Since I'm re-setting this all up from scratch on the new HDMI Mini, I figured it might be helpful for folks to see what you need to do to use it as a headless HTPC.
Part 1: Setup
Things you need:
- A Mac Mini
- A TV with an HDMI input
- An HDMI cable
- A wired keyboard
- A wireless KB Mouse
- Home wireless of some kind
I'll get into software and codecs later, this here is just the basics. I have all of my movies on a home NAS that's cabled to my router, and my home wireless is Wireless-N. Streaming movies is 50/50 directly over wireless - bigger movies will take longer to buffer, small stuff (under a gig or so) tend to buffer quickly enough not to be noticeable. I'll get to that later.
So, get yourself a Mini, and uh, take it out of the box and plug it in. Then dig up a dusty old Dell wired USB keyboard, because the Mini won't detect and pair with Apple's wireless keyboard during setup. This is stupid, I know:
Wire it up, and get your software updates out of the way. The nice thing about the HDMI interface on the Mini is that it will detect native TV resolutions like 720p and 1080i. If for some reason it doesn't, adjust your resolution accordingly. If you want to get crazy and use different resolutions for your movie player and your screen when you're using the OS, SwitchResX will let you customize to your heart's content, and can be driven with Applescript.
Now that you're all patched, you have a fresh install of Snow Leopard, complete with all the crap on the taskbar that you will probably want to just get rid of.
This part is optional, depending on how you're setting it up. I use the small Apple keyboard only when I _really_ want to surf the web on it, and don't have a laptop handy. I have a 27" iMac, and that's how I want to configure it. This part goes for Windows as well.
First, go into System Preferences -> Security on the Mini, and set your sharing up how you want it. This is how I have mine:
If you're running Windows on your primary machine, get yourself a copy of your favorite VNC client. I use Chicken of the VNC. If you're running OSX, the native Screen Sharing app is all you need.
Assuming you got the sharing setup correctly, COTV or SS should detect the Mini, and you should now be able to manage it remotely.
Apple's driver support is pretty good, so hopefully OSX detected the HDMI audio on your TV. You want to go into your Sound preferences, and set your TV to be the primary sound output device.
For things like the startup sound (and everything else) you can set your normal sound effects to be the built in speakers, or the normal output. If you do, keep in mind that your web browser will use this for sound as well. This comes into play if you're watching something on YouTube, for example. I use HDMI for that as well, but this is up to you.
For now, get yourself a copy of VLC. It works out of the box with a good amount of types and codecs, and the OSD is unobtrusive and responds to the remote control. Then load yourself up a movie, or some Metalocalypse. At first run, you may need to set the output preference to HDMI - it will default to the internal sound device unless you have it disabled.
Command-F, and voila, Fullscreen of your favorite, totally-legally acquired media. This is the quick and dirty way. You'll eventually want to use Plex for this setup, which I'll get to later.
The Apple remote is decent for what it is and what it costs, which is a very basic remote for about 20 bucks. If it had a trackball on it that could double as a mouse it would be outstanding, but it's IR and not Bluetooth. And it's $20. Note that if you have two macs it will hit both of them, so you'll want to disable the IR port on anything you don't want it controlling.
Pair it up and verify that it works on your favorite also-totally-legally acquired media that may occasionally have Dutch subtitles, but if it does it's only because you're all about picking up hot Dutch chicks and not at all because it came from The Internet™.
Every Mac user knows this, but if you're a Windows user and unfamiliar with it, you want to install SMCFanControl before you do anything else. The Mini can run hot, especially the newest model because it doesn't have a power brick. Keep an eye on your temps, and adjust your fan speed settings accordingly.
And that's it for a basic Mac Mini HTPC! Stick it somewhere out of the way, set your power settings accordingly and you're good to go. If you'll be running it hard for long periods of time (and you will), you may want to consider getting a laptop cooling pad.