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Why not a Mac Mini?


tedweitz
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Hello,

 

Just Googled into this site as I am trying to build a Music/Video Server.

 

I have built several IBM platforms before and thought to build one for my home music / video server. The more I look into it the more it looks like the ready made Mac Mini would be a better way to go.

 

The Mini is really quite, cute and is already built. I can control it with an Iphone and seems that ITune speaks its language naturally.

 

My concerns though are that it mostly has USB ports and it doesn't have HDMI out.

 

Are DACs better fed through Optic SPDIF the USB?

Does video feeds work better with natural HDMI [the mini have a mini DVI - HDMI adapter]

Could it serve also as a Video server?

 

I am thinking of getting an Airport Express and hard wire most of my computers to it [One in the Music Room, one in the Surround Sound Room and other in the kitchen and the office] I will add some external hard drives to the Airport so they will store the data.

 

The main concern I have is, will I be missing something that could work better with a custom built IBM platform I can build? [i am not trying to cut pennies but would like to stay reasonable]

 

Thanks so much for your input and thoughts and thanks Chris for an awesome site

 

Ted

 

 

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Welcome to the forum Ted! I was going to recommend that you stick with the "IBM platform" due to its support for UPnP/DLNA but came across this posting - http://www.ehomeupgrade.com/2009/06/29/turn-your-mac-into-an-extreme-upnp-media-server-with-playback-by-yazsoft/. DLNA defines a set of standards for communication between consumer electronics devices over TCP/IP, and there are many devices on the market now with many more coming that support that standard. There are many NAS devices that include UPnP/DLNA services. Many currently available TVs as well as audio playback devices can receive their content from such servers.

 

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I think the Mac Mini is a great music server, and also a great video server. If you are only interested in redbook CD playback (i.e. NON hi res audio), I would also suggest looking at the Apple TV, esp. if video is your primary interest.

 

The Apple TV only allows Toslink (aka optical S/PDIF) output however, and this is the least well respected digital interface (compared to Firewire, USB, AES/EBU & Coax S/PDIF) among audiophiles looking for top audio performance.

 

"My concerns though are that it mostly has USB ports and it doesn't have HDMI out."

 

Re the 'mostly has USB ports' concern, the Mac Mini offers Firewire, USB & mini-Toslink outputs, which together can connect directly - without converter - to many DACs, although usually legacy DACs (those designed primarily to interface to transports via the S/PDIF variants) would only connect via TOslink. The point being, if you wanted to connect to a legacy DAC via AES/EBU or Coax S/PDIF, you'd need something like the BelCanto USB Link, or similar.

 

Re the HDMI out concern, see this from Wikipedia:

 

"Because HDMI is electrically compatible with the signals used by Digital Visual Interface (DVI), no signal conversion is necessary, nor is there a loss of video quality when a DVI-to-HDMI adapter is used."

 

I would extrapolate that to include the mini-DVI-to-HDMI adapter. As I understand HDMI, it's spec is NOT a superior mechanical/physical protocol, but rather allows easier integration between components, e.g. one cable for all connections, and a type of peer-to-peer communication.

 

Re the Airport Express, I use Airport Express for wireless connections to secondary audio systems (bedroom, etc.), and use an Airport Extreme as my main wireless router - with a 1Tb Mybook connected directly to the Extreme to provide the Airdisk feature. One can connect their music hard drive in this fashion and allows all music playback machines to access it (i.e. iTunes from multiple music servers, esp. if laptops), OR, connect the external hard drive directly to the Mac Mini if only one music server is desired.

 

Via iTunes one can select any combination of Airport Express stations for routing music. Via shareware called Airfoil, one can route ANY audio on the Mac (not just iTunes) to any combination of Airport Express stations - providing they have an audio system connected, of course.

 

The airport express only supports mini-Toslink, but this connection is more than adequate for 'convenience' listening, unless you have multiple top notch audiofile systems with high performing DACs. Indeed my bedroom systems connects the AE analog out to an Audioengine A2 for decent sound.

