Apple TV vs Mac Mini

January 17, 2007 at 10:28 AM | categories: python, oldblog | View Comments

Brady has a post asking what people think about the apple TV vs Mac Mini. I started writing a reply there, but it grew massively in length, so I've posted it here instead. (most of the post below the cut!) Why the long reply? I've got a Mac Mini plugged into the TV video the composite video connector and can see arguments both ways. At the end of the day though, my take is a Mini rather than Apple TV - I prefer a computer to be a computer rather than an appliance (Actually I'm very tempted by a Dreambox 7020, but can't justify it right now).

Last week Apple didn't just release the iPhone. They also released Apple TV, a single use appliance that allows you to play music, watch movies and view your pictures from your home PCs or Macs. ... Both are small, both have iTunes -- what are the exact trade-offs? ... Of course, I wouldn't make my choice just between these two devices. Microsoft's Media Center or Ubuntu on a Shuttle PC would have to be considered as well.

The original reply I was posting:

I've got a Mac Mini in my living room, but suspect that the Apple TV box would make for a better TV only appliance, however it is a computer dressed up as an appliance - what if you want a computer?

Whilst the Apple Blog mentions, for example, "S-Video and composite video with optional adapter", the video quality is extremely saturated I've found, and whilst you can make it a bit better, it's less than ideal. The positioning of the traditional mac menu also means that you can't use overscan sensibly, which results in greater flicker (qualitatively). As a result you *can* watch things like DVD's and so on using a normal TV using the video adapter, but you'd probably prefer to use a DVD player. Due to the quality of video output, I've found that even at the lowest line res (480 lines), the quality still isn't really good enough for day to day use. (Which makes sense, PAL isn't really fields of 625 lines anymore than than NTSC is fields of 525 lines. Being visually reminded of this is a pain though)

It's certainly fine for occasional use though, and the filtering caused by the less than ideal video output (IMO) actually can mask some low bit rate video codec's problems which can make watching (for example) video trailers off the net nicer on the TV than on a laptop screen. (Which makes sense really - if you consider TV quality is really 625/2 lines or 525/2 lines for a stable/crisp image (if you're happy with less stable, you can treat it as 625 & 525 :-).

By comparison, plugging the Mini's DVI-out into a DVI-input or VGA input into a flatscreen TV is obviously a lot better and really quite nice.

However, the lack of an HDMI connector means that certain plans for HD content distribution simply won't be enabled by default. As a result I'd expect the Mini to be less useful in the general HDTV arena. (Simply because of the lack of the trusted display)

Personally, I think that's a pity, since the Mini is a really nice machine, *and* it's quieter than my PVR or DVD player (even when playing DVDs).

It's a pity really that the colour conversion (despite playing with the colour/display settings) to compositive video is through the Mini is as bad as it is.

At the end of the day, I'd suspect the question is really: what's your use case for it - sit back or lean forward? If the former (you can use a laptop for the latter), then Apple TV makes sense. If you're thinking of a useful machine (eg as a server & running apps) then a Mini makes more sense *if* you have a TV with DVI or VGA in, or your own DVI/VGA to video converter.

These area all minor hardware issues though. The real change is from a general purpose computer where the software is upgradeable to machines where you can't change the software. In the words of Ratchet from the film "Robots" "upgrades, not parts!".

Incidentally if you haven't seen it, you should see Robots. You might think the part of the film where the new shiny, brushed metal, robots are being talked about, keynote style, is rather reminiscient of certain styles of tech keynote talks.

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