Mac Mini Media Center
My preferred method of getting film & TV is bittorrent. (I’d actually prefer to buy content because I’d like some quality assurance, but that’s not possible in Canada right now.) The best app on the mac is by far xtorrent. You can search for and download a file right from the same app. It will negotiate directly with your router so that you don’t need to mess with ports. You can subscribe to feeds and even open a web browser right inside xtorrent – and any torrent file you click will begin downloading. So it’s dead simple to use, yet with most of the advanced features you might need – I especially appreciate folder watching & bandwidth throttling. Plus it’s beautiful. All in all it’s worth the $20.
I use front row for video and music playback. Once you add Perian, front row will play almost any file that bittorrent throws at it, and the remote is a great thing to have. Since the mini’s internal drive is small (and expensive to get a larger one from Apple), I hooked up an external FireWire drive. You can use the advanced preferences in iTunes to store music on the external. For videos, this is trickier. What I did was a) delete my default “Movies” folder within my user directory on the mini; b) create a “Movies” folder on the external drive and put all the movie files in there; c) use make symlink to make a symbolic link to the external Movies folder within my user folder.
One little side note: xtorrent can automatically move finished downloads based on filetype to specified folders. So (assuming the file isn’t compressed) I can set a bunch of videos to download, and then check next time I’m in front row if they’re watchable. Graceful!
I don’t even have a mouse or keyboard hooked up to the mini. I control it either with the remote, or via Chicken of the VNC from my laptop. Or from work, for that matter – don’t tell the IT department, but it’s handy to VNC in at lunchtime to set up downloads for that evening. Also, I set up an FTP server for sharing files with a few pals.
There are definitely cheaper ways of doing this, of course. Before it got stolen, I was using an old Powerbook G4. It worked pretty well, although he had become a cranky bastard and crashed a lot. Plus, although it tended to impress people, using my cellphone to control music & video (via Salling Clicker) was a little clunky. The whole mini thing is miles slicker, and more futureproofed since the mini plays HD files no problem, and doesn’t choke on fatter video codecs like the old guy used to.
Possible add-ons include: