Help me set up a home media center!
September 23, 2007 11:00 AM   Subscribe

What is the best solution for setting up a media center that can serve regular DVD, HD DVD, BluRay, QT, MKV/H.264, AVI, et cetera to a 47 inch LCD at 1080p?

A friend has charged me with figuring out how to set this up. The TV will be a 47" Vizio, I believe. He wants to have the full range of HD options available on this TV. Is a computer best? Anything specific? I'm open to ideas. Obviously keeping costs down is always great, but having all the options is crucial
posted by adi to Technology (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Mac Mini will rock 1080p output, I believe, and is an excellent start for a htpc (home theater pc). The only downside would be the HD DVD/BluRay issue, as Apple doesn't offer drives in those formats. There are other companies that sell them, however, but I don't know about for the Mac Mini. But I think the mini is a good start to get going, since Front Row will handle quite a lot out of the box, and a few choice hacks will give it more power :).
posted by vrdx at 11:18 AM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Mini. That's what I have set up. Throw a few codecs in the folder, keep your files in your ~/Movies folder (or iTunes if you prefer, but I do the folder) and rock on.

vrdx is right about the hd-dvd and the blueray, so not sure about that. As a side note I'm pretty sure it upconverts standard DVDs.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:38 AM on September 23, 2007

Thirding mac minis. I have a central server then use a mac mini at each TV to pull content out.
posted by ill3 at 12:11 PM on September 23, 2007

Is there any particular software (other than what comes bundled) that you guys recommend when using a mini as an HTPC?
posted by TravellingDen at 12:28 PM on September 23, 2007

Response by poster: Will the mini be able to handle 5.1 surround? Whatever is used for the DVD/HDDVD/BluRay will certainly need to deliver this, so it would be nice if the mini could be on board for this.
posted by adi at 12:40 PM on September 23, 2007

"Is there any particular software (other than what comes bundled) that you guys recommend when using a mini as an HTPC?"

Not really. Front Row is great, once you add some quicktime codecs you can find around the web. It'll have the AppleTV UI in 10.5 which comes out in Oct, which is nice too.

I'd also recommend installing VLC. Front Row is nicer, but VLC plays almost everything, so it's nice to have as a backup in case you get some obscure something Front Row/Quicktime chokes on.

The Apple remote does 99% of everything you need. You can also get some other apps that expand what the remote can do. Mira comes to mind, but there may be better.

I also use the mini to run NES, SNES, etc. emulators on my HDTV using a logitech wireless controller.

As for the 5.1 sound -- it does have optical out, so I think so, but not 100% off the top of my head. (I'm on stereo from the mini til i pick up a receiver that allows multiple optical inputs, since the TiVo gets 5.1 priority. :-)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 3:25 PM on September 23, 2007

I would recommend against going OS X. Mainly is that there is no 'TV' interface that is really usable. Front Row is essentially a big iPod and navigation is extremely slow (Try jumping from music to movies) and way too simple. Also there is no 'ffdshow' for OS X, so you lose out on upscaling DVD's/media files.

I use Windows MCE for my PVR and Media playback interface. Best interface for TV (even if you don't use the PVR functions. Install CCCP and you can play just about any format upscaled to the resolution of your TV. I personally don't use my HD-DVD on my HTPC (It's on my Xbox), but DVD upscaled to 1080p via ffsdhow is extremely competent (I use TheaterTek).
posted by mphuie at 5:39 PM on September 23, 2007

One thing with the mini, assuming you can get an external Blu-ray drive for it at some point, the CPU is right on the limit of what is required to play back Blu-ray/HD-DVD content, and may struggle with high bitrate disks. Also you need to look at whether the Mac has all the DRM stuff you need to actually put out HD content from a Blu-ray disk (I'm guessing it does, but I'd want to be damn sure).

I'm a Linux guy, and that's what I use for my media centre, but if I wanted to do Blu-ray or HD-DVD I'd probably be looking at a Windows system. Get a Silverstone HTPC case and a quiet PSU, stick a mid-level C2D chip in it with a quiet CPU cooler, then get a fanless Nvidia card with "Purevideo HD". Purevideo uses your video card to play back Blu-ray/HD-DVD. Throw in a huge HDD and you're done.
posted by markr at 9:46 PM on September 23, 2007

Oh, and I'm sure there is an ATI equivalent of Purevideo if you prefer ATI for some reason.
posted by markr at 9:58 PM on September 23, 2007

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