Macworld preview: New Mac mini, home media server to rule the entertainment roost?

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Over the past month, I've solidified a plan to revamp my digital life. Since I finally got a (relatively) big-screen TV last January, I was disappointed with the picture I get from my old DVD player, connected via component cables. (I find it particularly irritating to have to fiddle with the aspect ratio all the time.) I'm skeptical that Blu-ray will ever really take off -- I'm convinced that downloaded HD content is the wave of the future. So I'd like to get a Mac mini and use it as a combination home media server/upconverting DVD player.

This decision is complicated, of course, by the almost-everyone-is-sure-about-it rumor that new Mac minis are coming at Macworld. They will come in more flavors and configurations, reflecting the niches the product has found in the server and media center market. The minis are currently at the upper edge of the range I'd be willing to pay for my new media gadget; thus, I greet rumors of new enclosures with some concern, as the new enclosures for the Macbooks were accompanied by a price bump. Will last-model refurbs be available for cheap in the wake of the Schillernote? Or will better graphics capabilities (I've heard less-than-good things about the current minis' ability to handle high-end HD) tempt me to stimulate the economy with cash I don't have?

Muddying my buying decision waters further is the late-breaking rumor about an new home media product, based on the same platform as the current Time Capsule gadget. Essentially a network-attached storage device, the gizmo would allow you to access your media anywhere, from any device with Internet access. Theoretically useful ... but what I really want is a big picture in the living room. And an upconverting DVD player. That mini is looking better and better; the question is whether it will be the new one or a refurb.

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