Ever since the Mac Mini was released I've been in conflict with it's usefulness as a desktop machine, or even a desktop replacement. Then I read about Ford using Mac Mini's to monitor some of their production lines, and it got me into thinking that this new standalone box has something else to revere and admire besides it's great looks.
Learning about Apple TV, I initially dismissed it as a Big Boy's toy that only US-based users would really benefit from. I was glad to have been proven wrong when I found that it works just as well anywhere, as long as it's pumped up with the right currency! Pay-per-View was redefined with Apple TV, so much so that even the regional Sat TV companies are beginning to notice.Personally, after 12 years of experience in rigging my PC to work on a simple TV, I can safely say that having a fully capable PC working on your living room TV set is just as useful as having a laptop.....on your lap.
|2010 Mac Mini Front|
This is especially true if you're someone who enjoys downloading movies & TV shows off the internet and watching them on your PC/Laptop. Sure, you can always hook up your TV to your machine using any of the various wires & cables available today (but weren't even considered commercially 12 years ago!) and enjoy the latest episode of Lost, but you'd be using a horse to do a pony's job.
On the other hand, if you've built/bought a PC, usually a Wintel machine, or a Mac solely to be used as an entertainment system, that would be a waste too. Video resolutions aside, you'd just be wasting away powerful processing energy just to watch movies. Today's Graphics cards do have HDMI support, but they're also designed for hardcore gaming and ultra-fast Video processing, neither of which come close to watching a movie on Blueray DVD.
Apple TV was designed ( I suppose) to fill the gap between a weak and strong home computer that would double as a Home Entertainment Center, with less expensive (but restrictive) offerings that would enable the users to enjoy the best of both worlds. The tech specs alone are impressive, and the small wonder enables you to browse iTunes, Netflix, Youtube & Flickr, rent & own your favorite movies & TV shows and watch everything on a 720p HDMI with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround capabilities, LAN and WIFI capabilities, etc...all for a very low price of US$ 99.
|Western Digital TV Live hub|
But you're still not able to surf the net, nor check your email, nor play a game, it can't act as a wireless router, it can't run programs, it can't run Productivity Applications of any sort, and it can't be used as a unified storage & archival device....and for the detail-oriented who hasn't spotted that despicable shortcoming of Apple TV yet, it's not full 1080p HD! Way to go Apple Marketing Team!!
In my books, it's still not a home computer in the traditional sense either, nor is it a fully-functioning Home Entertainment system yet. A hard look at it would show that it's just another Apple toy for Boys & Girls who don't know better. In fact, there are cheaper alternatives out there that would do just that and more, such as the Dell Zino HD, the Western Digital TV Live Hub, or even the Seagate FreeAgent Theatre+
|Seagate FreeAgent Theatre+|
Enter the Mac Mini of 2010. A wonder of advanced electronics and compact engineering wizardry that's simple to use, yet extremely useful to all user types, from beginners to Uber-experts! Besides it's obvious nature of being a fully fledged desktop machine, it's capable of sprouting up to 1080p HD, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround with appropriate connections for both, capable of storing and managing entire libraries of multimedia centrally, AND can allow multiple users to share these libraries simultaneously, over WIFI or over a network.
You can use iTunes to download & watch any available show or movie or listen to any available song, album or podcast. You can use Safari to browse to any site, download & run any program and play any available game. You can use iLife to manage your Digital media, iWorks to manage a full business, etc...all of this starting from US$ 699.
|Dell Zino HD|
Here's the real kicker, with the pervasiveness of low-cost HD-capable TV's in the market today, it's very easy to set up a real home entertainment system using a $700 Mac Mini and a reasonably priced HDMI-capable TV, and have a great-looking desktop computer in the living room. Also, with additional tweaking and setup, you can have your Mac Mini double (or triple) as a wireless router and Multimedia server as well. Just plug in an Ego device, turn on "Internet Sharing" and you're ready to do. You can even easily use the "Home Sharing" feature on iTunes, and import, encode and share all your media with up to five home computers.
Personally, I 'download' my TV and Movies in either AVI, Divx or Xvid format, burn them on disk or load them up on a USB drive, place either of these two into a compatible DVD player hooked up to my TV and enjoy the ride. And depending on the encoding of the file I downloaded, the picture & sound are usually 'adequate' for my own use most of the time. I would go farther to argue that having a standalone Media Center would be much less tiresome and cheaper, but my particular WiFi setup is such that I am unable to pull a WiFi signal from my office room downstairs to my Living room upstairs, thus negating the need for any of these devices to begin with.
However, should I decide to invest in a standalone, WiFi, or otherwise, connected Media Center, I would go for the Mac Mini or the Seagate Freeagent Theatre+, and not the Apple TV. The Mac may be more expensive, but the extra features and capabilities more than make up for it. After all, I could recycle it's function to use it as a backup server for my other Apple machines, I could use it as a fully-functioning desktop to replace my existing Wintel machine, or I could simply keep it in the living room for the kids. I'm sure it's simple enough for them, and it's certainly safe enough to have them use it without worrying about them inadvertently running malicious software.
Thank you Apple, and thank God for Technology!