Mac Mini tv setup - Connect a Mac Mini to your TV

Apple Mac Mini tv FAQ: How do I create a Mac Mini tv setup? (Also written as, How do I connect my Apple Mac Mini to my tv?)

As I wrote in an earlier article, I think a Mac Mini makes a better Apple TV than, well, the Apple TV. I was just talking with a friend about a Mac Mini TV setup, and here's what he did to connect his Mac Mini to TV.

(Before getting into the "how" of connecting a Mac Mini to your TV, I thought I'd share my reasons why I think this is a much better approach than an AppleTV: I really enjoy using my iMac as a TV / media center. I like to watch DVDs, Hulu tv shows and movies, Netflix movies, YouTube videos, etc., on my iMac. But when those things get boring (think "commercial interruptions"), I like to switch to another Mac Space and check my email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. More generally, I like the idea of having a Mac-powered TV media center, and if/when the Mac Mini TV setup bores me, I like knowing there is the power of a complete Mac OS X computer system still running behind the scenes. This offers a tremendous amount of flexibility.)

An Apple Mac Mini TV setup - What you need

Jumping right in, here are the parts you'll need for your Mac Mini TV setup:

  1. A Mac Mini.
  2. A mouse and keyboard. The Mac Mini doesn't come with a mouse and keyboard, and I recommend Apple's Blutooth wireless mouse and keyboard, as you'll likely want those to remotely control your Mac Mini TV (at least occasionally).
  3. You may also want an external monitor, at least temporarily, for your initial Mac Mini configuration. (If you take this approach, and want to use an old monitor, you may also need a monitor adapter. The Mac Mini comes with a short HDMI to DVI adapter cable, or you may need to buy a Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter. That being said, I'm told you can just connect your Mac Mini to a TV out of the box.)
  4. A TV/HDTV that accepts HDMI, DVI, or VGA input. So much will vary here depending on the age of your TV, this can become a bit of a rabbit hole.
  5. A cable to connect your Mac Mini to your TV. Again, this will vary, but the current Mac Mini comes with an HDMI port that supports video and multichannel audio output. I just looked at some brand new HDTV systems at BestBuy, and none of those come with an HDMI cable, so you're going to need to buy one regardless of what you do. Make sure you by an HDMI cable that is long enough for your home setup. (FYI: The Mac Mini also includes an HDMI to DVI adapter cable, and an "audio line out" with a headphone minijack connector.)
  6. An Apple Remote. Unfortunately Apple doesn't include an Apple Remote with the Mac Mini right now, and you'll probably want to buy one of these; otherwise, you'll have to use the mouse and keyboard to run your Mac Mini TV setup all the time, and while that's great for surfing the web, it's not ideal for watching TV shows and movies.
  7. You may or may not want/need extra speakers. That's up to you, and your wallet.

(Depending on what you're connecting to, you may also want/need a Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter, but I think that's very optional these days.)

Mac Mini TV setup - Software considerations

For the most part I'm assuming in this article that you've at least used a Mac system before. (If not, I don't recommend this being your first Mac experience. Get an iMac or MacBook.) If you have, you'll know -- or at least be reminded -- that you'll want/need the following free Mac software to watch videos from websites like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, NBC, and others:

If you want to burn copies of DVDs you own to your Mac Mini hard drive, you'll also want a copy of the Handbrake software:

(For more information on this, see my How to burn a DVD on Mac OS X to a digital video movie file.)

Mac Mini TV setup - The installation

Unfortunately my friend did his own Mac Mini TV installation, and hasn't been sober enough to share exactly how he did this, or whether he had any problems in the setup process yet.

Based on my own experiences with Mac installations, and using a Mac with multiple monitors, I'll guess he did one of two things:

  1. Did the initial Mac Mini setup/installation with the keyboard, mouse, and an external monitor, installing the software listed above, and then connecting the tv to his Mac Mini, or
  2. Connecting his Mac Mini to his TV, and just using the TV as an external monitor right from the start.

Again, based on my Mac experience, I suspect either approach will work fine, but if you've already done this one way or the other, I welcome your comments below.

Mac Mini TV setup - Mac software

At this point, everything should be ready for you to use. Here's a quick look at how to use many of the major TV, movies, and video services with your Mac Mini TV:

Hulu, NetFlix, and YouTube

You can access Hulu, NetFlix, and YouTube video content through your web browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) With all three of these you can:

  • Navigate to their website.
  • Find the TV show, movie, or video you want to watch.
  • Start the video.
  • Click the link to watch the show in full screen mode.
  • Sit back and watch the show.

Mac DVD watching

To watch a DVD on your Mac Mini TV setup:

  • Insert the DVD into the Mac Mini DVD slot.
  • The show will start up automatically in the Mac DVD Player application.
  • You can control the video with your Mac remote control, or mouse and keyboard.

Watching Mac digital video files through iTunes

Another option for watching videos on a Mac is through iTunes. You can buy video content from Apple, or, if you have burned DVD content to your hard drive, when you double click a digital video file on your Mac, the digital video will be played through iTunes.

Regardless of how you got the digital video content into iTunes, to play the iTunes video, just navigate to it in the iTunes Movies tab, then click the video you want to watch, and make it full screen. Again, you can control it with your Apple Remote, or mouse and keyboard.

Mac Front Row application

I am personally not a big Mac Front Row user, but Front Row also provides an interface that at the very least lets you watch iTunes movies, play iTunes podcasts and iTunes music. In short, click the Front Row icon in your Mac Applications folder, then use your Apple Remote or mouse and keyboard to navigate through Front Row.

Mac Mini TV setup - Summary

I hope this Mac Mini TV setup article has been helpful. As mentioned, I like the idea of having all the power of the Mac OS X driving my TV media center experience. There are so many things you can do with this approach, I could go on for a long time ... but instead, I'll just leave it open to comments at this point. If you take the Mac Mini TV media center plunge, please share your own comments and experiences.