After a long period of doubt, last December I finaly decided to buy a Mac Mini as home entertainment system. It arrived soon and sofar it completely lives up to my expectations. I am using it together with a NEC LCD screen at the moment (which will be replaced by a 23″ Apple Cinema Display soon) and Elgato EyeTV. The EyeTV software can be controlled with the Apple remote, and resembles the FrontRow interface. However, EyeTV is not completely integrated with FrontRow: the two full-screen menus are seperate from each other. A small nuisance is that pressing the “menu” button on the remove short opens FrontRow, pressing it long opens the full-screen EyeTV menu interface opens. When watching TV, I sometimes accidentally press short instead of long, resulting in the FrontRow menu opening instead of the EyeTV menu.
I am using EyeTV together with a Plextor M402U Convert-X tuner. The Plextor tuner is one of few tuners that connects through USB and that is also compatible with both Linux and Mac OS X. I originally bought the tuner to be used with my old Dell laptop and Linux PVR software like MythTV. After fiddling around for multiple evenings, I got it to work but I found the software not of sufficient quality. The Dell laptop works fine with linux, but it did not convince me to be usefull on a daily basis. I did not even dare to try to convince my girlfriend . What a difference when I installed Elgato EyeTV op my Apple PowerBook: just plug-and-play and it works like a charm. Also the electronic program guide in EyeTV (using tvtv) works well. Actually, I consider this EPG to be quite important for serious PVR use.
To test out the dual tuner support in EyeTV, I borrowed a second tuner from a German friend: a Miglia TV-Mini. It is a DVB-T tuner for digital through-the-air broadcasts. In the Netherlands these broadcasts are carried out by Digitenne. I had previously read somewhere on the internet that Digitenne would not work at all with such a device, since all all stations (including Nederland 1, 2 and 3) would be scrambled. However, after doing the auto-setup, it did find a list of ~30 TV and ~20 radio channels! It gives a very sharp picture and has less of a delay than the Plextor tuner. So also digital trough-the-air TV works fine with the MacMini/EyeTV setup. Note that most of the channels are actually scrambled, only the public stations (Nederland 1, 2, 3 and TV Gelderland) are not scrambled. Regarding radio, the same applies: only Radio 1-5, the Concertzender and Radio Gelderland are available unscrambled. The others are listed with a “$” sign behind them, but this is already more that I had expected. To decode the scrambled signals you probably have to get a Digitenne subscription for the smartcard. This Miglia TVMini is a USB-stick sized decoder and cannot be used with a smartcard for decoding, but there are other tuners that can (e.g. Elgato 410).
To conclude, I am very happy with my Mac Mini. It works great for watching movies and listening to music (both using FrontRow) and for watching and recording TV using EyeTV and the Plextor tuner. The dual tuner support is still in beta stage (I am using EyeTV version 2.3.1) but the first impression is OK. I only hope that Apple will open up the FrontRow interface so that other high-quality products like EyeTV can be integrated in it, which would even improve the user experience as a “audio-visual media appliance” instead of as computer.