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Mac Mini as Media Servier 101

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Have read a lot of posts regarding use of Mac Mini as media server, but get confused about external HD, VNC, needed software, remotes, etc, so I am hoping someone can start with a basic lesson.


I want to centralize all my music/DVD collection on some kind of server ( Mac Mini) so that it is easy to search and access. Currently I have about 350gigs of apple lossless music files, plus about 50 DVD's not yet copied to any computer.


Current equipment is a AppleTV connected to a Panasonic Plasma HD TV via HDMI,

a Denon 2807 surround sound receiver and B&W 635 speakers.


Moving to Mac Mini, I would need what hardware/software to make it work?




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You will probably get lots of responses saying do this, do that, this widget is critical, Amarra is great etc etc.


My suggestion would be to keep it simple, get a Mac Mini and iTunes, plug it into your Denon receiver via an optical cable (I'm assuming it has a digital in, my argument falls apart if not) and see what you think. You can always add things later. Actually, if you don't have a digital in buy a used DAC from eBay to get you going - I did and haven't looked back.


I've started with an old Mac Mini from eBay. Yes it needed an Airport Express for networking as it wasn't built in - fortunately I already had an AE. And I did need to buy an M-Tech thingy to get an optical out. If you buy new you will have neither of these issues.


For a display I just hooked it up to my 37" tele - via VGA, which is fine for the time being. A £30 OEM wireless keyboard / mouse completes the setup, which enables me to control everything from the sofa.


For a hard drive I am quite happy with an external 1Tb drive plugged directly into it. On the plus side it's nice and simple, and I can't hear it in operation at all, which is one of the arguments levelled against directly connected discs. Only negative is that you can't automatically share the music as you would be able to if it was a NAS drive. I may go that way in the future, but given the cost of storage at the moment (around £60 for a 1tb drive), then it's not a big issue to change later on, even allowing for buying 2 of them so you have a backup drive.


The only thing I'm not sure about is the DVD side of things - I don't know if getting 5.1 sound is possible - it may be, I just haven't tried as I'm more focused on music.


My setup is slightly Heath Robinson-ish, but even with a low powered Mac Mini the sound quality is the same as my CD player. My system is pretty reasonable - Meridian 508, Meridian 566 DAC, Ayre 7 amp, and Harbeth speakers. To say I forget about all things hi-fi and just lose myself in the music would be an understatement. My DAC limits me to CD quality at the moment, and yes, I would like to try high res. And a new Mac mini would simplify things, if nothing else with fewer cables. But for now it's fine, and having spent around £250 for kit I didn't already have it has been a low cost way of proving the computer audio is really viable. The main benefit has been re-discovering CD's I'd forgotten about - I have about 1400 compared to your 1000-ish - so you are likely to go through the same experience.


And don't forget Spotify if you are in Europe -£10 a month for the higher quality premium version, with instant access to endless muisc. And I mean endless. I quite often find I've only listened to Spotify for the last 2 or 3 days.


So in the first instance forget fancy ways of getting digital out of the PC, forget add-ons to iTunes, even the lower cost ones, forget fancy digital cables, forget sophisticated NAS solutions, don't worry about a Touch to control it all (I have one but prefer the keyboard). Just get going at the lowest cost and realise that this gives you 90% of the sound quality. Bit like hi-fi generally, we spend far too much on getting the last few % rather than enjoying the music.


Now excuse me whilst I go back to eBay to look for my next 2 or 3 upgrades :-)





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I can't help completely as I'm not familiar with AppleTV but here is what I do know.


An external hard drive can be used to store your music and movies. The Mini's generally don't have huge drives so using an external drive just allows for more storage. I use an Seagate external drive with my Mini because it just allows me to unplug and go. If the main drive in the Mini is large enough to hold everything for you then you don't need the external drive (except as a backup! Don't forget to do that).


VNC is a way to see your Mini's screen from another computer. This is nice because it means you don't necessarily have to have a keyboard, mouse, and monitor with the mini. And by having the screen shared you have full control over the mini from the comfort of your chair.


Remotes is another story, I've been happy with the built-in remote app on the iPhone/iPod Touch - it works great for controlling iTunes if you are satisfied with that. I've also read about RowMote which again allows you to control your Mac from an iPhone/iPod Touch. There might be other options but the combination of VNC (which I also run on my iPhone) and the Remote app have given me all the control I need.


Software wise, to record your DVD's you'll probably want to use something like MacTheRipper. I have done this with some of mine though I don't often play them on the Mini (the Mini doesn't show well on my TV). There is also iTunes though I don't know how it works for managing Movies you record. I did have my movies accessed via Front Row but found Front Row to buggy to use (it froze on me a lot). I'm sure there are other media managers you could try though I don't know what sort of remote options they might offer.


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I'll preface this that i don't own a Mac and am not familiar with them, but do have an Apple TV.


