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October 25th 2012 10:08 am

Possibilities with mac mini

I've been holding out on buying a new personal laptop since 2007. I've used my work laptop (Thinkpad X220) when I need to at home, but there's still some things you never want to download or store on your work laptop. I've bought the 3rd gen iPad and use it in place of a laptop for basic browsing and love it overall. The main reason I've held out on a new laptop is that I want an iMac, MBA or MBP, but don't see myself investing the time using it to justify the price tag. (I also don't have a good location for the iMac either.)

This is where the mac mini comes in. I would love to be able to download and stream media to my tv through a minimalist machine like the mini and control it from my couch. Thing is, I would also like to connect it to a monitor through some kind of wireless HDMI or Thunderbolt so I can still use it without taking over the tv. I would love to access the desktop from my iPad, but buying an extra monitor to put on a small table wouldn't be so bad.

In the past I've used my 2007 Toshiba Satellite to download media, put it on my PS3 (with some converting) and I've really gotten tired of my older laptop. I've used the PS3 youtube app, but it's not enough.

Does anyone have experience with this? Does this make any sense at all? Is there a better way to do this? I love the versatility of the Mac Mini, the low power consumption and all the ports!
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nitehawk's pick

I have a Mac Mini at home that I use as a TIme Machine capsule, to download files, and stream media. It's the ultimate solution, and haven't regretted it at all since purchasing it.

I'm going to describe the media streaming part to you. It wasn't hard to set up, but it was complicated to figure out without any help initially. Now i have the perfect media centre that is so easy that even my wife can use it without me being around.

I have my Mac Mini connected to a TV in our lounge, but I also have an Apple TV connected to the TV in our bedroom.
The Mac Mini runs free media software called PLEX(

PLEX is 2 applications - a server and a client and is compatible with windows as well(I run it at my parents house on a Windows 7 machine)

PLEX server catalogues all of your movies, tv shows and music. It downloads descriptions, ratings, artwork and also remembers what you've watched and not watched and allows you to resume mid show. It runs in the background with an icon in the menubar.

So you have the server running, but you can't watch stuff yet. You download the PLEX client(also free) and you can run this on the same machine, or another, and they also have an iPad app($4.99, worth it! https:­/­/­/in­/app­/plex­/id383457673­?m...) and an app for jailbroken Apple TV2's.
The client app is basically a GUI that has been designed for use on TV's and I control it with a Logitech Harmony remote, but you can also use the Apple remote.

The amazing part is that PLEX also does DLNA transcoding, so you could still keep your PS3 connected to your TV, and have that as your actual device that plays the movies. So PLEX streams and converts on the fly. You basically just tell it what movie you want to play, and it makes sure it plays.

We use a jailbroken Apple TV, because we already had them, and i like the Plex app on it.

It really is a perfect system though. It never gives me any issues ever, and i can still use the Mac while my wife is streaming something from it in the room.

Anyway, I hope this answers your question. I've been running this system for about 6 months on a Lion install of OSX, and it's been awesome! I tried pretty much everything out there, and XBMC came close, but being able to resume your shows from any device is amazing. so you watch to 13 minutes on your PS3, and you jump into bed to watch on your iPad, and it'll ask if you want to resume at 13:00! The iPad and iPhone app also function as remotes if you want.

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nitehawk's pick

I think the most optimal situation is to place the Mac Mini where you will be using it as an actual computer, then run an HDMI cable or HDMI extender over Cat6 to the TV. You could also try some sort of wireless video solution to go to the TV, but I would not recommend trying to do something wireless to the desk location.

For controlling the Mac Mini while whatching TV, I would recommend HippoRemote or­/gp­/product­/B0080CECBS­/ref­=as­_li­_ss­_...

This would be kind of odd, but it is now possible to wirelessly mirror a Mac Mini running OS X to a TV using an Apple TV:­/Apple­-MD199LL­-A­-TV­/dp­/B007I5JT4S­?ta...
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From what it sounds like, you want to use your mini as a dual purpose machine - HTPC as well as regular computer. I think you can do this, but the part about using it as a regular computer may be a little difficult in that I do not know of any wireless video that will let you use your keyboard/mouse/monitor without being directly connected to the Mini.

Alternatively, you could buy the Mini/iMac/MBA/MBP, and then also get an Apple TV. The Apple TV can stream to your TV (assuming the Apple TV supports your file format) that way from your computer.
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If you do use the Mac Mini as a HTPC, you can use Logmein to access your machine while the TV input is using something else. Logmein works via any browser so you could use your work laptop to control it. Logmein also has an iPad app, so you can control it from there as well. Best of all is there are free options for Logmein (yes...I am now sounding like a salesman).
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If you hook up the Mac Mini to your TV, you can remote desktop into it using a different user account without affecting what's being shown on the TV. So you could be playing a video on the Mac Mini's monitor (the TV) while messing around with files and stuff over screen sharing.

Plex is the perfect Mac HTPC and you can use iOS devices to control your Mac (I'd recommend Rowmote Pro). You can also install AirServer on the Mac Mini to make it emulate an Apple TV so you can stream anything from your iOS devices over AirPlay.
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