How to setup a Mac Mini Media Center, server, and remote torrents box

Mar 22, 2010 - 63 Comments

mac mini media center

Mac Mini’s make awesome little media centers since they are so small and have more features than an AppleTV. Following the below guide you will be able to do the following with a Mac Mini:

  • Watch HD movies, videos, view photos, listen to music, and view weather from your couch on your TV.
  • Watch Hulu, YouTube, and any other streaming online video on your TV
  • Add & delete torrents to download onto the Mac Mini, remotely
  • Control the media center via your iPhone
  • Watch the movies stored on your Mac Mini on your iPhone
  • Serve websites from your Mini to the world
  • Browse the web, play games, and use your Mac Mini on a TV from your couch, wirelessly

Note: If this walkthrough seems a little overkill to you, check out our easy guide to setup a Mac Media Center which will provide a simpler setup, minus some of the features like remote torrent management.

Update: With the release of the new Mac Mini (2010 model), you won’t need any additional video or audio cables and adapters, only an HDMI cable! The new Mac Mini makes a perfect media center and outputs HD content flawlessly, plus it doubles as a great Mac, highly recommended. You can get the new Mac Mini for $669 from Amazon with free shipping

How to setup a Mac Mini as a media center, server, and torrents box

I just did all this and figured someone would benefit. It’s more of a link-list than a how-to; it’s also very dumbed down for anyone who’s not knowledgeable on any of this stuff…

Disclaimer: Do this all at your own risk. This all worked for me and I’m thoroughly enjoying the setup. If you feel there’s a better way to do some of this, feel free to comment!

Purchase a Mac Mini

You can pick up a Mac Mini from the usual suspects: Apple, MacMall (sometimes small discount), Amazon (usually good discount and free shipping), Craigslist, eBay, etc.
Apple Store – $699 with free shipping
MacMall
Amazon – New Mac Mini for $669 with free shipping – BEST DEAL

Don’t forget to check the Apple Refurbished Store for discounted machines, though most of the time there aren’t Mac Minis available.

Make sure that whatever Mac Mini you get is capable of playing high definition video if you’d like that capability. Generally speaking the newer the Mini the better (the newest 2010 model is ideal), and an Intel chip with 2GB of RAM is highly preferable.

Get the Media Center Software

Your Mini will just be a Mac hooked up to a TV without the right media center software.
Download and install Plex – Awesome media center app, this is the base software for your Mac Mini media center and runs on top of Mac OS X.

Download and install Perian – A package full of all the codecs you’ll need to play various video formats.
Download and install HandbrakeRip DVDs to your Mac hard drive in an array of different file types, store them on the Mini for easy access within Plex.

Video Cables

Depending on which Mac Mini you have and what TV you have, you will need a different cable. Remember the 2010 Mac Mini only needs an HDMI Cable. Here are an assortment of cables you may need, verify which is necessary for your mini model:
Mini DisplayPort to DVI
Mini-DVI -> HDMI
Mini-DVI -> DVI
HDMI Cable
DVI -> HDMI
MiniDVI -> VGA

Audio Cables

Some of the newer Mac Minis have optical audio out through the headphone jack. If yours is an older Mac Mini use the mini -> RCA (red/white) cable. The 2010 Mac Mini carries audio over HDMI, so no audio cable is necessary.
mini -> TosLink (Optical Audio)
mini -> RCA

Control the Mac Mini Media Center Wirelessly

To access and control the Mac Mini from your couch (or anywhere wirelessly), you’ll need:

Once your Mac Mini is hooked up to your TV (through HDMI or otherwise), sync the wireless keyboard and mouse to the machine. You’ll be able to use it as a large external monitor and then browse the web, play games, and use it as any regular Mac. This ability alone is totally awesome and well worth getting a mini for. If you wanted to you could stop here and just use things like Hulu to watch streaming video on your media center mini, but you’re this far you might as well go all out!

Controlling the Media Center with your iPhone

Snatch. Awesome app that allows you to use your phone as a trackpad, as well as a remote control for Plex. This article shows you how to make a custom remote screen with a decently attractive theme. Very sweet.
Air Video. Allows you to stream movies from your Mac Mini to your iPhone, works over 3G (albeit very slowly)!

