Friday, January 21, 2005

So, is the Mac Mini going to be a digital media hub?

There's already a weblog devoted to the topic that I found via this post on TUAW.  Note that the weblog is not Mac Mini specific, but addresses general issues of Mac home theater.

Look on the Apple site at some of the Mac Mini accessories:

Add in to all this that Apple is rumored to be working with Sony on some sort of video related service as it was noted by many people that Sony President Kunitake Ando was present during the keynote speech as this year's MacWorld expo, echoing Jobs in this being the year of HD -- more on this at this post on TUAW.

This post on TUAW points out that iFlicks has mysteriously disappeared, leaving only a cryptic message on their site that there was some issue that caused them to discontinue the project (I wrote about iFlicks just back on January 6th, so it hadn't really been around all that long) -- perhaps "iFlicks" is the name of a service previously trademarked by another entity.

This column over on PBS and authored by Robert Cringley puts together some more pieces:

Here's my thinking, and it is just thinking -- I have no insider knowledge of Apple's plans, I haven't been diving in any Cupertino dumpsters, and nobody who knows the truth has told me a darned thing. I think the Mac Mini is a fixed component in a system that will extend iTunes to selling and distributing movies.

The first hint came to me a day or so before the MacWorld show when right at midnight my computer stopped playing Apple movie trailers. The only way to watch QuickTime movie trailers (the closest I get to a movie since we have little kids) was suddenly through iTunes 4.7, which takes you straight through the iTunes Music Store. The regular QuickTime player wouldn't work. Apple had made no announcements, nor had they upgraded QuickTime, so I'd say it was a glitch that presaged the eventual replacement of that player for the selling of movies. Since then Apple fixed things and the QuickTime player now works for playing trailers, but I had already seen the future.

Now go back to Steve's MacWorld performance, which you can see on the Apple web site. What the heck is Mr. Ando of Sony doing there? Nominally he's sharing the stage to herald the ability of Apple's new iMovie 5.0 to import high definition video from a new Sony consumer HD camcorder. Apple will also be selling the Sony camcorder online and in its stores. But you don't get the head of Sony at your event just to sell camcorders. And Jobs explained it himself -- it is the "Year of HD" and nearly all of the year is yet to come. As he darkly hinted, we can expect further announcements.

There are a couple outfits already offering what could be the software components of this system. Their names are almost identical -- iFlicks and iFlix -- and both seem to be in flux. It could be that iFlix is freaked by the movie studio crackdown on bitTorrent servers, but suddenly their downloads don't download anymore while iFlicks has plain withdrawn its product from the market, leaving only mysterious messages on its web site. Both products manage well the organization and playing of videos on your Mac or PC. Either product could be the core of a new Apple movie service. I'm guessing that one or both have been -- or are about to be -- purchased by Apple.

I personally welcome the Mac Mini as a digital media hub.  All of my music currently resides in iTunes, so that makes things feel pretty good.  I have a DVI input on my plasma TV in the living room, so I really only need a wireless keyboard and mouse -- it would be cool if there was a wireless keyboard with some sort of trackpad on it or a wireless remote that could perform mouse functions, but I'm sure those will come.  I like the Mac OS, I like iTunes, and I generally find that people who have tried both Macs and PCs tend to enjoy the Mac experience better.

I do think that the Mac Mini might need a little bit more horsepower to do all of the Windows Media Center/TiVo stuff; it seems to have a small hard drive (although the TiVo boxes don't really have big hard drives) and not enough RAM (although there are already lots of sites on the net that show you how to upgrade the Mini RAM yourself).  The hard drive space is no big issue because you do have expandability options through both the USB 2.0 and FireWire ports.

For recording, the Mini is obviously missing any sort of TV tuner, although I have seen people talking about the fact that the CableCard standard seems to be making lots of headway, so perhaps Apple is just waiting.

If this version of the Mini can't record, is that ok?  I mean is it a problem if you could only purchase movies and maybe even television shows from an iTunes Music Store-type environment and download them to this $500 box.  As I said before in this post, I think that DVDs could very well be a dead medium and that everything will be digital; I really wouldn't have any problem ripping down all of my DVDs to a Mini and getting rid of the DVD media -- I'd even like to do it soon while there's still a market for it.

All in all, if the Mini is the digital media center, I think it will become that very fast.  Certainly Apple would want to get out ahead of the momentum of Windows Media Center and take advantage of TiVo doing its best to lose its customers.  Maybe we are all off the mark, but there's a lot of evidence that seems to point towards Mac Mini = Apple Media Center.

There's not much more left to do except to sit back and wait and see what happens.

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