 

One more recommendation, I run my Mini in 'headless' mode. IOW, there is no dedicated monitor/keyboard/mouse associated with it. I connected it to TV monitor for setup, turned on Screen Sharing and then control it completely via Macbook Air (the ultimate remote control/surfing device). So long as you have a USB keyboard/mouse available in the house for emergencies, there's no reason to BYODKM.

 

hopefully this addresses a few of your concerns,

 

clay

 

 

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at the risk of sounding like I hate the mini (I don't) can I ask a few questions? Is the dvi output of the mini an upsampled video and not true hd content? Can the mini play a blu-ray? Can the mini output 5.1 via the spdif in DD and DTS.

 

Jesus R

www.sonore.us

 

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"at the risk of sounding like I hate the mini (I don't) can I ask a few questions?"

 

Always, although I'm no videophile. I have a Sony HD TV, and an Apple TV. I"ve only recently connected my Mini to the Sony, via VGA input. I do know that the mini is MORE capable than the Apple TV, resolution-wise and codec-wise, but the Apple TV is easier to get working properly.

 

"Is the dvi output of the mini an upsampled video and not true hd content?"

 

I guess that depends on whether you're talking about the marketing definition of high def. Does anyone know what true high definition video means? ;)

 

Seriously, As far as I can tell, it can handle 1080p natively, i.e. without using the TV"s scaler. If I understand your question, the answer is no.

 

"Can the mini play a blu-ray?"

 

NEVER! Or at least not bloody likely while Steve Jobs is alive (if that's not a tacky thing to say).

 

 

"Can the mini output 5.1 via the spdif in DD and DTS"

 

From what I've read, yes. I've not tried it. I listen to movies in good ole 2.0. :)

 

definitely not a video expert,

clay

 

 

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Anyone know of any issues using this feature for audio? Is the connection fast enough? I assume it is susceptible to RF interferance & such - are there issues with dropouts, noise, etc, as with the Express?

 

I've thought of using a second computer in my secondary listening room instead of an Express. (Or to have available when the Express decides it's not in the mood for music.) But then I guess my primary would also have to connect via Airdisk, right? I assumed for best sound, I should have a wired connection from computer to hard drive.

 

The Express is such a wonderful little box - when it's working right. And when it isn't, it is so aggravating. On my system, sometimes iTunes just refuses to connect to it (some "unknown error" message). Rebooting everything often helps. And sometimes not.

 

Thanks,

Rascal

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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I'm not clay ... and I've seen he's given answers already ... but I'll add a few pennies worth here ...

 

"Is the dvi output of the mini an upsampled video and not true hd content?"

The DVI output supports greater than 1920x1080p so will easily play "Full HD" films.

 

"Can the mini play a blu-ray?"

Not officially, but I think some people have got BluRay to work. Also there is some support for BluRay amongst Apple as Final Cut Studio will create BluRay files. There's also rumors of BluRay in the Macs but these are probably best avoided.

 

"Can the mini output 5.1 via the spdif in DD and DTS?"

Yes it can. All HD downloads from iTunes include DD 5.1 soundtracks which play via TOSLink.

 

tedweltx (the OP) also asked ...

"Does video feeds work better with natural HDMI [the mini have a mini DVI - HDMI adapter]"

There is no electrical conversion taking place when going from Mini DVI to HDMI, only the physical connectors are different (and HDMI also supports audio). I don't think Apple sell a direct Mini DVI to HDMI adaptor, though other manufacturers do (with Apple you need to go Mini DNI to DVI then use a DVI to HDMI cable or adaptor).

 

"Could it serve also as a Video server?"

Yes the Mac Mini can easily work as a video server, though some people find Front Row limiting. A good alternative is XBMC or one of it's derivatives Plex or Boxee.