Setting up the Server

I highly, highly recommend a very strong password on your Mac Mini.
To use the Mac Mini as a web server you’ll need a few things. First, you’ll need to be able to reach the Mini from outside your network. I accomplished this by getting a free account at DynDNS. You can pick from a few free domains, most of them pretty terrible. You’ll then need to download and install their free IP updater client. This small app runs in the background and updates your dynamic IP to DynDNS. This way, when you type in your chosen domain name, your DynDNS account will always know to send the request to the correct IP and get the Mac Mini.

Download and install XAMPP. Very nice web server stack that installs and runs very smoothly.

By default, Apache listens on port 80. Most ISPs block traffic on port 80 (mine did), so you can make Apache listen to a different port by editing your httpd.conf file:

* Open Terminal, at the prompt type:
sudo vim /Applications/XAMPP/xamppfiles/etc/httpd.conf
* Type your password and you’ll be editing the httpd.conf file in vim. It looks a little scary, but it’s just a command line based text editor.
* Press the down arrow until you come to a line that says, “Listen 80.”
* Press the letter “I” to enter edit mode, now change “Listen 80″ to “Listen 8080.” Press Esc to exit insert mode.
* While holding Shift, press Z twice to save and exit.

(Note: you can use nano/pico or another command line text editor if you are more comfortable)

There, now Apache is listening on port 8080 and most ISPs will be none the wiser.

Open the XAMPP Control app (in your applications folder / XAMPP) and start all your services. You can quit this app once you’ve started the services, they don’t stop unless you re-open XAMPP Control and stop them manually. Now go to a browser and enter the following URL: http://localhost:8080 – That website is being served from the Mac Mini!

Setup Remote Torrents

Download and install Transmission or uTorrent whichever you prefer, although we’ll use Transmission in this guide.

In the preferences for Transmission select the “Remote” tab. Check the box for “Enable remote access.” After you read the next point (Router Settings & Port Forwarding) and activate port forwarding you’ll be able to reach this web interface from anywhere in the world by entering the URL http://your.domain.com:9091 – Neat, huh? I’ve used this feature waaay more than I thought I would considering I’m out of my house all the time with my Macbook Pro. I simply download the torrent to my MBP, then upload it to my Mac Mini to do all the heavy lifting. Torrents are ready to go by the time I get home!

Router Settings & Port Forwarding

If you’re like me, you have a few different machines all getting their internet from a wireless router. I have a Linksys WRT54GL running Tomato Firmware. In order for the router to know which computer to send requests to, you’ll need to specify a few port-forwarding rules. You’ll need to get the local IP of your Mac Mini from your router device list. My Mac Mini happened to be 192.168.1.145. So in my router settings I set up the following rules under the port-forwarding settings:

Port: 5900 - Label: VNC - Forward to: 192.168.1.145
Port: 8080 - Label: Web Server - Forward to: 192.168.1.145
Port: 9091 - Label: Torrents - Forward to: 192.168.1.145

Shortening Ugly URLs

If you happen to own your own domain name you can avoid having to type in those ugly URLs (blah.dyndns.net) by using 301 redirects. Simply open or create an .htaccess file on your web host’s server that says:

redirect 301 /home http://name.domain.com:8080
redirect 301 /torrent http://name.domain.com:9091

Now when you type in yourdomain.com/home you’ll be redirected to your Mac Mini and the same for yourdomain.com/torrent! Handy.

Sharing Preferences

Open System Preferences and click “Sharing.” You’ll see plenty of options, mine look like this. You should do the same if you want the capabilities listed here.

Screen Sharing

Now that all that’s set up you should be able to access your Mac Mini’s desktop from anywhere in the world. Just activate Finder and, in the menu bar, click Go > Connect to Server. Type in:

vnc://your.domain.com

You should be able to type in your user/pass and, voila, you’re at your Mac Mini’s desktop.

Note: VNC is unencrypted traffic by default and you should tunnel through SSH if you’re concerned about security. You can see a guide to setup secure screen sharing in OS X here.

–––––

That’s about all I’ve got for now. Please let me know if I’m missing anything and feel free to add your input!

