The MacMini HDTV revolution

Yesterday I was over talking with the team behind Retrevo, the consumer electronics search engine.

We all agreed that Apple TV sucks. More on that in a minute.

But we all notice a trend: hooking MacMinis up to your HTDV. I think it’s a revolution. Revolutions always start small and among the weirdos.

Dave Winer had been on me for a while to get rid of my AppleTV and get a MacMini. As with other revolutions that Dave has started it took me about 1.5 years to get what he was saying and see the brilliance in it. Seriously, he showed me RSS for 1.5 years before I really started using it.

So, a few weeks ago I bought a MacMini, partly to get Dave off of my back and partly to help him test his new software, releasing today.

Now I’m pissed that it took me so long and I’m pissed at the industry that it just doesn’t get what’s coming and they keep trying to lock me into closed boxes like the Apple TV or the Xbox. I have an Xbox too, and a Media Center, so hear me out where I’m going.

Putting a MacMini on my TV is geeky. It’s not for everyone. Damn, I sound just like someone who discovered the Apple II back in 1977. Only the geeks got personal computing back then. Most people thought personal computers were stupid, back then. Heck, Wozniak offered to HP and Atari a chance to build his personal computer. They turned him down because revolutions in this business never are very obvious at the beginning.

Anyway, how is this a revolution? Ask my son. He now plays World of Warcraft on our 60-inch screen. He never really cared about the HD screen before. Or, look at Maryam. She loves putting pictures of Milan up on it. She also is crazy about Dave Winer’s new thing. More on that in a second too.

But why is this a revolution? Easy. It has a Web browser. It’s amazing how often I use the Web browser on the TV. “But you can’t read the fonts,” I can hear you saying. That’s not true. On the Mac keyboard you hold down the “Ctrl” key and then use your mouse’s wheel to zoom in and out.

The MacMini has totally changed my TV into something that’s NOT just a TV anymore. It’s revolutionary after you use it. Especially when you compare to the Xbox’s Media Center Extender (no Web browser) or the Apple TV (no Web browser) or my DirecTV box (no Web browser).

Why isn’t it a mass-market revolution yet? Three reasons:

1. They haven’t seen Dave Winer’s new software running on it.
2. The MacMini is too expensive to be a consumer electronics purchase (it costs about $700, and the Nintendo Wii demonstrated that consumer electronics needs to cost closer to $300, which is what the AppleTV costs, but the AppleTV doesn’t come with a Web browser so is ultimately crippled and will never participate in the new HDTV revolution).
3. It still seems a bit weird to hook a computer up to a TV (although the MacMini is ultra quiet, and cute so that it overcomes two of the previous objections that people had to bringing a computer into the living room).
4. Too many people assume a TV is just for watching TV and haven’t considered doing anything else on it. Sounds like the cell phone market before the iPhone, huh?

Anyway, what does Dave Winer’s new software do? It puts pictures up on my HDTV. “Huh, that’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard,” I can hear you saying. But didn’t you also say that about Twitter? About IM? About the PC itself back in 1977? Yeah, yeah, you did, own up to it.

But it doesn’t just do that. It brings YOUR photos into my house if you put them on Flickr and I add you to my TV set. Even better, it puts professional photography up on my HDTV. Amazing images from around the world.

I love having great photography on my TV from my friends and from the best professionals around the world.

Oh, and the AppleTV does suck. I gave it to Patrick, maybe he can sell it to you so he can afford to buy a MacMini for his house.

Putting a MacMini on my HDTV was the best gadget purchase I’ve made this year.

UPDATE: I’ll demo it live over on http://www.qik.com/scobleizer as soon as it’s released. Dave tells me that should be tonight sometime, although it’s software so we’ll Twitter about it as soon as it’s done.

UPDATE2: we’ll be demoing it LIVE at 9 p.m. on my Qik channel. You can participate by leaving comments — I’ll see those on my cell phone.

370 thoughts on “The MacMini HDTV revolution

  1. @josh – this is my last comment seeing as how Scoble has clearly given up on this post.

    I get what you are saying. A MacMini is easy to set up and it is pretty. It is also the exact same pretty as every other MacMini out there.

    My point about IR cables only applies if you have Tuners in the box which the MacMini does not have. So take the tuners out of a Windows Media Center PC (which by the accounts for the bulk of MCE machines sold today) and it matches the MacMini in simplicity of configuration.

