The Apple Intel Mac Mini presents an ideal low-cost home theater PC (HTPC) solution. The new Intel Core Duo provides plenty of processing power, the new graphics support full HDTV resolutions, the optical SPDIF digital audio in and out can relay Dolby Digital sound, and the added Apple Remote adds IR remote control. All in a tiny, inexpensive package.
I bought one not only to replace my aging PowerMac G4, but also to use as an High-Def video player and PVR. The big problem I have is that my HDTV, a Samsung CRT, is too old to have any of the modern HD inputs; it has no DVI connection. Its only input is via component video, and it only supports 480p and 1080i signals.
This page documents how I get around this limitation, and every other aspect of the setup, useful even if you do not have the difficult analog component connection. This page is a work in progress, and will be updated as I figure more features out. Last updated 3/14/06.
The component video connection
The VGA output of a computer is in red, green, and blue signals. This is called RGB colorspace. However, few displays (often overhead projectors) accept this format. Component video of television is in Y,Pr,Pb colorspace. A simple cable converter will not work, you need what is called a transcoder box.
There are only a few on the market, but the best is the Audio Authority 9A60.
- You can
buy the 9A60 from Smarthome or try eBay.
Use the Mac Mini's included DVI to VGA adaptor, then the VGA cable included with the 9A60. Plug component cables between the 9A60 and your television.
The output resolution
While a TV with direct DVI or VGA connections reports to the computer the specific resolutions it supports and easily lists them in Display Preferences, the computer has no idea what resolutions are supported with the analog component connection. Therefore you need a utility that allows you to manually create those settings.
Two utilities for doing this are SwitchResX and DisplayConfigX.
I have been able to display the screen on the TV at the following resolutions:
640x480 60Hz (4:3 480p, stretched on a widescreen)
848x480 60Hz (16:9 480p)
960x540 60Hz (16:9 540p, essentially 1080i without the extra interlacing lines)
1920x1080 60Hz interlaced (1080i)
To successfully attain the full 1080i signal, I had to purchase DisplayConfigX ($12) to enable the "1080i HDTV" resolution choice. 1080i is great for video, but text is pretty much unreadable on my CRT.
To get Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS digital audio output to your receiver, you need a Toslink SPDIF fiber optic cable with a headphone jack at one end to plug into the back of the Mac Mini. You can buy a new cable specific for this, or if you have a standard cable, you can add an adaptor.
Once the cable is plugged in, be sure your software is set to output via digital optical. In the Sound system preferences, select Digital Out, and also in Apple's DVD Player, under preferences/disk setup, select Digital Out.
VLC media player is a great free program that will pretty much play any video file you throw at it, including the HD DIVX files that are becoming common. Until they release a final universal binary for intel macs, you can download a beta version here.
Media Central seems to be a nice free alternative to Apple's Front Row. It supports many more video formats and file locations.
iRecord can record the raw MPEG-2 HD data from some cable boxes over firewire, which can then be played with VLC. It can schedule recordings and change channels, and is effectively a free Hi-Def PVR.
Handbrake is the easiest for converting DVDs to H.264 quicktime movies or DIVX .avis with dolby digital.
VNC server and client allows you to view and control the Mini from another computer, especially helpful while troubleshooting resolutions.
ElGato EyeTV 500 for off-air HDTV PVR capabilities. I may purchase this soon. Their EyeTV PVR software is excellent, and should soon be available in universal binary.