Concept for Mac mini A/V dock

The interest given to articles about modifications to the Mac mini, such as moving it into a micro ATX case with some large IDE drives or overclocking it, suggests that there may be a market for a “docking station” of sorts that has the same dimensions as a typical audio/video component. The mini could be plugged into this station, then added into the rack of a typical home theater with ease, to act as a media center. It would have the added benefit of allowing the mini to be easily removed from the rack for more portable uses from time to time.

Let me stress that this product does not actually exist. I have the idea, but neither the time nor talent to see it to fruition. I present it here so that others might. It might look something like this:

Dock concept

I would only buy such a thing if it contained the following:

  • Few or no external controls. All features should be controllable by software in the mini. Perhaps a power button (which would also power the mini), but that’s all.
  • Port replication, as usually found in a docking station. This would include power (allowing you to ditch the power brick that came with the mini).
  • In addition to replication of the DVI connector, the station would wire the mini to built-in adaptors for VGA, S-Video, composite video and (most importantly) component video (Y/Pb/Pr), with ports for each arrayed on the back of the dock. If it didn’t have the component video, I wouldn’t buy it. Ideally, it would send signal to all of these at once, but being able to pick one at a time with a software control panel would be acceptible.
  • Video input of some kind wired into the firewire bus, smilar to a built-in EyeTV 500.
  • Two (or more) large, fast harddrives would be built into the dock, wired to the firewire port. It should not be rocket science for the user to replace these drives. Possibly the dock would supply just the drive bays, and the user would supply their own drives. These drives should be on the quiet side. The addition of a quiet fan to cool the drives would be acceptible.
  • One or both of the USB ports would not be direct pass-through ports, but connected to an internal hub. This hub would offer four connections on the back of the dock, two in the front, and several internal. It would also be hooked up internally to a number of other components built into the dock. I will describe these in reference to other, existing products, but in actuality, they’d be built into the dock hardware, not just third party products shoved into the case. The features of these additions would be:
    • Something like an iMic, with the RCA and other i/o connections coming out of the back of the machine.
    • Something like the Transit, which supplies DTS, with several optical audio ports in the back to allow recording and playback of digital audio to/from multiple sources.
    • Some sort of general purpose IR receiver, perhaps like the Keyspan Express Remote.
    • Some kind of combination flash memory reader.
  • A front panel display, showing:
    • Temperature of drive bay
    • State of firewire ports
    • State of USB ports
    • State of card reader
    • If the audio modes (RCA vs. optical) need to be switchable/one-at-a-time, their current state
    • If the video modes (DVI vs. component) need to be switchable/one-at-a-time, their current state
  • Possibly some additional cooling for the mini. Maybe this would be additional airflow around the bottom and sides. Not sure how/if this would work.
  • Size similar to a home theater DVD component: 17″ wide, somewhere between 9-13″ deep and just slightly taller than the mini’s 2″.

This post has been referenced by some other sites. From the comments here and on those sights, some extra commentary seems appropriate:

  • Size: I guess I didn’t spell out the idea that this is meant to integrate (i.e. be the same size as) with standard audio/video components in a home theater rack, as many posters wondered why it was so large. Like many a/v components, it is likely that this one would contain a lot of empty space. People who don’t care about integration with a rack system may be interested in a sweet looking, more stack-like system mentioned in one of the comments on engadget.
  • Non-stackability: Some mentioned that you cannot stack another component on top of this one, limiting its use in a rack. This is true, but intentional for reasons I didn’t mention. It turns out that items on top of a Mac mini interrupt the airport and bluetooth signals. I suspect they may also cause heat problems, but don’t know that for sure. Speaking of which…
  • Heat: I mentioned heat breifly, but some commenters correctly point out that some serious thought would need to be put into heat management. This would need to include some path from the vent in the the back of the mini into the body of the dock.
  • Cost: I didn’t think at all about cost, but if you add up the cost of buying similar components, it adds up pretty quickly. I guess the measure of affordability is if the dock costs less than it would to buy the similar components individually (which, right now, anyone who wants a Mac mini home theatre needs to do).

31 thoughts to “Concept for Mac mini A/V dock”

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  2. Think more “Apple like”… The cables run through the back of the mini and this device would seem to not allow for that… maybe same form factor… and fits ontop or below the mini…

  3. even as a docking station… the need for cables are negated, but still too big for such simple A/V needs

  4. Do you really think anyone wants a LED showing them the temperature of the drive bay? Talk about geeky!

  5. Do you really think they are going to include all that crap. You must be the biggest fucking moron in the world. Fucking idiot.

