"Perfect Home Theater Media Center"4.5 starson by NetFu
Pros: Digital video output, optical audio output, Front Row interface, DVD burner, 802.11b/g, Bluetooth, it's a real computer!
Cons: Video input requires external box like Dazzle, Intel shared video
Summary: This is a perfect home computer for the modern home with home theater. It reminds me of the days when I was a kid using a Commodore 64 in front of my home TV.
I've been using the iMac Core Duo 17" for a week, which has all the media center functions that this Mac Mini has. I already manage all my home videos in iMovie/iDVD, all my photos in iPhoto, and all my music in iTunes, so making it all available through Front Row on these new iMacs and Mac Mini's is very easy.
Replacing a relatively high-end DVD player ($350) with this Mac Mini is a no brainer. The fact that you can use this device as a semi-mobile computer for home and work, and use it as a media center at home makes it extremely attractive.
The CNet review criticizes the low resolution of the iPod movies you can download and view on the Mac in Front Row, but obviously the reviewer knows nothing about real-world TV resolutions. 320x200 is equivalent to standard TV resolution and DVD video is 720x480. If you use a Tivo, the iPod movies in MPEG4 format look better than Tivo video on an HDTV. I'd say that's pretty good considering you can download a 1.5 hour video in 10 minutes over broadband in iTunes.
It doesn't have built-in video-in, but look at the size of the box -- there's no room for it. You can add on an external box like a Dazzle firewire device that will let you import video from any source. Also, the Intel shared video on this Mac Mini is supposed to be weak, but I haven't seen any direct numbers. The shared video probably means you need to get as much memory as possible.
The bottom line is that this media center PC lives up to the hype, which is a lot more than I can say about the Media Center PC I owned before that ended up gathering dust in my closet. Using these Macs as media center PC's is as easy to use and rock solid as using an iPod.
It really is a complete package to manage all your home videos, pictures, music, and DVD movies. Add on a video iPod, and you can effortlessly take all that with you. To a family man like me, that's easily worth every penny of the price of this Mac Mini.