    As for the pretty cases….just do a query in your fave search engine for “htpc cases” and you will find some beautiful cases. If you are aghast to moving the hardware yourself I understand that. Don’t fault Microsoft for that though. We don’t make the PC’s. PC users enjoy a freedom to create a machine that looks anyway they want it to look. We get to show our individual style and taste through the plentiful options presented to us by the wide variety of case manufacturers that are out there. With the MacMini you get the exact same looking box that every other MacMini owner has.

    Cheers….

  2. @josh – this is my last comment seeing as how Scoble has clearly given up on this post.

    I get what you are saying. A MacMini is easy to set up and it is pretty. It is also the exact same pretty as every other MacMini out there.

    My point about IR cables only applies if you have Tuners in the box which the MacMini does not have. So take the tuners out of a Windows Media Center PC (which by the accounts for the bulk of MCE machines sold today) and it matches the MacMini in simplicity of configuration.

    As for the pretty cases….just do a query in your fave search engine for “htpc cases” and you will find some beautiful cases. If you are aghast to moving the hardware yourself I understand that. Don’t fault Microsoft for that though. We don’t make the PC’s. PC users enjoy a freedom to create a machine that looks anyway they want it to look. We get to show our individual style and taste through the plentiful options presented to us by the wide variety of case manufacturers that are out there. With the MacMini you get the exact same looking box that every other MacMini owner has.

    Cheers….

  3. The best thing about the Mac Mini as a HTPC – it passes the “Wife test” that any piece of living-room electronics has to pass. It’s small, it’s quiet, and it’s not covered with too many blinking lights.

    It’s a stealthy way to get a full computer into the living room, and once it’s there, the possibilities are open. :)

  4. The best thing about the Mac Mini as a HTPC – it passes the “Wife test” that any piece of living-room electronics has to pass. It’s small, it’s quiet, and it’s not covered with too many blinking lights.

    It’s a stealthy way to get a full computer into the living room, and once it’s there, the possibilities are open. :)

  5. Hi,
    I was reviewing exchange of words between you and Chris from Microsoft and I have to say that Chris is right. The revolution you speak about has been around for awhile, it is not something new and MS has had it for many years with the Media Center editions. If you remove the ‘look of the computer’ you will notice that all the features you are talking about were already in MS Media Center. If you were talking about the external look and feel of the computer then Apple would win hands down, but you are mentioning the features more than the look in which case it is not revolutionary.

  6. Hi,
    I was reviewing exchange of words between you and Chris from Microsoft and I have to say that Chris is right. The revolution you speak about has been around for awhile, it is not something new and MS has had it for many years with the Media Center editions. If you remove the ‘look of the computer’ you will notice that all the features you are talking about were already in MS Media Center. If you were talking about the external look and feel of the computer then Apple would win hands down, but you are mentioning the features more than the look in which case it is not revolutionary.

  7. Currently I use my Wii to surf the web on my old school tube TV and it’s very good except for one thing….Flash Video. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. This is where a MacMini would come in handy, but I wont make this upgrade until I have a nice new TV to go with it.

    I messed with Dave’s new app and it’s pretty darn good. I have been thinking of RSS to big screen TV for years but don’t have the coding ability to even know where to start. iPhoto can take care of it locally but the fun in Dave’s app is that I can get pictures from everyone (this is good or bad depending on the source..LOL).

  8. Currently I use my Wii to surf the web on my old school tube TV and it’s very good except for one thing….Flash Video. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. This is where a MacMini would come in handy, but I wont make this upgrade until I have a nice new TV to go with it.

    I messed with Dave’s new app and it’s pretty darn good. I have been thinking of RSS to big screen TV for years but don’t have the coding ability to even know where to start. iPhoto can take care of it locally but the fun in Dave’s app is that I can get pictures from everyone (this is good or bad depending on the source..LOL).

  9. I’ve been using my Tivo to do this with my own photos for a couple years, right off my network, and in maybe the last year or so other people’s photos as well. No additional hardware, easy as pie, everybody in our extended family does it. Hardly need a new piece of equipment to look at photos.

  10. I’ve been using my Tivo to do this with my own photos for a couple years, right off my network, and in maybe the last year or so other people’s photos as well. No additional hardware, easy as pie, everybody in our extended family does it. Hardly need a new piece of equipment to look at photos.

