Weekly Poll: Do You Have a Mac Media Centre?

The notion of a “Mac Media Centre” has always fascinated me, and I love the idea of having a home entertainment system that’s completely centred around OS X. Once you get used to the simplicity of the Mac interface, using any other piece of consumer electronics can sometimes feel as though you’re trying to navigate the space shuttle back to Earth.

Apple’s “hobby” – the Apple TV – offers a good solution to this problem for certain tasks, but it’s still fairly restrictive if you’d like to have a fully Apple powered media centre. Even if you simply want to watch live TV, you’re going to need something more flexible.

The two main candidates that spring to mind are either the Mac Mini, or a small MacBook stashed away underneath your LCD screen. Both are perfectly capable of performing media centre duties, and have the required output to send good quality video and sound to your entertainment system.

But how many of you have made the jump? I’d love to know whether you’re using a Mac to power your home entertainment system and, if so, which software you use. Are you happy with navigating around OS X, or do you prefer something such as Hulu, Plex, or Boxee?

Let us know, and do share your thoughts in the comments!


Add Yours
  • You needed a slot for *both* the Apple TV and Mac Mini!

    • Agreed, I have been using my Apple TV for a few years, and recently added a Mac Mini to the A/V distribution system in the house. Having both is great for resolving family conflicts :)

    • Yup. I went with Mac Mini since that’s where my AppleTV get’s most of it’s content from but it technically should’ve been “both”

    • I agree. That’s what I have. a Macmini attached to my main TV, and then an AppleTV connected to my TV in my bedroom.

      Wish Mac supported Blu-ray *sigh*

  • I definitely don’t have the kind of media center described above, but I do have my macbook connected to a surround speaker system for music and I use my apple remote to control it using a mix of frontrow (for my iTunes library) and boxee (for Pandora)

    I’m not comfortable voting for any of the above

  • Use a cracked Original Apple TV and run XBMC on it. Its so great!

  • Yes, a Mac Mini and 2 Apple TVs. The Netfilx streaming is great for the kids and my Mac Mini with external hard drives work great. I love it!

  • I dont think you can beat Plex for setting up a multi-room mac based media center. Also, the iOS app lets me acess my collection where ever I am in the house.

    Front row is nice in that its simplistic, but I think its really only an option if you purchase your media through iTunes.

  • No, I have a Boxee Box :)

  • Waited and waited for Apple to come out with the Mac Mini with the HDMI out. Bought it within a week and cancelled cable the same day. Also bought a wireless keyboard and returned the Magic Mouse when the Magic Trackpad came out.

    Haven’t looked back.

    Tried Plex… didn’t like it.
    Tried Boxee… didn’t like it.
    Love Hulu Desktop… queued shows and remote control use.

    I use iTunes with 10,000 songs, 300 movies, and a couple of 10-season TV shows.

    Netflix and ESPN3 are easy from the browser… as is everything else the web has to offer.

    A bit steep on price… but easily get it back from no cable bill.

    Love this setup!

  • I’ve had a Mac Mini under the TV for several years now. All files are on an external drive connected to an Airport Extreme. I can’t get anything like Boxee or Plex to seem to recognise the drive properly so just use OSX to access everything. The wireless KB and Mouse on the coffee table makes it easy and the odd internet browse is nice too expesecially if you are showing something to other people. I like the look of the Apple TV but with the Mini you can do so much more.

  • The lack of proper, native support for high-quality, popular media formats (just think “flac” for a minute) plus the very few options on output signals (not to mention the ridiculously expensive propietary cables needed) on OS X renders the entire OS completely hopeless in terms of a media center for me.

    YES, there’s ALWAYS work-arounds (using VLC, for example) but spending +2k USDs on a media center that’ll be a PAIN to configure just for it to play my 2tb of flac music (and with NO [actually, buggy and annoying] remote support thanks to iTune’s hi-jacking of the “play” media button on the apple remote and the keyboard) and which will end up looking like a PC interface (or worse… VLC UI is horrible)… well, makes little to no sense.

    Despite popular belief, this is where apple fails HARD. I’m not talking about “popularity” (there’s an ipod not further away than 8feet from you at any given time, I can bet). I’m talking about actual reliability and quality. Audio output on most Apple products is horrible.

    So, in short: OS X is in no way a good investment in terms of media centers.

    • @unhappy: Not sure what you’ve tried, but OSX can easily handle FLAC files. You just need to installed the FLAC libs (using brew/fink/etc) and you’re set. Also, the play needn’t be “hijacked” as you say. You can easily get an Apple Remote (or other remotes – I use a Logitech Harmony) to control many different media apps. I use XBMC on my Mini most days and it supports just about every media format you run across. Both Plex and XBMC have nice interfaces which are made for displaying on a TV.

