert Dupontel, becomes "The President and Miss Wade" in your film library! There is no solution, but to modify the name of the video file by specifying the year of the movie for example.

Plex doesn't understand accents. Pay attention to the presence of accented characters in the names of your video files : with " éèêàäçêôâ..." as in "Le père Noël est une ordure" If only one of your files contains such characters, then all your subtitles will not function automatically. Yep, it's a bug ! This means pick yourself the right subtitle file ( .srt or .sub ) corresponding to the video you want to watch. If you have 600 films and TV episodes , you will have a look for the names of all files and replace them with unaccented letters ( eg " le pere noel est une ordure.avi " ) . It's long but it will prevent you from trouble every time you want to watch a movie with subtitles !

 

4.2 Crash

Mini Mac is equipped "only" with 2 Go of RAM. If you are too greedy, (you launched five apps including “Aperture”), and you try to edit a video, you will then have the following result: crash! The multicolored wheel begins turning infinitely. Press for a long time on the power button behind the device to switch off the machine, and wait for some seconds to restart it. Fortunately, the addition of RAM memory is easy: you need to turn the black disk below the device to reach memory. The second-hand market will allow you to equip yourselves with memory at a very affordable cost.

5. Notes and references

Apple official website in French: http://www.apple.com/fr/macmini/

in English: http://www.apple.com/macmini/

6. See also

6.1 Articles

In english: http://osxdaily.com/2010/03/22/how-to-setup-a-mac-mini-as-a-media-center-server-and-remote-torrents-box/

http://www.wegotserved.com/2010/10/25/create-mac-mini-media-center-part-1/

Start guide for Plex (if you still want to use it):

https://support.plex.tv/hc/en-us/sections/200056078-Quick-Start-Guide

6.2 Forums

http://forums.macgeneration.com/mac-mini/mac-mini-en-media-center-295861.html

 

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mis à jour le 10/12/2017 à 22h17