Breathe new life into OS X Front Row

  • September 24th, 2006

front row thumbContinuing the “Breathe new life into OS X” series including Breathe new life into OS X Safari & Breathe new life into OS X iChat, our focus will be on Apple’s Front Row application. Out of the box, Front Row taps into your current media library composed of iTunes albums, movies, television shows, iPhoto albums, and DVDs. Enjoy your multimedia library from the comfort of your couch or bed using the included Front Row remote. Perfect right? Nothing more to ask for. Right? Wrong.

The convenience offered by Apple’s Front Row application dissipates once users begin to push the limitations of the software. Where does the convenience of Front Row begin to waver?

  1. Front Row only indexes your home Movies directory (~/Movies) and your current video library via iTunes. No preference pane for external drives or directories.
  2. Television shows downloaded via bittorent will most likely fail playback despite being saved to your ~/Movies directory.

Both of these pitfalls can be remedied in 5-minutes or less breathing new life into the integrated “media center” built into all current Apple computers.

Support bittorrent downloads

Missing your favorite television show – be it Greys Anatomy, Nip/Tuck, or Prison Break – is a thing of past. The modern convenience of DVRs and the bittorrent network allow anyone with access to broadband internet to acquire their favorite episodes within hours (or less). Until now, playback of downloaded episodes often required the open source VLC Media Player due to the video encoding – DivX / XviD – of most distributed television episodes.

The fix? A small XviD QuickTime Component.

  1. Depending on your hardware configuration, download the PPC or Intel binaries (~2MB).
  2. Unzip and drag the AviImporter-r7 & XviD_Codec-r58 components into ~/Library/QuickTime. If the directory does not exist, create it and then drag the components within. Restart in order for Front Row to properly detect the new components.
  3. Test your new QuickTime components by dragging any bittorrent episode into the Movies directory and starting Front Row. If all is as it should be, Front Row will play your file(s) as they were meant to be watched – from the comforts of your couch / bed with remote in hand.

Expand on your Front Row experience

Now that Front Row is configured for playback of the more widely accepted XviD codec, the possibilities for video playback are endless. The following are additional links to supplement your video library needs.

  • MacTheRipper – Freeware DVD ripper allows users to make “legal” copies of their DVD library creating region free images of disks.
  • Handbrake – Once your videos have been stripped of their encryption, pass the video_ts folder through Handbrake for MPEG-4 / h.264 conversion. Doing so will wield much smaller video files for playback via Front Row.

Help Front Row with ripped VIDEO_TS folders

Insomniac pointed out a great solution for users who rip / decrypt their DVD collection resulting in VIDEO_TS folders unrecognizable – by default – in Front Row. With DVD Assist, Front Row users can browse their VIDEO_TS library of video content forcing playback through their DVD Player application.

Support external directories

Building an enormous video collection isn’t a problem if you have the internal hardrive space. Fortunately, Front Rows can populate video files stored elsewhere – external drives / directories – using what are known as Alias’s. Unlike “shortcuts” found in the Windows desktop environment, an OS X Alias is completely dynamic. This means that the file or directory being referenced can be moved without breaking an Alias.

Using an Alias referencing an external volume, you can store all your television shows & movies outside of the ~/Movies directory. Example:

external volume directory

All personal video files are stored on an external volume connected the the computer via Firewire. Movies and television shows are organized into their own respective directories – ‘Movies’ & ‘Television’. In order for Front Row to see content stored outside of the ~/Movies directory, we need to create a link between the two using an Alias. In the example above, I’ve highlighted the ‘Television’ directory created an Alias using the keyboard shortcut CMD+L.

Feel free to rename the Alias appropriately. The word “Alias” does not need to be in the title. Once completed, drag the Alias into your ~/Movies directory and start Front Row. Navigate to Videos > Movies where you should now see the Alias pointing to your video library within the external directory.