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The Ultimate Mac Mini HTPC – Part 2: Installing MediaPortal using Apple Boot Camp

March 25th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

As stated in Part 1 of this Mac Mini HTPS series where I evaluated different Media Center and HTPC software options my choice was to go with MediaPortal, an excellent open source and free software for turning your Windows PC into a living room digital media master. In other words, we need to load the Mac MIni with some kind of Microsoft OS software. Fortunately, the engineers at Apple has anticipated this and made this very easy to do as long as you have access to a Windows XP (or VIsta or Windows 7 beta) installation CD.

Any version is fine as MediaPortal supports more or less any post XP SP2 version Windows. Personally, I chose Windows XP SP3 as it is very stable and currently provides the best performance for the Mini hardware. Also, once the software has been installed and configured according to this guide, the OS itself will in practice be invisible anyway so there is little benefit from the nice but resource heavier Vista or Windows 7.

Requirements
Software: Windows XP installation CD/DVD, Apple OS X Leopard Installation DVD (for installing Windows XP drivers for Mac Mini hardware)
Hardware: Intel Mac Mini 2nd or 3rd generation (runs well on 1.83 GHz Core Duo), a USB TV tuner supported by MediaPortal
Other: Internet connection, some patience and a couple of hours of time to spare ;-)

Here is a simple step by step guide of how to do the installation from start to beginning:

  1. bootcamp_partitiion-smallIn OS X Leopard, start Boot Camp Assistant from Finder by navigating to Applications => Utilities => and clicking on Boot Camp Assistant. This opens a dialogue screen, just follow the instructions and when asked about how to partition the internal hard disk drive you have a few options. As I have upgraded my internal HDD to 320GB and intend to use the Mac MIni as a dedicated media system I used the minimum space for Mac. My recommendation is to reserve a minimum of 15GB  for the XP partition (32GB for Vista and Windows 7) to ensure enough space for Windows XP, MediaPortal, and the live TV timeshift buffer for watching TV. If you want to use MediaPortal also for recording TV you will need a lot of  space as recordings use about 2GB / hour. This can of course be achieved by connecting an external USB HDD for recordings. I chose XP because that currently gives the best performance compared to other Windows versions.
  2. Insert your Windows XP and press the Start Installation button. Select the “BOOTCAMP” partition when prompted in Windows XP setup. I recommend you format the partition as NTFS instead of FAT32 when prompted as NTFS supports file sizes over 4GB (= 2 hours of continuous recording of live TV) and provides better stability. Installation should take roughly 30 minutes with a few reboots and prompts on the way. There are plenty of XP installation guides where you can find more details on the process.
  3. Windows XP Once in the fresh XP installation, do the following:
    • Insert the OS X installation media and it will automatically install all drivers needed to properly run Windows XP on the Mac Mini. Reboot when done.
    • Set the screen resolution. If you are lucky like me it was automatically set to the native HD resolution of the connected HDTV (1920 * 1080) when using a DVI to HDMI cable to connect to the TV. If not, just find the manual of your TV and set it according to supported modes.
    • Run the windows update (including required reboots) until you have installed all critical updates. Also, consider setting automatic updates to Download or Notify only once done to minimize the risk of updates screwing up something with your installation in the future (Start => Control Panel = Automatic Updates => anything else than “Automatic (recommended)”)
    • Go to  Start => All Programs => Windows Update to open the Windows Update web site. Select the ”Custom” option button at the Windows Update home screen. After the browser is done checking for available updates, select Software, Optional (n) option on the left hand side and make sure you mark Microsoft .NET Framework version 1.1 and  Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 and .NET Framework Family Update. If this exact update is not offered to you, make sure you select all Optional .NET updates. Also select Windows Media Player 11. These are needed to install MediaPortal.
    • control_userpasswords2 Enable automatic login into Windows at startup even if you are using a password for your user name open the Start menu and select “Run…” Type “control userpasswords2” into the field and press enter. This opens open a dialog box. Select your user name from the list and uncheck the “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer” check box. Press “OK” to exit. If you have created a password for the selected user you will be prompted to enter it now. Do that and the next time you start your computer you will be automatically logged in.
    • I also recommend to turn off the screensaver and password prompt after standby. Right click on the desktop and select “Properties” and navigate to the Screen Saver tab  and Select (None), uncheck the “On resume, display the Welcome screen”. Click “Apply”, then press the “Power…” button to open another dialog box. On the “Advanced” tab, uncheck ”Prompt for password when computer resumes from standby”. You can also change automatic standby options in the power settings, personally I chose to have my Mac Mini on all the time as it is very power efficient. Click “OK” on both dialog boxes and we are done.
    • Optionally install virus protection. I use the AVG free version as it provides very good performance and it is completely free for personal use.
    • For ability to view live TV only: Install the drivers (BDA) for your TV tuner (sorry, can’t help you out here!)
    • For ability to view live TV only: Download and install the MediaPortal DVB-hotfix for XP. Instructions included behind the link. Note! This is only needed if you intend to use a DVB TV tuner with MediaPortal.
  4. Select Control Panel => Boot Camp => Power tab => Check “Restart automatically after a power failure” and click “OK”.
  5. Download and install ffdshow-tryouts, a free and highly configurable video codec supporting a very large amount of video file formats such as mpeg2, DivX, XviD, mpeg4, etc. We will use this later to upscale non-HD video content to significantly improve video image quality. Just go with the standard installation options for now as we will get into the optimization details in my next post.
  6. Download MediaPortal and start the installation. The default options are fine, i.e. “Start with installation now”, “Yes, I will use MediaPortal to watch TV”, “Yes, I will use MediaPortal to watch HD content”, and “One click installation”. If you would like to experiment a little you can select the “Perform an advanced installation” when prompted,This will give you the 3 options of:

    • Singleseat Installation: This is the recommended option and suitable if you intend not to have an additional, separate TV server somewhere else in your network. This will install both the TV client and server so you can extend this options with additional MediaPortal clients. If you have no clue what a TV server or client is, this is the option for you.
    • Dedicated TV server (master): This option will not provide you the possibility to actually view TV on your Mac Mini, only serve other computers with TV and media from a centralized server.
    • Mediaportal client: This is needed for installing the MediaPortal TV and media viewing client on a secondary computer. I use this installation option on my HP 2133 Mini laptop to watch movies (yes, even the slow VIA C-7 1.2GHz processor can cope with live TV), live and recorded TV from my Mac Mini on it over a standard 54Mb wireless (802.11g) network. Great for providing a temporary second TV and extending your media experience to any room in your home.

    Anyway, for the purpose of this guide we use the “One click installation”, which in practice installs the “Singleseat installation” option and spares you a whole bunch of unnecessary questions at this point. It takes a couple of minutes to automatically install all the needed components.

  7. Once done, open up the ”TV Server Configuration” from your Desktop. It will prompt you for a password for the database, enter “MediaPortal” (note, this is case sensitive) and press test to see that you entered the (default) MediaPortal TV database password correctly. If OK, go ahead. Also start the TV server when prompted. The TV Server configuration dialog will open up after a few seconds.
  8. MP_TVServer_config The TV Server configuration itself is not that difficult so I’ll only cover a few main points I did as there are plenty of great MediaPortal documentation available for a deeper dive and the really nerdy stuff can be found from the forums.
    • Scan for channels (TV Servers => <server name> => <card name> => Scan predefined provider)
    • Remove excessive channels – usually Pay TV channels that you do not have a subscription to (TV Channels => select channels => Delete)
    • Set the Electronic Program Guide (if using DVB) to fetch more aggressively as I have noticed a lot of wholes in the EPG otherwise (General settings => EGP => Always try to fill holes & Enable EGP grabbing while timeshifting/recording)
    • Enable disk quota to avoid running out of disk space and crashing the computer (Recording settings => Disk quota => Enable and set to wanted level, I use 2048MB to be on the safe side)
    • Set the recording and timeshifting folders. I record TV to a specific folder that I share on my network so it is available also outside MediaPortal while I do timeshifting (= live TV buffer) to a attached 4GB USB memory stick to take some pressure of the HDD and it also seems to speed up channel switching a little bit. (Recording settings => Recording folders => change the folders according to your preferences)
    • Check if the server and tuner works (Manual control => Select channel => Start TimeShift => Wait for it to start => Stop TimeShift). If successful, we are done with the TV server configuration for now and press OK to close the TV Server configuration!
  9. We are almost done with the basic installation. Double click on the MediaPortal Configuration icon on your Windows desktop. In traditional Open Source fashion, there are hundreds of things to tweak here and I’ll leave that for you to experiment with In order to start using MediaPortal you need to do a couple of things:

    • Define the TV Server hostname (Television => TV Client => Hostname: enter the name of the computer you are running the server on). In case you would have a separate TV Server in your network you can enter the name of that here instead.
    • Optionally enable live TV subtitles, this may not be available in your region (Television => Subtitle settings => Enable DVB subtitles)
    • Change any other settings you wan’t. Otherwise, just click OK to end the configuration.
  10. You’re done! Double click on the MediaPortal icon on your desktop to fire up the your new digital media center.