  11. Are you late to the party or what? I’ve been playing Half Life deathmatches for *years* on my big screen tv. And Apple?!? No thanks.

  12. Are you late to the party or what? I’ve been playing Half Life deathmatches for *years* on my big screen tv. And Apple?!? No thanks.

  13. @Kevin-
    “A MacBook Pro with an HDMI cable works pretty nicely too. Why would I need a Mini?”

    A MacBook Pro costs a whole lot more than a Mac mini.

  14. @Kevin-
    “A MacBook Pro with an HDMI cable works pretty nicely too. Why would I need a Mini?”

    A MacBook Pro costs a whole lot more than a Mac mini.

  15. @Kevin-
    “A MacBook Pro with an HDMI cable works pretty nicely too. Why would I need a Mini?”

    A MacBook Pro costs a whole lot more than a Mac mini.

  16. @Kevin-
    “A MacBook Pro with an HDMI cable works pretty nicely too. Why would I need a Mini?”

    A MacBook Pro costs a whole lot more than a Mac mini.

  17. Chris Avis:

    Clearly you are missing the entire point. You say things like “The hardest thing is setting up the infrared transmitter” or “You can easily transfer your system to a pretty case”. The point is, I don’t want to do any of that. I did that for years, I built a Media Center PC and got a nice custom case with quiet fans and custom VFD displays, etc. I spent hours upon hours working on all that crap.

    Perhaps if I outline my mac mini setup again, it will be easier to understand:

    1) Go purchase a tiny computer from apple, along with the DVI->HDMI converter and the mini-optical jack converter.
    2) Go home and hook up power, sound, video, and network.
    3) Turn on Mac mini
    4) Enjoy DVDs or content on the network using the nice 5 button remote

    There are a few key points you might miss in there:
    1) My 2 and 3 year old understand how to work that remote
    2) My fiance also loves the simplicity of the remote
    3) I didn’t spend time tinkering with hardware
    4) It just all works, and it works even better under Leopard!

  18. Chris Avis:

    Clearly you are missing the entire point. You say things like “The hardest thing is setting up the infrared transmitter” or “You can easily transfer your system to a pretty case”. The point is, I don’t want to do any of that. I did that for years, I built a Media Center PC and got a nice custom case with quiet fans and custom VFD displays, etc. I spent hours upon hours working on all that crap.

    Perhaps if I outline my mac mini setup again, it will be easier to understand:

    1) Go purchase a tiny computer from apple, along with the DVI->HDMI converter and the mini-optical jack converter.
    2) Go home and hook up power, sound, video, and network.
    3) Turn on Mac mini
    4) Enjoy DVDs or content on the network using the nice 5 button remote

    There are a few key points you might miss in there:
    1) My 2 and 3 year old understand how to work that remote
    2) My fiance also loves the simplicity of the remote
    3) I didn’t spend time tinkering with hardware
    4) It just all works, and it works even better under Leopard!

  19. Why not use something like TVersity to stream this stuff to your TV through your game console. Its easy to setup and you can subscribe to photo and video feeds (flickr, youtube and any other media sharing site you can think of). Plus its been around for a while now and is pretty stable and doesn’t require you to go and spend 700 more dollars.

  20. Why not use something like TVersity to stream this stuff to your TV through your game console. Its easy to setup and you can subscribe to photo and video feeds (flickr, youtube and any other media sharing site you can think of). Plus its been around for a while now and is pretty stable and doesn’t require you to go and spend 700 more dollars.

  21. Why not use something like TVersity to stream this stuff to your TV through your game console. Its easy to setup and you can subscribe to photo and video feeds (flickr, youtube and any other media sharing site you can think of). Plus its been around for a while now and is pretty stable and doesn’t require you to go and spend 700 more dollars.

  22. Why not use something like TVersity to stream this stuff to your TV through your game console. Its easy to setup and you can subscribe to photo and video feeds (flickr, youtube and any other media sharing site you can think of). Plus its been around for a while now and is pretty stable and doesn’t require you to go and spend 700 more dollars.

  23. Why not use something like TVersity to stream this stuff to your TV through your game console. Its easy to setup and you can subscribe to photo and video feeds (flickr, youtube and any other media sharing site you can think of). Plus its been around for a while now and is pretty stable and doesn’t require you to go and spend 700 more dollars.