Does anyone know if Itunes on a Mac can play DVD format? Because it can't on PC and requires a conversion step to h.264 format, which is easy but a pain. I tried to convert my 100 movies, but in the end I've settled on J River media center software installed on my XP PCs. I've been happy with it as long as you can see the screen. It works great with an IR remote, easy enough for wife and strangers to use. I can't beat the ITunes system and Remote app for ease of use though.

I've settled in my house on iTunes and ATV and airport express with an iPod touch for background listening, and j. River for critical listening and movies on a pc to do what you're trying to do, all because I got sick of converting video and found the QuickTime video player not up to snuff for video on my pc.


P.S. Just reread the original post. Try converting a DVD to h.264 to play on your tv(handbrake software works). If you're okay with that conversion process, the atv and any computer running iTunes may be all you need.


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Back to the original question, there are a few ways you can go about this. Firstly, as to the mac mini itself, you basically have two options depending on space requirements. For my money I think the simplest route might be to go for the server version of the mac mini which replaces the dvd drive with another hdd bringing the drive space to 1TB. You can also get a regular mac mini with an external hard drive. Anything beyond that and you are into NAS territory which can get hairy, especially in the mac ecosystem.


For remote there is the small little mac remote, which is actually fairly serviceable, and then the remote app for iphones/ itouch. At this point in time, however, I'd put good money on apple releasing an upgraded remote app for the ipad so if I were in your shoes I'd be looking to outfit myself with an ipad (which incidentally I am, although right now I use my iphone with great success).


The only really hairy issue here is getting dvds in the mix. To answer the above question, no, itunes does not support dvds from folders. From here there are three options. You can copy dvds to the hard drive and play them with apple's dvd player (you get full quality audio and video, but not really any organization). You can use handbrake to make 2 channel audio .h264 rips and put them into itunes (you loose audio channels, but you gain library control). Or you can be on the cutting edge and look into itunes and handbrake's support for mc-aac or dd multichannel audio rips (I believe technically these should play fine in itunes, at least the former, but may give apple tv problems).


PS Audio Quintet > Powerbook (iphone with apple remote app) > HRT Streamer II > Kingrex Pre-amp > Kingrex QS-01 > Devore Fidelity Gibbon 7.1\'s

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001) iTunes is good for music in the formats that Apple promotes (Apple Lossless, AIFF and AAC) and is fine for MP3 too. You're going to be fighting an uphill struggle if you want to use WAV (supported but tags stored in iTunes library file/database) not read from file/directory structure) or FLAC (supported via third party plugin). Really I would recommend sticking to AIFF or Apple Lossless if you need the space - WAV and FLAC should be converted.


010) Video in iTunes has to be in MP4 (H.264) or can be MPEG2 but only if you buy the additional MPEG2 component for Quicklime and iTunes. It can't read DVD rip folders. Best application for conversion is Handbrake which will convert leaving a 2-channel audio stream for iTunes, and also keep the multi-channel version for Apple TV replay.


011) The MacMini can be connected to your Denon AV Receiver via Mini-TOSLink to TOSLink cable. Available from 50p upto £500 plus depending on who you buy from. In all honesty, for most systems the cheeper end is fine - though a £15-30 spend may be worthwhile for confidence on build quality. Video can be sent via Display-port to HDMI cable.


100) The MacMini's capabilities can be expanded drastically by installing Plex - a version of XBMC with tweaks for MacOS X. This is a full screen Media Centre application. Other options include using Apple's FrontRow or Boxee (also based on XBMC). If you're happy with more "finder" based access to your DVD files - VLC will allow you to play virtually any video file.


101) The little Apple remote control can wrk well - but by adding an iPod Touch (or iPhone) and the Apple remote control you can directly choose soungs / albums on iTunes with the (free) Apple Remote Application, and software such as Plex can be controlled using other (Free or quite cheep) applications.


So there we have it ... 101 (Base2) answers about using a MacMini as a media computer.






...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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BobH noted... "Especially fond of the renaming of Apple's media player to 'QuickLime' - an excellent description of the effect it has on the Registry of your average PC. :):):)"


Well the best jokes are always the inadvertent ones!






...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 beauty of this is that you only need two things:


1. a miniDVI to HDMI cable (or equivalent) for video (don't use VGA if you can avoid it).

2. an optical mini-Toslink (assuming your receiver has an optical in; if not you are doomed or at least have to use USB). I spent $0.33 plus shipping on mine. I'll happily buy a better one if I can be convinced it will improve anything.


iTunes, as mentioned, is a perfectly fine place to start. Don't buy more stuff until you are convinced you will need it. I tend to be a skeptic about the need for a lot of add-ons. Ideally, the less that comes between your music file and your speakers, the better.


Some people suggest optimizing the operating system. If you have 10.6.X, it will be the most optimized version of OS X that Apple has ever produced. However, there are a few tweaks you may find useful (but none of these has been absolutely necessary for me, and I have 2gigs of RAM).


I have been using OS X as a scientific computational platform since its inception, and am convinced it is the best operating system. The a/v stuff is a bit of icing on the cake, really.


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