old mac Mini is too Mini for TV
April 10, 2009 3:06 PM   Subscribe

I have an old G5 PowerPC Mac Mini that would be just right to repurpose as a DVR/HTPC. But the weak onboard graphics are preventing joy. Is there a way I can offload the graphics processing workload to an auxillary device?

It's an old G5 powerpc mini, still works just fine; but it's an orphan at the moment, with no purpose in life.
So I thought I'd try hooking it up to my TV and using it as a HTPC of sorts.

DVI output to my TV at 1080i works for DVD player, torrented .AVIs via VLC, etc.

But if I try to watch Hulu through it, the picture is choppy if it works at all. Especially for 480p streams.

I'd also like to use something like Elgato's EyeTV to capture over-the-air HD TV broadcasts and play them back later. (Watching the signal live is unnecessary, but would be a bonus.)

But I'm pretty sure the Mini can't handle that processing load?

Elgato seems to have a couple of devices like the turbo.264 that mention that they do the transcoding/processing of the video, offloading it from the attached Mac's processor.

Would this help? If not, is there some other kind of external graphics card or add-on device I can use to externalize the graphics processing workload, so the old hardware in the Mini isn't crippling?

Desired end state is that I am able to watch recorded OTA HD shows and "live" Hulu/other video streams

I have a NAS drive to hold recordings, and an XBox 360 (all three are on same wired network) if that helps.

1080i preferred, HD only (I can skip analog)
$250 max budget (so I'm not just going to buy a new Intel Mini)

Anyone have any experience or suggestions?
posted by penciltopper to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
FYI, if it's a PowerPC Mac Mini, it's a G4. They never put the G5 in a laptop (or the Mini, which is basically a laptop without a screen or keyboard).
posted by mrbill at 3:13 PM on April 10, 2009

Response by poster: Whoops. mrbill's probably correct that it's a G4. Carry on with my apologies.
posted by penciltopper at 3:17 PM on April 10, 2009

$250 max budget (so I'm not just going to buy a new Intel Mini)

Sell the G4 mini, get a used Intel mini. Should be able to get close to your budget; a 1.66 GHz mini seems to go for around $350 on eBay. You oughta be able to get at least $100 for the G4 mini (probably well above that, in fact).
posted by kindall at 3:45 PM on April 10, 2009

No. There's no way that I'm aware of to goose the video-processing ability of a Mac Mini. I've got a G5 iMac, and it's overtaxed by HD youtube videos. That has more to do with the crappy implementation of Flash on the Mac than the computer's inherent limitations, but either way, it's a problem. The mini should be able to handle MP4s and AVIs ok (not sure about 1080i), but nothing that relies on Flash.

Your max budget is not very far away from the price of an AppleTV, onto which you could load Boxee. You might also be able to score a used Intel Mac Mini, although I'm pretty sure that it's only the current models that have video-out supporting HDCP, which, I hate to say, may give you more playback options down the road.
posted by adamrice at 3:46 PM on April 10, 2009

The kind of video processing involved here is done by the CPU (the G4 chip). Since there's nothing you can do to speed up the CPU, you pretty much have to upgrade.

As adamrice says, Flash (used by Hulu) will be the most problematic, as it uses way more CPU than necessary.
posted by dixie flatline at 3:55 PM on April 10, 2009

Watching high quality flash videos on any Mac is very http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj47/billkarter/fuuuuuuuu.jpg
posted by wcfields at 3:55 PM on April 10, 2009

Response by poster: I had forgotten about AppleTV!
Would an AppleTV/Boxee solution still give me Flash problems?
posted by penciltopper at 4:34 PM on April 10, 2009

Boxee on the appletv is slow, and somewhat disappointing. It works, but it's nowhere near as fast as the AppleTV interface. In general, the appletv is plagued by an underpowered CPU that is only partially made up for with a decent GPU.

Hulu and whatever worked OK last time I checked, but any HD content needs to be encoded in a certain way to have decent playback.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:14 PM on April 10, 2009

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