Apple’s Woes in the Media PC Forefront

Apple recently has made their addition to the perfonal video recording (PVR)/ media center world in the form of their "FrontRow" application (released last year).  Mac fans and fanatics alike cheered it as the next generation killer application for PVR shortly after its release.  This year, Apple has moved to the intel platform, and now is selling their Mac Mini with frontrow installed on it.  Unfortunately (for Apple) the Mini really isn't all that great as a PVR, and it barely eeks for usefulness beyond DVD and MP3 (AAV) playback.  The following reasons cited in ehomeupgrade's article chime loud and clear to me as to why the Mac still hasn't penetrated the PVR market and is a ways off from even competing with a Media Center PC.

  • Expandability - Macs tend not to be expandable, this means that adding more hard disk space in a Mac is very problematic.  PVRs are in constant need of expanded storage space, so this is a big problem.

  • Performance / Support - Macs tend to have limited support for third party peripherals.  This means that the MPEG-2 encoder cards, HD tuner cards, and CableLabs OCUR cards will either come late to the Mac or will never get there.  The low-end Macs tend to cut corners on their Video hardware and this means that HD content playback and encoding could be effected when the machine is multitasking.

  • Price - Yes, Apple sells their Mini for $600.  But that is a really really stripped down version -- in actuality you are looking at around $800 for a machine that can realisticly perform with OS X and typical applications.  Upgrades to larger hard drives from Apple are expensive ($175 for a 120gb drive???) and since the Mini parts are most likely proprietary, upgrades for typical users are prohibitively difficult.

It's interesting to see where Apple excels and where they fail.  I have found that Media Center Edition PCs are becoming more and more common and I believe that with the adoption of extender technology, the Media Center Edition PC may end up in many more homes in future.

Comments (6)
  1. Rosyna says:

    All that assumes the Mac mini was designed to host the video files. After all, Front Row now has Bonjour support. Not to mention the fact the Mac mini has firewire, so it can access large amounts of HD space via that.

  2. gclassy says:

    Yes, I know the mini was really supposed to be a small, compact, and budget-minded computer that can run OS X. In truth, I think the mini is great at what it was intended to be — Apple’s version of a cheap personal computer (similary to the eMachines-like computers). The article I mentioned points out something that the mini is not but that it is construed to be by some people — a capable PVR — and I wanted to draw attention to this.

    I like your point about Bonjour and Firewire.  The only issue is that then you are truly comparing the Mini to a Windows Media Center Extender — a device that is really something more of a peripheral component to a PVR than a PVR itself.

    I really just wanted to disspell the myth that:

    "you could have a tiny, quiet, powerful little box you could slip into any home theater system for only $499" [PVRblog — see]

  3. Rosyna says:

    Well, due to the higher prices of Intel’s processors and chipsets, the Mac mini is $599 (even cutting the graphics card couldn’t reduce it).

    The other issue with many Media Center boxes that allow you just to slap an HD inside is that they occupy a lot of empty space. You’ve got an ATX case with "huge" amounts of wasted space until you add an internal HD or two.

    Front Row is definitely not a PVR front end. Front Row only plays videos that iTunes offers up from its playlists. All my porn, err.. videos are in DivX or Xvid inside an AVI wrapper. iTunes will not accept files in AVI wrappers. Furthermore, Front Row will only accept MPEG-4 wrappers with the TV Show atom, which makes it useless for most things.

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