  6. what is the application of this exactly? With no Dolby or DTS out it doesn’t replace even a $50 DVD player (never mind High Def audio options). It also won’t function as much of a PVR (no cable card slot, no video in), but let’s assume bit torrent takes care of that (for now). It might be used to surf the net on the TV, but the mini can do that just as well (or badly) without this docking station. It might work as a music server, but an iPod and stereo connection kit would be a way cheaper and more flexible option there.

    Again, what is this for, exactly? Give me some real world examples.

    [This comment prompted the realization that I didn’t include a line about video in in the original article, though I had intended to. This ommission has since been corrected. Also, I made some text a bit more clear, specificially mentioning that Transit provides DTS. — Wordman]

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  8. Not being a fan of Apple, but of new developments in technology,
    I think the dock is a great concept, and someone should develope it.

    My suggestion, as above is to provide a dock for the Ipod.
    If this unit is to sit on a shelf, many users still expect controlers.
    A duplicate of the iPod click wheel interface is perfectly do-able. (

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  11. Just add front controls and an HD tuner. Then you’ve got an awesome home entertainment system. BTW Belligerent gigaflop needs to quit drinking (or start) and work out his frustrations on people who deserve to called an idiot (like himself).

  12. gigaflop: You seem to be te real moron here. Why exactly do you mean by “they”? If it’s Apple you are talking about, then you are really stupid. This concept was not made so that Apple would create such a device, but a third-party manufacturer. Maybe even the concept maker himself. THINK before you write, moron!

  13. Instead of putting the mini in the middle of the “dock”, let it connect from the side. If you put the big “dock” box next to it the mac mini can cool normally. You could put a supportive rest plate underneath or maybe a plate around like a square O, and let connector cables extend from the dock’s side. Apart from the cooling advantage this would also reduce cost, since the docks shape is just 1 box now, and simplify connector designs since you don’t need to connect 2 separate parts (one left and one right).

  14. Dear Sirs

    i just have had the same Idea. I am living in Germany and i sent my Idea to the german patentamt, its now patent pending. Shure i can send you a copy of my documents. But like you, to talent to realize it.


  15. I think this is a cool looking idea. The primary hold-ups are not really addressed, though. In order to be effective as a media hub, you will need (in addition to the larger HD space you’ve provided for) more than 32mb of VRAM, and some workable form of DVR and media management software that has a more “home theater” focus than anything currently available on the Mac. I think it is just a matter of time, but when all those other pieces are in place, they probably won’t need a docking station…it should all fit in the base enclosure.

    In short, looks cool but it won’t happen.

    You would get the exact same box if you set two of those Porsche Design external hard drives next to a mini and run a couple of FW cables between them.

  16. Who the hell need this? I think, you can better buy a G 5, there is all inside and the Computer is faster and and better for the same price.

  17. I’d like to see a docking system so that the Mini can be used easily in mobile installations….

  18. reminds me (in concept, not appearance) of the idea behind the optional media cards for Quadras and 5xxxs.

  19. This is a nice idea, but I think it doesn’t actually look good, sorry.

    I wouldn’t mind a vertical layout, though and covers for the slots. The look of the mini is nice because it’s smooth, slots and LEDs don’t look good. I would make a vertical layout with port replication, an extra FW IDE HD and a TV MPG hardware codec (nos software-based, as the mini can-t handle realtime encoding/decoding of these).

    If a screen is necessary then one of the 7″ widescreen touchscreen would be a good idea, like these:

  20. You get it all wrong. I don’t care if I have OSX in my stereo and I don’t want a computer
    (i.e. wait to boot up and software to update). I want a DVR (digital video recorder)
    with hard disk and iTunes built in. A good DVR is $599 and a good CD player is $150.

    Why I’d buy it:
    It integrates with my iPod, can play the music I bought from iTMS and also show some
    cool animation while playing music. This is why I need this component for my stereo.
    I play music from analogs CD’s now, but my TV is powered on and shows nothing – duh ?
    I’d be really cool if it had an optical input to “rip” the music from my SONY 400
    CD jukebox and also hooks up to internet radio stations.

  21. I think it needs to be smaller… I also think that a battery needs to be incorperated with a touch screen lcd, and the docking station needs to be cheap in order to be useful(you would need more than 2 to utilize it)

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