 

To my mind, the only advantage of a Windows platform over Mac OS X is that with Windows you can get a sound card which will support High Definition audio (Dolby True HD and DTS Master Audio) over HDMI and easier use of BluRay if you wish it - though I've alwyas found a stand alone DVD or BluRay player to be a lot more user friendly than ANY media PC for physical discs.

 

Hope some of this helps...

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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The only issues I experienced with Airdisk is that of needing to insure the disk was 'connected' prior to launching iTunes. This was with 802.11n.

 

Others have had HUGE issues trying to use FAT (or other PC-based formats) files on their Airdisk. Stick with Mac file format and you'll be fine.

 

You can also keep your external disk directly connected to your main music server, and use the Home Sharing feature of iTunes to access the music files 'wirelessly' for your secondary system - no airport express required for this. This is my current setup (although I don't use it often) and my recommendation for your secondary system. I would not recommend this with 802.11g router, although it would probably work - just more likelihood for dropouts, etc.

 

enjoy,

clay

 

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Thanks for reminding me of the Home Sharing feature, Clay. However, I'm guessing the downside is that it doesn't support multiple rooms playing the same music simultaneously.

 

Anyone have experience Airfoil Speakers? Their website says it allows "makes any Mac show up in Airfoil as an audio output." Seems like then I play on my primary computer & direct iTunes to play on my secondary computer, wired into my secondary sound system. However, I wonder about latency - ie, will the rooms be playing music out-of-sync.

 

Rascal

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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"However, I'm guessing the downside is that it doesn't support multiple rooms playing the same music simultaneously."

 

Agreed, Home Sharing is not about directing the music to multiple locations, you do that with iTunes via AirTunes (although you don't expressly know about Airtunes).

 

Home sharing is about allowing you wireless access to a central file repository, even while the disk is connected directly to a single computer (ie, not making use of AirDisk).

 

iTunes can route music to any combination of Airtunes clients and/or the computer (aka system audio). Airtunes clients can include Airport Express stations and/or Apple TVs. Routing to the 'computer' sends music to your directly connected audio system (selected in Audio Midi Setup). This is the best native (i.e. Apple) mechanism for playing music simultaneously in multiple rooms, although the latency might still be noticeable.

 

I've not used Airfoil Speakers, although I'm a very LOYAL customer of Airfoil.

 

Airfoil's 'fatal flaw' (as Leonard Cohen said - 'everything has a crack in it, that's how the light gets in') is latency. It's atrocious. For example, it is painful to watch youtube videos on your computer while listening to the music via Airfoil on your audio system - it's off by multiple seconds, altho I believe there is now a video feature, which provides the same latency to video as well. I've not used Airfoil Speakrs, but I'd be skeptical about latency issues until proven otherwise.

 

Let us know if it works out.

 

Thanks

Clay

 

 

 

 

 

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"though I've always found a stand alone DVD or BluRay player to be a lot more user friendly than ANY media PC for physical discs."

 

agreed, and with the price/performance ratio of Oppo devices, I;ve seen no reason to merge my DVD player and Apple TV.

 

Oppo has a Blu-ray / SACD player for less than $500 I think.

 

clay

 

 

 

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Thanks Clay - however what I'm wondering about is an alternative to Express, since it gives me grief (at times).

 

I hadn't experienced any latency problems w/ Airfoil, pulling directly from an internal hard drive & playing on computer + Express (though I'm not serving video). But sending audio to another computer, then having that computer output it to another system - I'd wonder about it.

 

Any idea if ATV is less flakey than the Express? I haven't quite seen that there's that much benefit of ATV over AE, if you're only using it for music.

 

Much thanks,

Russell

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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You might not notice any Airfoil latency without video, unless you were wondering why the music kept playing after you clicked on STOP. :)

 

I think it's a try it and see thing with regard to the Airfoil speakers. I've never tried it, but wouldn't be surprised if it didn't sync.

