Mac Mini + XBMC = The ultimate media center?

by Marc

A couple of years ago (it doesn’t seem that long ago…) I waxed lyrical about the advantages of using a modded Xbox with XBMC as a living room media adapter.

Unfortunately technology moves on and my trusty Xbox just didn’t have the horsepower to play back high definition content. The next gen consoles can do it but they still aren’t as flexible as I’d like (although kudos to Microsoft for finally enabling DivX playback on the 360).

So what do to? The Mac Mini stepped in to fill the gap nicely; the new Core Duo models are fairly powerful, it’s tiny and it’s almost silent running. It’s also surprisingly good value for money – I can’t build a PC that ticks all those boxes for the price of a mini.

It seems like the developers of the original XBMC software had the same thought and they’ve been porting the media player software to OSX. Over the past month or so I’ve been watching the OSXBMC project with interest and it looks like it’s finally become solid enough for general use.

XBMC (the Xbox Media Center) is a front end application for playing back video and music. Think Front Row++. Unlike Front Row it doesn’t force you to have your audio/video files in the iTunes managed folder structure, and it also plays back just about anything you can throw at it including .ISO/VOB and FLAC files.

Front row can do some of this with perian, but XBMC seems more efficient to me. In my testing it played 720p .MKV files from a LAN share with no dropped frames and can also handle 1080p content, although that’s pushing the mac to the limits of it’s ability. I’ve never been able to do either of these with Front Row/Perian.

Although I said it’s solid, it still has it’s roots very much in the Xbox world. That means that there are some menu items on the main interface that are just not applicable to the mac and others that behave slightly oddly. If you don’t mind a bit of experimentation though it’s well worth a look.

Get the software from here, and the FAQ here

5 reviews or comments

Doodlydood Says: November 1, 2008 at 5:26 am

Hi there – I am considering doing the same to replace my 5yr old XBOX XBMC.

Either that, or an Apple TV. Seems for the extra couple hundred I’ll get longer life out of the Mac Mini approach. How are you finding it? Any major quirks or issues that would cause you to change your mind?

Luke Says: March 19, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I found this over on 123 Mac Mini, this guide is pretty straight forward and slick:

Karl Says: April 25, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I just finished with the start of a mac mini media center. I also have 2 AppleTV’s with Boxee Loaded on them, that being said here is what my current Mac Mini Media Center has.

1. Mac Mini 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 120 gig HD
2. Elgato EyeTV Hybrid
3. ClearStream 2 DTV Multi-Directional Antenna
4. Boxee
5. TVU Networks Beta Version: 0.7.0 for Live TV Streams
6. Western Digital 2 TB Network Access Drive (I can stream to any device in the house)
7. DVI to HDMI cable
8. IPOD to RCA dual Cable for Audio to the TV (Don’t have a receiver yet)
9. Logitech diNovo Mini Wiresless keyboard/mouse
10. XBOX 360 hooked into the Elgato EyeTV Hybrid

More to come :)

Boing! Says: April 7, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Just stumbled upon this site, seems to be the end all be all for a Mac HTPC. The section on emulation is epic:

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