Here's my quick setup notes:
- I'm using a Mac Mini 1.83 Core 2 Duo with 1 GB of RAM. This is the cheapest Mac Mini that Apple currently sells. I thought about getting an AppleTV, but I think the Mini is easier to modify, has more CPU power for advanced codecs, and can be used as a kid's computer in the future, if I don't like using it as an HTPC. I also have dreams of writing a game for the Mini that uses Wiimotes. I think this would be easier to do on a Mini than an AppleTV, even though the AppleTV has a better GPU.
- I'm using "Plex" as for viewing problem movies, and I think it may end up becoming my main movie viewing program. It's the OSX version of Xbox Media Center. (Which is a semi-legal program for a hacked original Xbox. The Plex version is legal because it doesn't use the unlicensed Xbox code.) The UI is a little rough. (Actually, by Mac standards it's _very_ rough. :-) ) Plex has very good codec support and lots of options for playing buggy or non-standard video files.
- I connected my Mac Mini to my media file server using gigabit ethernet. This made Front Row feel much snappier than when I was using an 802.11g wireless connection.
- I installed the Perian plugin adds support for many popular codecs to Quicktime and Front Row.
- I set up my Mac Mini to automatically mount my file server share at startup and when coming out of sleep. Detailed instructions here. Synopsis: Create an AppleScript utility to mount the share, put the utility in your Login Items so that it's run automatically at startup, and finally use SleepWatcher to run the script after a sleep.
- I added FrontRow to my Login Items (Apple Menu:System Preferences...:Accounts:Login Items) to start Front Row at startup.
- I administer my Mini HTPC using VNC from a second computer. I don't have a keyboard or mouse hooked up to the HTPC normally. I disabled the Bluetooth keyboard detection dialog using Apple Menu:System Preferences...:Bluetooth:Advanced... then uncheck "Open Bluetooth Setup Assistant at startup when no input device present".
- No DVR-MS codec support in Perian, and therfore none in Front Row. I have to use my trusty Xbox 360 or VLC to view my Microsoft Windows Media Center recordings.