 

As for Apple TV, I wouldn't think it was worth buying just for audio. It does have a real Toslink output (rather than the mini), and a Toslink with mini-Toslink on one end is hard to find - although Wireworld now offer the Supernova 6 for a bit over $110. That plus the price of the AE is almost the same as an Apple TV ($229), in the event you already have a standard Toslink (I use the Wireworld Supernova 5+ Toslink). But, you already have the Airport Express, so that doesn't really justify it for you.

 

I use Apple TV for videos from the iTunes store, and for photo viewing on the big LCD screen, plus the Airtunes client for 'convenience' listening (which the AE does also) from laptops, or for Airfoil playback of Internet 'sounds'.

 

I guess it depends on the flakiness you're experiencing with the Express? It is the occasional loss of connection, or something more?

I've had pretty good luck with mine, and I've had several (don't ask).

 

clay

 

 

 

 

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Occasional drop-out, occasional noise. That I could actually live w/ on a seconary system, at least until a better solution comes along. The nasty flakiness though is that sometimes iTunes just refuses to connect to it (some "unknown error" message). Rebooting everything often helps. And sometimes not. The it's like, come back when AE is in a better mood. Then it'll go for days or weeks and be just fine.

 

Other ATV advantages? I understand that somehow iTunes pushes files out to the ATV, though I don't quite understand how this works & what advantage that gives, besides being able to listen to some subset of a larger music collection (assuming you've got more than 160 gb of music) while your computer is off, and for me is a non-starter with the Mini, since I leave it powered up.

 

I've heard ATV has slightly less jitter than the AE. That might be worth about 50 cents. ;>

 

Much thanks again,

Russell

 

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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"Can the mini output 5.1 via the spdif in DD and DTS?"

Yes it can. All HD downloads from iTunes include DD 5.1 soundtracks which play via TOSLink.

 

***************

 

This is not possible to my knowledge unless I'm missing something. The mini will not output AC3 surround sound from itunes. This has been a serious bone of contention for me when renting videos on itunes. The quality of the video is high - I've used the DVI output connected to my 54" Sharp flat screen. For the audio I've used the optical toslink to my theater processor. The problem is not a setting somewhere. This has been discussed on the apple discussions boards ad nauseum. The Apple TV WILL pass AC3 but itunes through the mini will not I don't believe. Please Please Please tell me that I am wrong or there is a workaround to this.

 

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Thank you so much guys,

 

I got great information here. CharlyD respond took me to a great site and following it I got to see the Fujitsu Esprimo Q 1500 which looks great and have BlueRay and HDMI

 

Another one is Mvix "Minx" (MX-3250HD) Media Center PC

 

I still like the Mac Mini, the lack of BlueRay reader, HDMI and good 5.1 audio out is a problem though. I hope Apple will fix in that in the next Mac Mini. The AppleTV has the HDMI and 5.1 outs but I can not surf the net with it or upload a DVD through it.

 

I am planning on having a dedicated DVD player but I want the server to access / store audio video and access the web to get some stuff from it.

 

Thanks again for all your input,

 

Ted

 

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Pwhinson... Now you mention it I think you are correct - the MacMini does support DD via TOSLink but iTunes (nor Quicktime IIRC) does. I think you get DD with DVD Player and applications such as VLC and XBMC / Plex / Boxee also support it.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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are often now connected to the video card/output stage. With video being the carrier for audio signals in HDMI, it makes some sense to keep the signal paths short and gather codecs into the one place to feed, logically, to a TV or surround receiver.

For HT use, to this end, I don't see the Mac mini as being capable to transmit audio and video to a TV or receiver, via HDMI, since (mini) DVI, even if it can eventually be connected to a HDMI connection, doesn't transmit any audio information at all. So decoding DTS Master, Dolby True is only available with BD, so with DVD on the mini the best you could do is DTS, Dolby 5.1?

 

AS Profile Equipment List        Say NO to MQA

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