So I finally broke down and bought the Mac mini I'd been eyeing for several months now. I originally planned on buying it as soon as I returned from my trip to Mississippi, but hesitated because of the WWDC-announced migration to Intel CPUs. But since I was eager to set up my 'Media Center Mac' I decided to go ahead and get the damn thing.
I drove up to the Apple Store in the Christiana Mall because I don't like waiting for shipping and the store has a nice military discount. To get the most out of the mini as a media center computer I elected to go with the so-called 'ultimate' package. Basically that's the mini with all the options: faster CPU, more RAM, bigger hard drive, SuperDrive, Bluetooth, Airport, yada yada...
Mac mini 'Ultimate'
1.42GHz PowerPC G4
512MB DDR333 SDRAM
80GB Ultra ATA drive
4x SuperDrive (DVD±RW/CD-RW)
Internal Bluetooth + AirPort Extreme Card
After the discount, that came out to $795 (no sales tax in Delaware). I added an Apple Wireless Keyboard & Mouse set for about $100 more. They were also offering $100 off any printer with the purchase of a Mac, so I picked up the HP PSC 1610 All-in-One ($29 after rebate).
So far, I'm really happy with it. As I expected from Apple, it was very easy to set it up out of the box. The only difficulty I came across was getting it to look right on my Samsung 32'' DynaFlat HDTV. I had to buy a DVI cable from Best Buy on the way home ($49), but I had a hell of a time getting the settings right. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that this model HDTV is not 16:9 widescreen, but I finally got it working on 720 x 480.
Connecting it to my home network was a breeze. I transferred all of my music and photos over from my laptop into iTunes and iPhoto. I've used iTunes for Windows before and I've always liked it. iPhoto, however, feels a bit clunky to me. It won't let me organize my photos the way I want to, but maybe I'm just not familar enough with the program yet or OS X doesn't like my hierarchical way of thinking.
Since then I've been going download-crazy, grabbing tons of cool videos from GrouchyMedia.com and QuickTime movie trailers. Video plackback quality is excellent on the HDTV- exactly what I was hoping for.
I haven't used a Macintosh regularly since before Windows 95, and I have to say I am as impressed with OS X Tiger as I thought I would be. Finder is so fast its scary. Safari is ok, and its growing on me, but I might just have to try out Firefox for Mac. The interface is simple yet beautiful, but I'm going to have to get used to only having the one mouse button. All in all, OS X lives up to my expectations and I'm eager to tinker around with it.
All in all, the Mac mini has integrated nicely into my home theatre. I wanted to be able to watch videos, browse photos, play music and surf the web on my TV while sitting on my couch with a wireless keyboard and mouse, and the Mac mini does all these things very well. Not a bad little setup for less than $1000.
Now I just have to figure out how to watch TV and use the Mac at the same time...