  24. Hi Robert-

    I wonder if Apple omitted the browser because having a browser means you need a KEYBOARD and that really SUCKS for just watching TV. I thought about getting a mini w/Bluetooth KB for my living room, but when I want to watch TV I don’t want to have to log in, etc. With the AppleTV you don’t have to do that, it’s super easy.

    IMO, Apple messed up with AppleTv 1.0 and they need to do 3 things to make it a game-changer:

    (1) allow on-line rental of movies (this is the biggest and it sounds like they are going to do it)
    (2) allow direct purchase from iTunes without syncing to a Mac
    (3) add in a DVD player, at least as an option; I don’t want a ton of wires etc to my TV

    If they do those 3, they’ll have me as a customer.

    -Mike

  25. Hi Robert-

    I wonder if Apple omitted the browser because having a browser means you need a KEYBOARD and that really SUCKS for just watching TV. I thought about getting a mini w/Bluetooth KB for my living room, but when I want to watch TV I don’t want to have to log in, etc. With the AppleTV you don’t have to do that, it’s super easy.

    IMO, Apple messed up with AppleTv 1.0 and they need to do 3 things to make it a game-changer:

    (1) allow on-line rental of movies (this is the biggest and it sounds like they are going to do it)
    (2) allow direct purchase from iTunes without syncing to a Mac
    (3) add in a DVD player, at least as an option; I don’t want a ton of wires etc to my TV

    If they do those 3, they’ll have me as a customer.

    -Mike

  26. There have been a number of Media Center Flickr plug-ins over the last couple of years.

    One of the more popular ones is Big Screen Photos, http://www.mobilewares.net/mce/bsp2/default.htm.

    Version 1 was released in mid 2006.

    Big Screen Photos also works with Media Center Extender devices. So you can use it either with your Media Center PC directly connected to your HDTV or use it via an extender device connected to your HDTV.

    Give it a whirl and see how it compares to Dave’s new Flickr app.

    Cheers

  27. There have been a number of Media Center Flickr plug-ins over the last couple of years.

    One of the more popular ones is Big Screen Photos, http://www.mobilewares.net/mce/bsp2/default.htm.

    Version 1 was released in mid 2006.

    Big Screen Photos also works with Media Center Extender devices. So you can use it either with your Media Center PC directly connected to your HDTV or use it via an extender device connected to your HDTV.

    Give it a whirl and see how it compares to Dave’s new Flickr app.

    Cheers

  28. Apple is stupid for not positioning the Mac Mini as their media center solution (speaking as someone who hooked up a Mac Mini this way over a year before Jobs released Apple TV). Seriously, the only thing it really needs is an HDMI port so I don’t have to go through a converter.

    But I’ll say this too: I also have a Nintendo Wii, and guess which one I do most of my web surfing with?

    The problem is that a Mac Mini still requires a keyboard and mouse to do anything other than use FrontRow. You just can’t do that comfortably from a couch – you really can’t do it in your lap, and leaning forward to use it on a coffee table just isn’t comfortable.

    Nintendo gave me a controller that functions as a mouse, that I can use while leaning back. For casual surfing, that makes all the difference. Apple needs to do the same thing, maybe offer up the iPhone/iPod Touch as a remote control?

  29. Apple is stupid for not positioning the Mac Mini as their media center solution (speaking as someone who hooked up a Mac Mini this way over a year before Jobs released Apple TV). Seriously, the only thing it really needs is an HDMI port so I don’t have to go through a converter.

    But I’ll say this too: I also have a Nintendo Wii, and guess which one I do most of my web surfing with?

    The problem is that a Mac Mini still requires a keyboard and mouse to do anything other than use FrontRow. You just can’t do that comfortably from a couch – you really can’t do it in your lap, and leaning forward to use it on a coffee table just isn’t comfortable.

    Nintendo gave me a controller that functions as a mouse, that I can use while leaning back. For casual surfing, that makes all the difference. Apple needs to do the same thing, maybe offer up the iPhone/iPod Touch as a remote control?

  30. Weird coincidence – I just got a 42″ Sony Bravia and a Mac Mini and hooked them up (DVI to HDMI). I love it.

    However, I also have an Apple TV hooked up via component and love it too. Here is what it has that the Mac Mini does not – it is SIMPLE and a no-brainer for non geeks to set up.

    I think that is the point many are missing in this discussion. Most of the posters here, and Robert Scoble, and Dave Winer, are all technophiles. We can “hack” something to get it to do what we want. Most consumers are NOT capable or interested in that level of effort.

