Using a Mac Mini as a Media Centre

For quite a while, I’ve had a Mac Mini hooked up the TV, streaming DVDs and xvids to the TV, and all my music on for streaming to an Airport Express.

The Mini is on 24/7, also acting as a dev web server for nerding, and running ftp and a few other protocols, allowing me to grab an album from wherever, whenever.

As good as Front Row has been, it’s just not… geeky enough for me. The wife uses it without issue, and my son yells when the selector is on a few of the menu options he wants. But I want more geek.

I tried the XBMC, but it stank of PC design asthetics, like a chavved up Corsa, Plex wasn’t bad, but Boxee so far, has been great.

It wasn’t immediately great, it did take a few months to grow on me, but once it did, I now actually like browsing through videos, and music and finding things I’d missed or forgotten.

So how does Boxee make this an interesting process again?

While Boxee and Plex are built on the XBMC framework, the big difference is the social and online aspects of Boxee.

For example, all your films are scanned, and cover art, reviews, and a link to a trailer are downloaded from online databases.The reviews are brilliant for jogging your memory about the plot, or convincing the other half that it’s not a horror movie and she will like it.

You can also rate the films at any point while watching them, and these rating show up in your online profile. Online profiles? Yeah, the social interaction side of Boxee allows you to search for friends, add them and see their stream of activity. In fact, the first screen of the Boxee interface has four of the 16 boxes dedicated to recent activity from your online mates.

As a side note, I truly believe there’s only about 100 people actually online, as I have the same friends on Flickr, Twitter, Last.fm, all the others… and Boxee. Everyone else on the internet must be a NPC.

Boxee also features some great web integration. You can add Flickr profiles to view photos, scrobble all your music to Last.fm, and watch BBC TV through the iPlayer plug-in. iPlayer’s not the only TV content, Joost, YouTube, Hulu, CNN and more, the integration of all the plug-ins is very good, and feels like a coherent whole package. I’ve found myself spending time browsing, reading reviews and rediscovering media I forgot I had.

Another thing that’s made the switch from Front Row to Boxee easier is a plug-in for Front Row that adds Boxee as a menu item, meaning the wife can use Front Row but I can jump from that to Boxee, no keyboard or messing about required. There’s also a free, official iPhone Boxee app due to hit the Apple Store any day now too!

All this through the little white Apple Remote…

ps. Add a comment if you want an invite to the Boxee Alpha!