In the following posts I will show how to optimize the TV, DVD and video image quality by configure upscaling using ffdshow.

UPDATE: There is supposedly a theoretical chance to use the Mac Mini internal IR receiver for a MCE remote using HIP replacement driver, but after researching and doing some tests I realized that it will require too much effort compared to be benefits, i.e. not having a separate USB IR dongle, so I do not recommend that for now.

  1. November 6th, 2009 at 21:25 | #1

    Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to measure the power consumption but according to this article

    http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3468

    it should be 13-23W on idle and up to 110W on full load depending on your system model. Now sure how well the machines follow the specs though…

  2. Lars
    November 5th, 2009 at 19:56 | #2

    Hi,
    I use a PS3 remote to control the media protal. A good solution and it is using bluetooth

    This link is for a program the needs to be install on the PS/MAC to convert the signal to keystrokes
    http://thegreenbutton.com/forums/t/60376.aspx

    Mattias, did you measure the power consumption of the MAC mini? Both idle and full load.

    Thanks for a great article. I think I will use a MAC mini for the next Media Portal setup.

  3. Pascal
    May 13th, 2009 at 11:08 | #3

    Hi Matt,

    I’ve been on the same quest as you for 1,5 years now. I also want the central media server and light-weight (good looking) clients to sit near my tv’s. The most important reason for me not to choose the Mac Mini (currently) is blu-ray. I’m considering putting a blu-ray drive in my server, so that I can watch those movies on every client. That will not be simple, as there are some “digital rights restrictions” that obscure the path (as always). iSCSI might be the answer to this. Now, assuming that I’ll get blu-ray to work on my client, there’s the next nasty thing: blu-ray digital audio (DTS-HD and TrueHD, if I’m not mistaking). In a normal player, this signal gets transmitted over HDMI 1.3. But in pc’s it almost never does (again for “digital rights” issues). There are 2 dedicted video cards that enable this nowadays. But the thing I’m looking at now is the Nvidia ION platform. That *does* support these HD-audio formats over HDMI (as far as I’ve read). And the boxes are small and not too bad looking (e.g. the Acer AspireRevo).

    Finally, with regards to ffdshow: I’ve experimented a lot with different AV decoders in MediaPortal. I must say that by far the best experience for me is with PowerDVD, especially because of the GPU hardware acceleration. With ffdshow all decoding is done by the CPU, which is often too limited to really do 1080p decoding.

    Which brings me to the question: how does the Mac Mini handle 1080p in your setup?

    Cheers,

    Pascal.

  4. March 29th, 2009 at 22:43 | #4

    Hi Andreas, thanks for the feedback, my quick replies:
    1) I have not got the built in IR reciever to work yet (working on it, it reacts to the Apple remote in iTunes). I use an MCE remote that works great using an external USB IR receiver (it came with the remote)
    2) HD live TV is yet to be tested, will update post when done
    3) .mkv works great, Mac Mini runs HD smoothly also in XP. I use CoreAVC codec for viewing HD content as it is supposed to provide the best performance
    4) Currenly, I’m on analogue audio out that goes trough the TV to my (always on) surround system to mute the sound when someone only closes the TV and leaves the Mac Mini running live TV (needs to be simple for the rest of the family ;-) . I can run a SPDIF test within the next few days…

    I’ll update the post with the details when tested

  5. Andreas
    March 28th, 2009 at 16:46 | #5

    It’s very interesting to read your posts about the Mini as Mediaportal-computer. I have some question though:
    1. Do you know if the MCE remote will work?
    2. How does HD-channels works?
    3. How does HD-videos (mkv) works inside Mediaportal?
    4. I’ve read that some people have problems with the spdif-out when using Mini with Windows, have you noticed any problem?

    That was probably it for now, I’m looking forward to your post about upscaling with ffdshow!

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