    And that is why the Apple TV, in the right context, is still a great device.

  31. Weird coincidence – I just got a 42″ Sony Bravia and a Mac Mini and hooked them up (DVI to HDMI). I love it.

    However, I also have an Apple TV hooked up via component and love it too. Here is what it has that the Mac Mini does not – it is SIMPLE and a no-brainer for non geeks to set up.

    I think that is the point many are missing in this discussion. Most of the posters here, and Robert Scoble, and Dave Winer, are all technophiles. We can “hack” something to get it to do what we want. Most consumers are NOT capable or interested in that level of effort.

    And that is why the Apple TV, in the right context, is still a great device.

  32. AppleTV does indeed suck (and is one of Apple’s few failures of late), but people have been hooking up Mac Mini to HDTVs since the day they were first reieased. And it’s not any kind of revolution, people have been hooking up computers to HDTVs for years. I’m not sure what the purpose of this blog entry is.

  33. AppleTV does indeed suck (and is one of Apple’s few failures of late), but people have been hooking up Mac Mini to HDTVs since the day they were first reieased. And it’s not any kind of revolution, people have been hooking up computers to HDTVs for years. I’m not sure what the purpose of this blog entry is.

  34. AppleTV does indeed suck (and is one of Apple’s few failures of late), but people have been hooking up Mac Mini to HDTVs since the day they were first reieased. And it’s not any kind of revolution, people have been hooking up computers to HDTVs for years. I’m not sure what the purpose of this blog entry is.

  35. Apple TV can be as good as MacMini is, provided Apple opens the platform for developers.

    There are various hacks, which let you do most of things… As we know, Apple TV runs Tiger (10.4).

    I am waiting for Apple to announce some SDK for developers, let developer do something with it. Currently, I check for software-update once in a month, with a hope there is something cool..

    Apple TV can be improved, one example is by having caching of videos (YouTube or whatever), it doesn’t cache it and costs us more bandwidth ($$$) everytime you watch the same video.

    I now hate closed platform more than ever.

    Thanks for the post, it surely has some geeky stuff I should try sometime :)

    -abdul

  36. Apple TV can be as good as MacMini is, provided Apple opens the platform for developers.

    There are various hacks, which let you do most of things… As we know, Apple TV runs Tiger (10.4).

    I am waiting for Apple to announce some SDK for developers, let developer do something with it. Currently, I check for software-update once in a month, with a hope there is something cool..

    Apple TV can be improved, one example is by having caching of videos (YouTube or whatever), it doesn’t cache it and costs us more bandwidth ($$$) everytime you watch the same video.

    I now hate closed platform more than ever.

    Thanks for the post, it surely has some geeky stuff I should try sometime :)

    -abdul

  37. zomg…lets hook up a little crappy Mac to a TV and look at our pictures on it and browse the web…its a revolution! B.S. – the market time and time again has told us that people want their internet and computing experiences mostly separate. That is why DVRs, which are full fledged computers, have limited functionality.

  38. zomg…lets hook up a little crappy Mac to a TV and look at our pictures on it and browse the web…its a revolution! B.S. – the market time and time again has told us that people want their internet and computing experiences mostly separate. That is why DVRs, which are full fledged computers, have limited functionality.

  39. zomg…lets hook up a little crappy Mac to a TV and look at our pictures on it and browse the web…its a revolution! B.S. – the market time and time again has told us that people want their internet and computing experiences mostly separate. That is why DVRs, which are full fledged computers, have limited functionality.

  40. zomg…lets hook up a little crappy Mac to a TV and look at our pictures on it and browse the web…its a revolution! B.S. – the market time and time again has told us that people want their internet and computing experiences mostly separate. That is why DVRs, which are full fledged computers, have limited functionality.

  41. Speaking of an iPhone-like tablet w. AppleTV features : pushing the concept further, you get… a full-size TV set. LCD touch-screen, MultiTouch UI, iPhone hw+sw features set + AppleTV hw+sw features set.
    Add the hard-drive, the connectivity, and al., and… enters the iMac-Touch ;-)

  42. Speaking of an iPhone-like tablet w. AppleTV features : pushing the concept further, you get… a full-size TV set. LCD touch-screen, MultiTouch UI, iPhone hw+sw features set + AppleTV hw+sw features set.
    Add the hard-drive, the connectivity, and al., and… enters the iMac-Touch ;-)

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