AppleTV – the Mini Mini?

A quick thought on the AppleTV box…

Not only does it look like half a Mac Mini – that’s probably rather close to what it actually is. It has about half the hard disk space, for example, and is about half the price.

AppleTV connectors
It has a better set of A/V connectors on the back, but the main thing it’s missing, from my point of view, is a DVD drive.

“Aha!”, you may say. “That’s because it’s not meant to be a PC – it’s meant to stream video from your PC, and your PC will have a DVD slot.” Yes, but DVD video is not very highly compressed, and streaming it over a wireless network, though it should in theory be possible, might be a bit challenging. So you’d have to rip the DVD to some other format on your PC before viewing it on your AppleTV, which can take all night.

Apple, of course, would like some aspects of this – it means it’s much easier simply to buy your movies through iTunes. And it is true that buying or renting movies on DVD is going to be ever-less-important over the coming years.

But I’ve had a Mac Mini under my TV for some time now, and it’s been great. It will do almost everything the AppleTV will do and a lot more, so I’m going to stick with that for a while.

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As well as no DVD, the AppleTV does not have video in, so no recording broadcasts either. It does have a USB port …

Yep, no DVD drive but USB is present. That means an obvious way to attach a keyboard and mouse, and an external optical drive. If this can really run a full OS, it would make a quite nice Mini Mac mini. You don’t really need an optical all too often, in this day and age. If it will let you run an HDMI to DVI/VGA adapter, it is conceivable that it might be hacked into a full on regular desktop computer. It will be very interesting to find out exactly what CPU this and the iPhone use, and how stripped down the OS is.

According to a discussion on a recent MacBreak episode, though, the USB is not enabled for any of the things you think it might be enabled for. It’s for ‘service purposes only’, says somebody who spoke to an Apple engineer at MacWorld.

I’m beginning to think the AppleTV is an over sized iPod that won’t even play iPod games, while the MacPhone is an iPod that pretends to run OS X but won’t let you run user apps (J2ME?) We’ll just have to wait and see.

What about connecting a external harddrive to the AppleTV through the USB port. Is that possible? I mean, I personally don’t like the fact that I have to keep my iMac turned on for streaming. I would like the AppleTV to work as a complete stand-alone media center.

Well, lots of people have hacked them to replace the internal hard disk with a much bigger one, but as yet there isn’t support for external hard drives.

My Mac Mini works brilliantly, does pretty much everything the AppleTV does and more, and I can attach as many extra drives to it as I want. That’s my recommendation, if you can run to the slightly greater expense…

Can you fit a DVB-T (digital terrestrial TV) card in the Mac Mini, in which case it would make a good TV as well?

Golly, John, you do manage to dig up some old threads! We’re, let’s see, two versions of the AppleTV on from then, and about three versions of the Mac Mini…

But yes, from the word go I have had an Elgato DVB-T receiver, though an external one: mine’s on FireWire, I think they’re all USB nowadays. All the TV we watch, other than what comes through the door from LoveFilm, is recorded using Elgato’s Eye-TV software: we just set it up to record things with ‘Downton’ in the title, for example. Oh, and there’s a shortcut to the BBC iPlayer in the dock too.

It’s a wonderful system… I have good things to watch whenever I want them and I haven’t seen any TV commercials for five years…

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