Mac Mini Mediacenter - End of an Era

What started out with the goal of attaining the ultimate home media solution is fizzling out as I write this: Using a Mac Mini, combined with an Elgato HybridTV USB device, to concentrate all media activity.

What sounds like the ideal solution (and I still believe it could be that) has turned out to be something that just isn’t usable by normal people.

One problem may have been the upgrade from Snow Leopard to Lion on the Mac Mini. With all the issues I’ve had on my MacBook and iMac with this upgrade (see previous posts), I can’t imagine Lion is not responsible for at least some of the issues we’ve encountered. Also, there are infrequent issues between EyeTV and iTunes, usually with iTunes ending up blocking the sound so that TV sound would only be back on if iTunes was quit.

However, it is my considered opinion that the major problems are sourced from the Elgato EyeTV software and the HybridTV USB stick.

From EyeTV (frequently) freezing up to programmed recordings not working to actual issues wither with the driver for the hardware or with the hardware itself, the setup has been riddled with issues that especially my wife has had to suffer under. To be fair, she isn’t a Mac fan and she’s never really taken the time to learn the inside track on the MacMini setup. On the other hand, setting up such an expensive device should really make any inside knowledge unnecessary.

Very recently, we’ve had the issue of not getting a signal when switching channels (“This station is currently not available”) - unplugging the Elgato hardware and immediately plugging back in fixes this - perhaps, however, this is the reason that some programmed recordings don’t record.

A couple of months ago, we’d already attempted to replace the Mac Mini with a Panasonic digital HD cable receiver with built-in hard drive. Judging by the HD size (160GB), the model was a bit older, but we’d had a Panasonic analog cable receiver before getting the Mac MIni and were relatively happy with the user interface (take the “G” out of GUI for this one!).

As it turned out, however, the total ease of use of the Mac with the EyeTV software really spoiled us, so that even my wife - who was very keen on getting something that would work when I was on the road - agreed that this device was NOT IT. Praise Amazon for an unproblematic return: bye-bye Panasonic.

Last week, I found that our cable carrier offered a digital HD receiver with 320GB hard drive and a smart card for HD reception of most programs for €6 per month - and I bought.

The interface here - quite obviously - does not live up to the Mac either, but it is really quite feasible and simple to use. The search capabilities for programs in the downloaded TVTV database is workable, if not ideal.

Subsequently, the Mac Mini will be phased over gradually into a life of “service” - Lion Server is already installed.
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