I decided to take the plunge and finally upgrade my home theatre. I had three main objectives:
- It needed to be completely digital (no analogue connections), ie HDMI/DVI for video and optical connections for audio.
- It need to be a converged set up where I could view all my multimedia, including my pictures, in one place.
- I wanted to run my AVI movies and MP3s, previously on my laptop, via a dedicated system such as my main TV screen and AMP, without having to repeatedly plug things in and out. It just needed to work at a touch of a button.
So after quite a bit of research, I decided to go for the Mac mini (with Leopard), because, on top of the converged home multimedia centre, I also get a computer which I can use via my TV. It means I can also surf the net via my TV. (I can see there is going to be conflict over who wants to do what at my house.)
It’s a pricy setup, but it’s the power-user setup. I decided not to go for the Apple TV or the MVix, both which are much cheaper, because then you don’t have a computer to play with. I don’t like the way Apple TV apparently has to convert all its movies and the copy protection — and I wasn’t interested in searching for the hack. The MVix seemed like a good solution, but you don’t get a computer O/S with it and as much control over it. You also don’t get Apple’s Front Row with the MVix, which is a great way of accessing your multimedia at the touch of a button. Also, I wanted to move to Mac. I’ve been a PC user for more than 20 years and now with the disaster that is Vista, have finally conceded that Mac is the way to go.
The beauty about the Mac mini is that it has high quality video and audio output. Its video out is DVI, which apparently is the video part of HDMI. For sound, the 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor Mac mini comes with an optical mini jack out (yes such a thing exists –the optical mini jack has a tiny window at its end that lets through the light). To get digital sound capable of doing 5.1 and 7.1, your optical mini jack to normal optical connection cable is then plugged directly into the AMP. The AMP I bought was an HDMI-capable Marantz amp, with Wharfdale speakers. It has three optical audio ins, which is great — one for mac mini, one for my PVR and then another for the Xbox which I will soon be purchasing. The idea is that I will eventually run everything through the AMP so I control it all centrally.
Digital, HD video
For video, the optimal solution is a DVI to HDMI cable from your Mac mini into your LCD screen. I did quite a bit of research and essentially the DVI to HDMI cable is the same as an HDMI to HDMI cable, except it doesn’t carry sound. (Your sound is via the optical cable from the Mac mini optical jack). The DVI to HDMI would then give you full HD capability. In my personal case however, I haven’t got the LCD yet so as an interim solution I am using an SVideo connector from my Mac Mini to my TV, which works ok for the moment. When I get the LCD, I’ll be changing over to the DVI-HDMI solution. A bit of an unknown to me however is HDCP, which the Mac mini cannot handle at this stage… but I’ve been told not to worry about it yet.
Wireless keyboard, Mouse and Mac mini remote
The thing about these home theatre setups is that they are for viewing. You don’t want to be hunched over a keyboard finding the folders where your movies are or fiddling around with your Mac mini near your TV all the time. You want to be lazy, sit back, press a button or two, and watch. So I opted for a wireless mouse and keyboard which works pretty well. You can also operate it while lying back on your couch. But even better however is that the Mac mini comes with a remote (a bit small and fidgety, but useable) which allows me to go straight to Front Row to choose which video or mp3 playlist I want to run. It means I don’t have to go directly into the Apple O/S and use the mouse or keyboard.
Have to say: it’s perfect.