Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mac Mini Adventures, Day 31

Where was Day 1? Well, it was supposed to be 31 days ago, but I'm a major slacker. So it's here. Let me back up.

Last month my dad got a Mac Mini for the purpose of making it a Home Theater computer, also known to others as a Home Theater PC (HTPC). The Mac Mini shall not be called an HTPC from here on out.

The mini is perfect because it can play 1080p video (high definition, 1920x1080 resolution) without being too pricey or taking up too much space or being unsightly in the TV room. Here are some of the pictures I took the night we first opened it up.












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So far, the experience has been great. The only issue with the Mini itself is that the power cord is a little loose. So if we move the computer while it's running, it's liable to shut off due to disconnected power. While this is generally not a problem with a normal "desktop" computer, the mini is such a portable machine (6.5"x6.5"x2") that it just begs you to take it with you to the next room. My dad is quickly finding that it blows the doors off of his nearly 10-year-old Power Mac G4, a tower more than 4 times the size. The only thing keeping him from using the Mini as his main computer at this point is that it's connected to our 32" LCD HDTV. It's connected via a couple adapters. The Mac Mini has both a Mini-DVI connector and a Mini-displayport connector, the latter of which is a display standard created by Apple, who hopes that it will become an industry standard in the near future. We are using a Mini-displayport to DVI adapter connected to a DVI to HDMI adapter to display the video on the TV. The audio also goes to the TV, via a standard 3.5mm stereo jack, much like the one in your MP3 player of choice, although on the other end the audio is split into separate left and right channel plugs.

This setup works great. The only problem for me is that the TV tops out at 720p (1280x720 resolution) which is insanely weak for any sort of normal computing. For reference, if you have a 17" computer monitor your resolution is typically 1024x768, and for a 19" monitor you're typically seeing 1280x960 or 1280x1024. 720 rows of pixels on a 32" screen is great for video, but crappy for anything else. Fortunately, the Mini is there so we can watch movies and downloaded TV shows, and that's about it. We've found that even though the TV can't show anything bigger than 720p, the Mini itself handles 1080p video just fine, stutter-free, and I'm actually able to tell the difference between it and 720p video. I can't explain how that works, but it does.

I've tried to play Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy on the Mini, and it runs smooth as butter. I'm used to playing the game on my 5 1/2 year old Power Mac G4, which plays it well but not exceptionally. But for gaming, the mini is just a taste of things to come for my next computer...