Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mini is super

AirPort delays

Up to recently I was using an old Apple TV to watch my videos on my big HDTV (a 40-inch Sony Bravia Series S LCD). To store and feed the videos to the media box, I also needed a network hard-drive (a Vantec's NexStar Dual Bay Hard Drive Dock [NST-D200SU] with two terabyte-HDs plugged to an Apple's AirPort Extreme). Unfortunately, this setting always kept the HD spinning which eventually lead to drive failure. Deeming the setting unstable (and definitely unsafe for the drives) I decided to replace the Apple TV and therefore spent some time analyzing which devices would be the best candidates for replacement. The obvious choice is the new Apple TV 2: it is one of the cheapest options, but unfortunately has all the problems of the original Apple TV (a rather unflexible device that needs to be hacked to offer interesting functionality) and has been primarily designed for streaming specific content (mostly iTunes' movies, YouTube, NetFlix). Of course, there are plenty of media streaming devices out there (like the Popcorn Hour, the Roku, or the Boxee Box just to name a few) with each their advantages and problems. I had been pondering the dilemma for a while and finally concluded that the best and most flexible option (although the most expensive) was to use the latest Mac-Mini model.

Mini Me

The Mac-Mini (mid-2010 model) is a full-fledge computer that pack the same power as my iMac (the Mid-2007 model, which has a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 2 GB of RAM and 320 GB of HD) but in a much smaller box (it's about the same size of the old Apple TV). Therefore it could not only serves as a backup computer but also can easily play any type of video files (through Quicktime, Front Row, XBMC or Boxee) or even stream video from the internet. The greatest improvement on previous Mac-Mini models is that this one has an HDMI output which, like for the Apple TV, provide the best quality picture (1080p or 1920 x 1200). This is important in regard to the fact that the new Apple TV 2 offers only 720p. I can even watch Dvds since it also has a 8x slot-loading SuperDrive. As a bonus it also has a SD card slot, plenty of connectivity (a FireWire 800 port, four USB 2.0 ports, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 and 10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet) and can easily be upgraded, if needed, with more memory! In conclusion: it is so much more than what I had with the Apple TV.

Streaming is the dream

I am glad that I was able to quickly replaced my old Apple TV so I was not deprived for too long of the ability to watch downloaded videos. And I am even happier to have replaced it with a media player that is much better and more powerful. Now I can watch hi-definition videos (those heavy mkv files) without getting a jumpy picture or out of sync sound. I can browse the internet and enjoy all the advantage of iTunes from my couch. But I have also discovered something new.

I had heard of streaming sites like Hulu before, but never bothered to check it because it is not available in Canada. I've heard of several equivalent Canadian sites, but I don't like to watch TV on my computer (it's only a twenty-inch screen and the seat is really uncomfortable) and most of those sites don't work on my iPad because they are flash-based. I tried Crunchyroll or Netflix on the iPad but you get tired easily on a ten-inch screen (although some apps, like Netflix, work with the out-video cable) and it can still be a little slow or jerky sometimes. However I was really astonished by the ability of the Mac-Mini to stream video to my HDTV.

I am convinced that web TV is really the future of television and sometimes wonder why I still bother to pay for cable. You already can stream lots of video on demand and even live TV. Here's a few sites that I've found interesting:

More streaming anime links:

Live Tv links:

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