When Apple announced the new Mac mini (M2), one of the interesting tidbits was that its HDMI port was upgraded, but only if you get the version with the M2 Pro chip.
Support for 4K at 120Hz natively, or 4K at 240Hz using Display Stream Compression (DSC) technology, is now available in this model, and both are nice – but what bothers me? What really made me sit up and take notice is that 4K HDR is now supported, for the first time.
We’re only talking about HDR10 at the moment (the most ‘basic’ and common form), but it’s still a major step up from the ‘no HDR at all’ we had before. Apple supports the more advanced Dolby Vision HDR format in macOS (the mini-LED display in its Pro laptops takes full advantage of this, as we discuss in our review of the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2023)), but not on the HDMI port currently.
But still, with HDCP 2.2 on board to support this, it immediately raises the question of using the Mac mini M2 Pro as an HTPC (home theater PC) connected to one of the best TVs. HTPCs used to be a notable thing, but they’ve fallen off more recently with the rise of better streaming devices, which could do most of the same features for a lot less money.
But HTPCs still have their uses (and their fans). After all, you can watch videos from anywhere that can stream videos to a web browser, not just device-supported services. You can also play any digital video files you own, regardless of format, or connect to any kind of streaming server (or create one powered by the Mac mini, of course).
And because it’s the M2 Pro version, you get incredible power for everything you want to do with it, including entertainment. As always, Macs aren’t usually the first port of call for gaming, but there are still plenty of versions, new and old (particularly strategy games), and you can be sure that whatever you will launch there will work perfectly the basic 19 -GPU.
And it can also be ideal for music fans – plug the Mac mini into a great AV receiver with serious speakers connected and you can listen to a collection of Hi-Res Audio music in excellent quality.
There are a few issues with using the Mac mini M2 Pro as an HTPC. The first is the lack of Dolby Atmos output from the HDMI port – multi-channel audio is supported, but not in Atmos format, so you can effectively get surround sound, but not the full object-based 3D audio effect. with one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars.
Again, Atmos is supported in macOS, and you get Atmos Spatial Audio from the 24-inch iMac (2021) speakers or when you watch something and use AirPods Pro 2 – but Atmos won’t streamed via HDMI.
And then there is the price. $1,299 / £1,399 / AU$1,999 is quite a lot for an HTPC. You can get the latest Apple TV 4K (2022) for almost 90% less than this, leaving you with enough money to buy a PlayStation 5 and an Xbox Series X for that gaming success. And then you’d also have Dolby Vision and Atmos support.
But you wouldn’t have the flexibility. I’m not saying people should rush out to buy the new Mac mini as an alternative way to watch top streaming services; I’m just saying that for a certain class of home theater nerd (me – I mean: me), it’s become one of the most interesting devices around.
You can read our full Mac mini (2023) review to learn more about the machine – and yes, we got to test the M2 Pro version.