HTPC bliss with a Mac Mini and Plex

I bought a Mac Mini last week to use as an HTPC running Plex (replacing a noisy old PC laptop running MediaPortal), and I couldn’t be happier with it. I’ve cobbled together quite a few HTPCs over the years, and they generally left much to be desired. The Mini blows them all out of the water for a pretty reasonable price.

What I bought

I went for the smallest hard drive in the Mini since I stream my video from a Drobo. If you don’t plan to use an external drive or a NAS, I’d recommend getting a bigger drive.

What I already had lying around

Putting it all together

  1. Plug the Mini into the wall and the HDMI and TOSLINK cables into the Mini (via the aforementioned adapters). Plug the other ends into your receiver or TV.
  2. Boot up OS X. You’ll want a keyboard and mouse for this part, and possibly a monitor if OS X doesn’t automatically figure out a good resolution to use for your TV.
  3. Configure the display settings to match your TV’s native resolution. Check your TV’s manual for this number or, if you can’t find it, go for a standard HDTV resolution like 1280×720 (720p) or 1920×1080 (1080i/p). If OS X doesn’t list your TV’s native resolution (my Vizio LCD’s is 1366×768), you may need to use SwitchResX to get it working, but it’s not hard.
  4. Install and configure Plex.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about a TV tuner. That’s because there’s really not much point to having one these days. I download all my TV off the Internets. It’s so much more convenient.

If, like me, you want to stream HD video over an 802.11n network, I strongly recommend setting Plex’s Local Network Video Cache to 16MB. There’ll be a few seconds of buffering when you start a video, but it’ll save you from annoying pauses and dropouts if the signal quality fluctuates while you’re watching something.

If you want to stream HD video over anything less than 802.11n, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

Once you’ve got Plex installed, be sure to check out the Plex App Store, where you’ll find apps that seamlessly integrate Hulu, YouTube, and other awesome content into Plex. There’s even an app that will stream recorded content directly from a TiVo if you have one. Despite the name, all the apps in the App Store are free, just like Plex itself.

I’ve already watched a ridiculous number of hours of video on this thing, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. If you’ve been looking for an awesome, relatively inexpensive, easy to set up HTPC, I highly recommend the Mac Mini and Plex.