      The new Minis have HDMI and (for awhile now) digital audio output (spdif) which looks/sounds pretty great. If it’s not quality enough, you can buy an external USB sound card. That’s what’s great about a Mini vs. Apple TV/Boxee Box/Roku – it’s a computer. You can do what you want with it :)

  • I’ve been running Plex since it forked from XBMC, love it. Once it’s all set up properly, I don’t think there’s a better media centre out there. Plex 9 makes set up considerably easier than before, if you had issues with 8 and gave up, it’s definitely worth looking again.

  • 2 2nd gen appleTVs
    2 1st gen appleTVs – For Sale
    27″ iMac w/ Plex
    13″ macbook
    2 iPhone 4s w/ Plex
    1 iPad w/ Plex

    Frankenstein quad core w/ PS3 Media Server
    xbox 360
    ridiculous storage

  • The apple tv did not enthuse me, mostly because its quite restrictive. I’ve used a variety of open source solutions over the years. Lately I’ve been using boxee. Does everything I could ever want it to do and has a slick interface.

  • I’m planning to set up a Mac Mini based media ecosystem extravaganza when I get the chance, the space, and the money. It seems like a very versatile yet elegant solution for using the computer casually – with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse (trackpad?) from the couch.

  • I have a new Mac Mini running Plex 9 to watch movies and iTunes for tunes. 4 x 2TB USB drives are connected configured as RAID to store movies and songs. Run Awake as an morning alarm, playing the iTunes DJ. HDMI is connected to my LG HDTV. Using bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Not using it for Netflix as TV already supports it, however, do watch sports over the internet. Making Time Machine backups to a mac mini server to avoid having to reinstall and configure everything. Next step is to get a tuner so I can rid myself of cable.

  • I also use Plex with my currend MacBook until I saved up enough for the New Mini. plex is capable of everything I need in an Media Centre.Tthe only thing missing is to make it somehow possible to watch TV within Plex…

  • Apple TV running ATV Flash, usually use XBMC as the main UI (though switch to Boxee for Pandora support).
    Mac Mini – Plex, fantastic and the media manager is awesome.

  • I would. But content support by Apple for Continental Europe is still poor. There is no possibility to get movies with the original soundtrack (although a majority of people want this) and no Netflix.

  • Even though I happily use a MacBook Pro for everything else, nothing beats a dedicated Windows 7 box for the standard Microsoft Windows 7 “Media Center” [sic].

    It has built in support for multiple TV tuners from various sources (Aerial, Satellite and Cable etc.), and no media centre software can match the guide and DVR’s simplicity and flexibility.

    There are loads of plugins too for easy access to streamed media content from the like of BBC iPlayer and other catchup services.

    Extending the Media Center to an XBOX 360 is simple and even allows you to share the hardware TV tuners. Alternatively, being a Win7 box, there are plenty of free/cheap and reliable bits of software which allows for easy sharing of your media to DLNA devices on your network.

    With integrated MP3 and DVD playback, it pretty much does everything I want from a media centre.

    Outputting it all at 1080p to a 40″ LCD TV means the whole thing works like a dream for me.

    It’s a shame that Media Center has become another one of the great technologies which MS has created, though many have never heard of or used much.

  • Yep, and mine got seen in the New York Times!


  • http://xbmc.org/ if you ask me.

  • Plex all the way on a Mini hooked up to a 50″ Elite Kuro. The best home entertainment system possible.

  • I use a Mac Mini connect to my TV. I’m using a new Media Center, squireapp. It’s alpha version but It’s awesome.

  • i used to just hook up my MacBook to my 32″ panel with an HDMI cable and use FrontRow, but i just came up with a great solution:

    i picked up a Sony BDP-S370 Blu-ray player, which has DLNA capabilities, ran an ethernet cable from my upstairs MacPro (although you can get a WiFi dongle for the player) and use Twonky to serve up my media from my Home folders and a 500GB external drive. the interface on the Sony is pretty good, and Twonky has a bunch of online capabilities as well (YouTube etc.), which i’m sure will just get better and more diverse (no Hulu or Netflix, but i’m in Canada). i’ve been using it for a week now, and think it’s a great solution.

  • Roku, hands down. They work harder than anyone to get content. They did Netflix best out of the box. And for a low price, with great streaming quality.

  • I use up plex, and it’s the best solution after trying other alternatives (Apple TV, Boxee)

  • I have an old PowerMac G4 QuickSilver Dual 800 MHz connected to an AppleTV v1 via my Gigabit Ethernet network. It has an internal 4TB SoftRAID 0 Stripe that holds 420+ movies converted from my DVDs to AppleTV format, that is backed up to a second internal 4TB SoftRAID 0 Stripe every morning. The movies are streamed by running a copy of iTunes on the PowerMac G4 that automatically launches at Startup.

  • I use Plex, and I love it!

  • 15″ mac book pro, running Plex with Netflix to a 42″ vizio through a mini dvi to HDMI cable at 1080p and jack to optical cable running sound to the surround sound. All controlled with my iPhone 4 Plex remote app.

  • Good post, I belive the Boxee Box is the greatest media streamer ever.