This should make for a pretty nice little Mac Mini that lets you:

* Add/Edit/Delete active torrents without being anywhere near your house
* Watch movies & TV shows, listen to music, view photos, and view weather from your couch
* Control your media center with an iPhone
* Create/edit websites on your Mac Mini and access those sites from the web
* View your videos on your iPhone while in other rooms of your house or apartment

Enjoy!

[ The content of this article has been edited and based on a piece from Jordan with permission. Image via Flickr ]

Thanks again Jordan! We got this awesome submission from a reader who found the following content originally on the social sharing site Reddit. Thank you to Derek Lee for the submission, and a special thanks to Jordan at Shift Creative for the guide and permission to republish!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in How to, Mac OS X

63 Comments

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  1. Penguino says:

    I have a Mini sitting around gathering dust since upgrading to my lovely iMac… bookmarked for reading later, looks like a good weekend project :D thanks!

  2. No problem.

    I’m really enjoying the setup and the whole process would’ve been a lot easier if I had this guide when I started. Here’s hoping people find it helfpul!

  3. Mike says:

    now i want a mini

  4. Rodriguez El Bacon says:

    But will it make bacon? That’s all that really matters. iBacon. MacBacon. Mac MiniBacon.

  5. Grum says:

    To make things simpler (and less likely to be insecure due to misconfiguration) I use Dropbox for remotely starting torrents, and LogMeIn for remote access to the Mini’s screen.

    For torrents, just have Transmission watch a folder in your dropbox for new torrent files, you can add a torrent into that folder from any computer that is synched to your dropbox. Works a treat.

  6. […] How to setup a Mac Mini as a media center, server, and remote … […]

  7. axl says:

    BTW a 27″ iMac makes a great Plex media machine too since the screen is humongous. If I had a Mini I would probably use it instead on my 42″ plasma though. Why bother with an AppleTV when you can get a full Mac with a Mini??

  8. Ed says:

    I’m do exactly the same as Grum so I don’t have to bother with a webserver: Dropbox+Logmein.

    The remote access function in Transmission allows you to control your torrents remotely. I also use Sabnzbd for remote Usenet access – I find Usenet download speeds are generally much quicker than torrents.

  9. rob wilke says:

    Great article. I have a very similar setup, however I wish there was a way to make the torrents expand to the playable format (instead of an archive zip file for example) so you can just fire up FrontRow and watch the movie just downloaded.

    I can do this, but only when the torrent is an AVI or Quicktime or such… any suggestions welcomed

  10. […] How to setup a Mac Mini as a media center, server, and remote torrents box (tags: mac mac-mini multimedia) Categories: Links Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]

  11. […] How to setup a Mac Mini as a media center, server, and remote torrents box – OS X Daily […]

  12. legal sites | MEDICAL LEGAL says:

    […] How to setup a Mac Mini as a media center, server, and remote… […]

  13. […] this is particularly true if you have a less powerful machine. Having a dedicated machine like a Mac Mini as a media center makes for a particularly good Mac HD experience when hooked up to an external HDTV. Of course if […]

  14. Matt says:

    Cool guide dude! You should check out applemediacenter.com, it has all this information and more.

  15. Jackeline Hizkiya says:

    Major thanks for the article. Will read on…

  16. […] size, HDMI output, and lower power consumption, it’s more appealing than ever to setup the Mac Mini as a media center, and Apple seems to know it. Apple’s own sales page states: Plug in one HDMI cable and start […]

  17. […] Mac Mini Media Center – a guide exclusively for setting up a media center on your Mac Mini, complete with remote torrents support and a webserver […]

  18. David says:

    Does anyone know of a good TV? My TV (Polaroid) works OK – video at 1080i and audio is passed thru to lightpipe. But, the top and bottom of the display is chopped-off. I can’t see the menu bar; and I can’t see the Dock; although I can still get to them by clicking around (outside the viewing area).

    Videos and audio is working really well.. even the low-quality iPod rips of movies is surprisingly clear on the full-screen.

  19. summus says:

    I wanted to make my setup more friendly to the average cable viewer in order to entice them to cancel their cable so I searched for a bluetooth powered program to run a remote. This cancels the constant need for a mouse & keyboard.

