How the Mac Mini fits into my life

Yes, I think I'm getting one.

I'm looking at the Mac Mini to be our new desktop, stay-at-home machine, as well as to form the basis for a media center.

Mike Davidson has a good outline for the Media Mac that he wants to see from Apple, but I'm going to outline how I think the Mac Mini (plus a few other pieces) is going to work for me today.

My personal main machine is a PowerBook 15". At home, an original iMac 15" 800Mhz G4 is our desktop machine.

Generally we use the iMac to watch movies and listen to music (TV given to parents, stereo in storage until we have a bigger place). The Pro speakers go as loud as needed in our small apartment, and Kate and I can sit fairly close to the monitor. I could use my phone to control movie and music playback, but generally I just learn forward and use the keyboard.

The iMac is now almost 3 years old. It's about time for my parents to get a new machine, so it will find a good home there.

So, the Mac Mini becomes our new desktop. With no monitor. Excellent! I've been hemming and hawing over the choice between a projector and a big LCD monitor for a while. I still might add a projector at a later date, but this is a good excuse to get an LCD monitor.

The Benq FP231W is the screen that I've been looking at. It's pricey (about $1800CDN), but has some very good features:

  • very fast 16ms response time
  • all the connectors you need: D-Sub/DVI-D/S-Video/Composite (could connect any video source, including game console)
  • 4-port USB 2.0 hub
  • it's frickin' gigantic

Reading a couple of reviews (I'm not going to link to any, because I didn't really find them useful) seems to indicate that the one downside is that the viewing angle is a bit constrained, so watching from farther away might not be ideal. I'd love to see the screen in person, but haven't found it here in Vancouver anywhere.

Well, that could be it to replicate what we have today, with a machine that is 50%+ faster and a monitor that is...did I mention gigantic? Oh yes: I would have to get some computer speakers back out of storage -- these would connect to the headphone jack that is the audio output for the Mini Mac.

But I want to do a little more media. Specifically, some PVR action, that will let me watch TV and record it on the computer.

So, this means an external solution. The Elgato solutions look like the best bet.

The two Elgato products that would seem to be the best fit for me are:

  • eyeTV 200: Firewire-attached MPEG2 encoder and TV tuner, comes with remote ($279)
  • eyeTV Wonder: USB2.0 co-branded product with ATI; compression is done on the Mac ($129)

Actually, there is a third-party product on the Elgato site (since it's bundled with Elgato's EyeTV software): the Plextor ConvertX PX-TV402U (Mac). It's listed at $229US, or $283CDN from the Canadian store. This is an interesting product -- it offers MPEG1, MPEG2, and DivX hardware encoding. No remote, but for the price difference, I can get an ATI Remote Wonder -- and it's an RF, remote, too, so perfect for controlling iTunes when you're not in sight of the computer. The ConvertX looks to be in the lead.

The Mac Mini is going to form the basis for my media center, and I'm going to get the chance to experiment with TV 2.0 using a PVR system. What are you going to do with your Mac Mini?

(Andy has a few uses in mind)