Apple Mac mini Media Center Reviewed

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Out of the box, the Mac mini isn't a bona fide media center in the same way a Windows Media Center PC is - at least, if you define a media center as having a distinct TV element. The Mac mini lacks internal TV tuners and built-in DVR functionality, although you can add these features via third-party products from companies like Elgato Systems. In most other respects, though, the Mac mini is more like a living-room media center than it is a traditional computer. It does not come with a display, keyboard, or mouse. Rather, it's just a simple, glossy white box with a discreet slot-loading disc drive and an IR remote control. The Mac mini uses iTunes and the iLife Suite (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, and even GarageBand) to create and manage digital music, photos, and videos. All those digital-media elements are united under a single user interface, called Front Row - which now looks very similar to the interface used in the Apple TV. Speaking of which, add one or more Apple TVs, and you've got yourself a multiroom media system, one in which the Mac mini can act as both a standalone playback device and a central server that streams content to the Apple TV clients.

Additional Resources
• Read more media server reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Learn more about the new Apple TV.

We have not performed a hands-on review of the Mac mini, but here is an overview of its features. The most basic configuration comes in at an inexpensive $599 and offers the following specs: Mac OS X v10.5 (Leopard), an 80GB hard drive (up to 160GB available), a 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor (2.0GHz available), 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM (2GB available), an Intel GMA 950 graphics card, and the basic Mac combo drive that includes a DVD reader and CD writer. You can upgrade to the SuperDrive with DVD and CD read/write capabilities; Apple does not offer a Blu-ray drive, nor does the Mac mini currently support Blu-ray playback (some third-party Blu-ray drives are available for data only). In terms of connectivity, the Mac mini isn't as well endowed or as flexible as many of the dedicated media center PCs we've encountered: It offers just one DVI video output (VGA adapter included) and one audio output: a mini-jack port that can serve as an optical digital audio output, stereo audio out, or headphone output. This jack can output a 5.1-channel digital audio signal with the addition of special adapter cables. Inputs include a mini-jack audio input (again, for optical digital or analog stereo), four USB 2.0 ports, and one FireWire port. There's also one Ethernet port that supports gigabit Ethernet, as well as built-in 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. As I mentioned, the package does not include a keyboard or mouse, but you can add a wired keyboard/mouse combo for $98 or a wireless combo for $129.
 
Read about the high points and low points of the Mac Mini on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Apple Mac mini Media Center

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

5

Overall

4.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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mac_mini_mc.gifHigh Points
• The Mac mini includes popular digital-media platforms likes iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie that are easy to use, and you can navigate digital content via the Front Row interface.
• The box has a small form factor (it measures 6.5 x 6.5 x 2).
• Ethernet, 802.11b/g, and Bluetooth are all included.
• You can mate this product with the Apple TV to stream entertainment to separate zones.
• It is inexpensive compared with other media center options.

Low Points
• The Mac mini lacks TV tuners and DVR functionality, although you can purchase TV content through iTunes or add third-party TV/DVR software. This adds to your cost, though.
• Its storage capacity and processing specs are not as robust as other media centers.
• The box's connection options are limited.
• It does not include 802.11n, as the Apple TV does.
• The Mac mini does not currently support Blu-ray playback.

Conclusion
With the Mac mini, you can establish a Mac-based media-center foundation for a fairly reasonable price and add features like TV tuning and DVR functionality as desired. It makes the most sense for the iTunes user who has purchased (or plans to purchase) a lot of music, TV shows, and movies from the iTunes Store and wants to enjoy that content on his or her home entertainment system, with computer functionality thrown in for good measure. Mate this box with the Apple TV, and you've got a convenient way to distribute A/V content wirelessly around the home.

Additional Resources
• Read more media server reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Learn more about the new Apple TV.

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