    Remotebuddy is the best for my taste and needs, and the support from Felix is unbelievable.

  20. TiredDonkey says:

    Great post; I’m going to get started on this over the weekend. I ditched my cable service a year ago and went with a Mac Mini to access all the content I was missing, and I just did a series of blog posts on the whole process. If anyone is interested in a beginners guide to getting started with this, you can find it on my site here: http://www.tireddonkey.com/files/CuttingCable.html

  21. jimmy says:

    Looking at getting a mac mini within the next couple weeks, I’ve got a mac book pro laptop, ill need to have the laptop on to use and run the mac mini right???

    Ill have out wireless internet hooked up soon. how do i get the mac mini to download the rss torrents automatically, will my mac book pro need to be on for the downloads to happen??

  22. […] Theater Media Center Guide from OtherWorldComputing.com How to setup a Mac Mini Media Center from OSXDaily Share and […]

  23. […] considered putting a Mac mini in the kitchen, especially after watching this video. However having read a few Mac mini media articles, maybe the Mac mini is the right road to go down. The Mac mini would […]

  24. kerry says:

    sooo i dunno what i did wrong but i know my friend said it was gonna set it up for me a long time ago.. did part of it never came back to finish soo now hwen i type in my ip address all it says is “it works!”

    help :(

  25. Desmond says:

    What type of camera do you have mounted on top of the tv? Does it work well from that distance?

  26. […] as the home base for all my media and documents; and 4) my television which is hooked up to a Mac Mini media server — this is where I watch most movies and documentaries, and occasionally where I listen to […]

  27. Marc Sassella says:

    Great article, but I want to remove the big sound system. Does anyone know of some in-ceiling speakers that will connect directly to the mini without an amp?

  28. Brian says:

    Do you have any hint about how to extend this to display content on a second TV wirelessly? It is my understanding that the new apple TV will only let me do that with content inside iTunes.

  29. […] movies before they’re even in the theaters and in the comfort of your own home? Fire up that Mac Mini media center and start […]

  30. B says:

    And everyone should try Sofa Control app whenever you have a mac mini as media center… Well try it cause you can run your machine without mouse only the iRemote :D

  31. […] the world of online media distribution and consumption to your living room. If you happen to have a Mac Mini, turning it into a media center is also a great […]

  32. Chris says:

    If you use the mac mini as described, could you also connect a NAS to the mini as storage for all of your photos, movies, music, etc?

    We have a macbook pro and numerous seagate external drives that store all of our content. I would like to replace the external drives with a NAS to use as backup, but also as primary storage/ playback location for content. I have struggled with how to integrate the above system with networked storage that would be available not only on our laptops, but also able to be streamed to home theater/ tv.

    Thanks

  33. […] a fantastic addition to your TV and easier to setup than you’d think, you can follow our Mac Mini media center guide or the more simple guide to setup a Mac media center and get one going […]

  34. Avi says:

    Awesome guide!

    I’d just add that, since a mouse is a pain to operate on a couch, everyone should check out this mouse as an alternative. It’s motion-activated so no kneeling on the floor at the coffee table is needed ;)

    http://www.amazon.com/Loop-Pointer-Mouse-connected-Projectors/dp/B001U1LX3Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1290450209&sr=8-1

  35. Chris says:

    I did this for my family last year but we’ve had a problem with the mac mini output not fitting the screen of our Samsung HDTV. I’ve tried the mini display to HDMI, mini DVI to HDMI, mini DVI to VGA all have the same issue with not fitting the screen and requiring scrolling around with the mouse to see everything. Running Frontrow works fine and screen fits but Itunes and Hulu won’t fit when I enter full screen mode. I’ve tried all the settings I know of including screen fit on the Samsung HDTV.

    Anyone have any ideas?

    Thanks,

    Chris

    • pogopop77 says:

      Could it be an overscan issue? There’s usually a checkbox for toggling overscan compensation in System Perferences->Displays when connected to a TV rather than a computer monitor.

  36. […] to be an AppleTV so that your iOS hardware can see it. This would be particularly cool to run on a Mac Mini media center if you have […]

  37. Mario says:

    thx Jordan, now I want to try it.

