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Apple updates Mac Mini with HDTV-friendly design

Apple has an interesting new product for sale today--not the upcoming iPhone 4, which became available for pre-order this morning and has since apparently caused Apple and AT&T's online stores to crumple from the demand. No, the device in question is an updated version of its Mac Mini computer.

macmini_ports.jpg

Note that I didn't write "its Mac Mini desktop computer." More than any earlier version, the new $699-and-up model announced this morning seems made for a spot underneath a high-definition television. At 1.3 inches high, it's only two-tenths of an inch taller than Apple's $229, older, less capable and largely-abandoned Apple TV. It includes the same simple HDMI digital audio/video connection as the Apple TV. And unlike the Apple TV, it features a CD/DVD burner and SD Card slot and, since it's a Mac, can run any program and visit any site open to its larger siblings.

(Jeff Carlson's write-up at TidBits highlights some other notable changes: Its processor, memory and graphics are all considerably more powerful; its bottom panel pops open for easy memory upgrades; and its AC adapter now lives inside the computer instead of in a separate power brick.)

In other words, the new Mac Mini suggests that Apple isn't content to cede the Web-media-on-your-TV market to the likes of Dell's Inspiron Zino HD (which also offers a Blu-ray drive) or to such experiments in Internet-enabled television as Google's upcoming Google TV software, due on some Sony models this fall.

At the same time, the days of the Mac Mini being sold as Apple's low-cost choice for Windows refugees seem to be over. Not only do the new machine's features constitute overkill for the original target market of PC owners bringing their own display, keyboard and mouse, but the updated Mini costs $100 more than its predecessor, which itself sold for $100 more than the first Mini.

Is that an acceptable trade-off? Let me know in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 15, 2010; 10:50 AM ET
Categories:  Computers , TV , Video  
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Comments

Personally, I think this is a great move. I still have an original PowerPC Mac Mini that still runs great. I have moved it from desktop to entertainment center and back. In it's original configuration, it just wasn't enough to run my entertainment center (PowerPC Mac's can not use the Netflix streaming feature while Intel version can).

The only two additions I would like to see are:
1) Blu-Ray - Apple was an early Blu-Ray proponent. They have abandoned this stance in an effort to focus on their down-loadable content. That is a shame. Blu-Ray still beats digital downloads on several fronts.

2) Digital audio - The inclusion of HDMI is a big plus. But why not couple that with an optical audio out? That measly stereo jack will not cut it. This could easily interface with a home theater and produce 5.1 or better sound. That is what I would want out of a media center. And media center is exactly where this fine little machine should be sitting.

Over all, this is a positive move on Apples side. Apple TV, while a nice novelty, is just a stripped down Mac Mini anyway. Just refocus your efforts into making the Mac Mini a media center solution and incorporate the good from the Apple TV. Blu-Ray and optical audio out. Those two things would absolutely sell me this device.

Posted by: tmhale13 | June 15, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

When the Mini first came out at $499 I used it as a workstation replacement (from a Sun box) and another one for a graduate student, who was also the dept. webmaster. He needed it for the Adobe suite, web development tools, write code, office and LaTeX. We were a cash strapped dept at the time so the $499 price tag was great. Since we had plenty of monitors and keyboards left from older machines. I also recommended the $499 Mini to others and have helped them set up this computer for new Mac owners.

Then came the first price hike to $599 which included wi-fi, bluetooth and IR port and the standard improvements in processor and memory overtime. Which killed the prospect of price sensitive buyers entering into the $500 level.

This new Mini even though the design looks nice. i.e. integrated power supply into the body. Fails in the original mission of being an entry level Mac for new customers. I stopped suggesting Minis for a while ever since they no longer had the $499 entry level machine. The iMacs are a better ever since the Minis became $599.

I will say the other improvement in the new machine, is that the guts of the machine is now more easily accessible through its bottom panel, but was it necessary to use a unibody construction from solid aluminum (speaking from an engineering and manufacturing perspective?) Rigidity is not necessary for the desktop model.

Ergonomically the SD card at the back and ALL the USB slots at the back is a mistake. I've seen students twist these machines around to figure out how to insert the USB memory stick. It wouldn't hurt to have one, just ONE USB slot either in the front (or lets compromise with the Jonathan Ive's design dept. perhaps one on the side) along with the SD card reader.

Apple needs in this kind of economy an entry level Mini again at $499 (take out the wifi, bluetooth), but make it affordable again. These Minis haven't been flying off the shelves in recent months, as much as I like to recommend an entry level Mac for first time buyers the new Mini has priced themselves out of the market and the MBAs at Apple who decided this was a great price need to go back to the drawing table. From what I've been reading in forums this $100 price hike isn't going well. People who were waiting for the refresh design to purchase new equipment for the labs in the summer are now looking for alternatives.

Posted by: jackbear | June 15, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

The audio jack does do optical digital as well as analog - it does double duty as mini TOSLINK. And the HDMI port can also handle digital audio. Check the specs: http://www.apple.com/macmini/specs.html

Posted by: jkestner | June 15, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

@ tmhale13 -- Doesn't the HDMI support the audio?

Posted by: NoVAHockey | June 15, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Cool! Hook up an ElGato EyeTV dongle and the Mini is a replacement for a Tivo. Add in NEtflix streaming, iTunes, and DVD playing and burning, and I know what I'm getting myself for Christmas...

I wonder if there are external blu-ray players that work with it?

Posted by: wiredog | June 15, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

for $229, apple tv is a perfect solution for me and my family.

we stream or sync content from my home computer to 3 different hdtvs. the process generally works flawlessly.

i fear that apple is moving away from apple tv with this move and i hope i'm wrong.

i don't need to pay twice as much for a box that does twice as more.

apple tv is fast, easy, efficient and reliable. perfect for us!

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 15, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

$229 for the box is a lot to ask from consumers who will only be bombarded with more ads. These devices should be below the $100 price point. Anyway, this is nothing new. I got a program from seetvpc [dot] com, then connected my laptop to my TV with a S-cable ($5). I don't have Cable TV because of this.

Posted by: Jenniferweb | June 15, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Had I not recently bought a new Mac mini, I would definitely have waited for this. I'm only sorry I had no idea Apple was making such a big upgrade. I've owned two minis; my first unit is already connected to my HDTV. I'll have no hesitation about buying this one when I'm ready for another.

Posted by: krazykat23 | June 15, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Having recently acquired a new Apple TV and purchased an iPad, plus a new iPhone acquisition in a couple weeks, I will not spring for the updated Mac mini. But, if I were not already spending so much money with Apple, I would gladly consider it. Seems perfect for a set top box that does everything and, simultaneous, a full-bore computer.

Posted by: query0 | June 16, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

I've been looking at the Mac Mini for my college bound son. It was a compromise between his desire for a Mac, and my feeling that Macs are over-priced. You considered $699 as a price increase, but as I compared features, the features are closer to the higher-end version of the Mini, which cost $799. So to me, this is a $100 price DECREASE, but with the elimination of the low-end model.

Posted by: jcflack1 | June 16, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

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