  38. […] be able to sync the devices to become a wireless trackpad and remote control. So dust off that Mac Mini media center, Plex, XBMC, whatever your preferred media center is, and get this […]

  39. vit says:

    mac mini does not allow to change DPI setting – so all system fonts are going to look very small on hdtv – and there is no good way to make them big.

    this hardly classifies as “awesome” media center

  40. good observation! our community like the blogs good typing style… me and my associates want to place a link onto our site to link to your blog i hope this is ok. this blogs seems to be master in this issue! I found your site is very well ranked on bing i was wondering if you could give a few tips.. I still cant get over how amazing of a writing style you have. For a long time me and my associates have studied this exact field!

  41. hops says:

    Is it possible to set up DVR to the mac mini which is configured as you have done?

    • Jon says:

      If you get the eye tv by elgato you can watch everything live and use your mini as a dvr. Great for watching live sports in hd. I use an antenna so its free but you can plug in your cable box into the tuner to record everything. You can also set plex up to watch your dvr recordings.

  42. Ronald says:

    Personally I have tried Plex on my 2010 Mac Mini as my media server but had endless problems with audio sync and compatibility with HD videos. I installed Boxee as an experiment and it worked flawlessly. Its user interface is far superior and easy to navigate, seamlessly integrating your friends’ video posts from facebook etc and even provides access to whole host of ad-supported online tv shows and movies. I wouldn’t go back to Plex, and recommend that everyone gives it a look (its just a free download after all). The other thing I’d say about Boxee is that there is a relatively sound business model behind it – ie they actually have a revenue stream from the hardware Boxee boxes they sell, allowing them to continue to invest in the product, whereas Plex is open-source and free and therefore there is no guarantee of financial or resource investment. If you read the Plex forums, there are hundreds of posts about problems, and endless beta versions etc. It is all very geared towards the ‘geek’ who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. I product aimed at ease of use like Boxee (and because some people pay money for it) would not survive like that so this should mean fewer problems.

  43. […] hard drive and iPad. It would be a fully functional computer through your media system. Similar to this. We would have to download some additional media systems (Plex, Boxee – media database […]

  44. […] you go. If the simple guide is too basic for your needs, you can go all out and setup an advanced Mac Mini media center and torrents box that can remotely download new media from another Mac or even your […]

  45. Joyceca says:

    Nice post! I really like the PLEX, which works perfect on my Mac- I recently ripped several Blu-ray Discs (with a blu-ray ripper for mac tool) and it plays well! I took the process down in my blog as well.

  46. Matt says:

    For additional points, install Automatic from CodingCurious. It allows you to subscribe to shows, then scans the EZTV RSS feed for new episodes and automatically downloads the torrent files and hands them over to Transmission. Set up rules in Transmission to send each show to a different folder ready for Plex to scan.

  47. Dan says:

    Just wondering, is it possible to set up a system like this and be able to remotely access media from other computers?

  48. Dan says:

    This looks awesome, I’m going to give it a try this weekend! Good looking out!

  49. Joel says:

    This looks like a great project, and I’ve been looking for a way to cut my cable (between Netflix and Hulu Plus it seems almost possible). Here’s my only issue – this will work perfect ‘downstairs’ in the living room, but what about stuff I’d like to watch upstairs in the bedroom? I think it would be great to have a ‘two mac mini’ household, but can’t really justify the cost… any ideas are greatly appreciated!

    • Will says:

      I’ve got a great solution for you: Roku player. They are $50. You set it up and it will connect to your network via your wireless router. Then install the plex app on it and you can watch everything you have on your mac mini downstairs on your tv upstairs.

  50. Abhilash says:

    Awesome Information. Was able to set up in few hours.. :)

    Thanks a ton!

  51. […] us from Ed W., he uses his Mac mini for photo editing and word processing, and it also doubles as a media server. Hardware […]

  52. G says:

    Is there any more in depth tutorials about the domain stuff? And the dyn-dys stuff? I can install all the apps and everything but getting it accessible by me anywhere on the internet is the bit I’m really having trouble with! Thanks

  53. […] Mac, you can even turn it into a full-time media center, server, and torrents box, and the Mac Mini is particularly great for that […]

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