Breathe new life into OS X Front Row

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.

Discuss - 81 Comments

  1. Maykell says:

    what about a skype plugin, just like the one they just came out with for the apple tv, I mean if apple tv can do it , why can’t a real mac run skype in frontrow

  2. Wiggo says:

    Anyone experiecing troubles when playing mkvs in front row? Picture goes black after about 3 minutes.. the sound continues, tho. I’ve installed Perian 1.0..
    Suggestions?

    I have the same trouble, though this is not happening with every mkv file. I am streaming them from a smb share. The file server and my mini mac is on a gig ethernet.
    I did not have this trouble with my old server, but then I had to wait playing the movie until the file had been transfered or else the movie was choppy(much slower server)

    Advice please.

    BTW I really want to play my music files in front row without importing them into itunes, is there a way to do this?

  3. Irok says:

    Would anyone know how to organize the tv shows tab in Front Row better. When I enter all my South Park episodes into itunes it looks fine but when I use front row it just list South Park eight times and there is no way of distinguishing seasons either

    • Moo says:

      From iTunes, you need to right click on the files, and select the “Get Info” option. Once there, you can set the files to be the same Show & Season number, which will force them into a group.

  4. perian does this too.

  5. jamesb says:

    alias in movies… genius!

    I genuinely thought they had forgotten to put alias in leopard since there is no ‘make alias’ didn’t know about the command! Cheers!!!

    Was thinking about getting apple TV but am just guna get a mac mini g4 to hook up to my TV and set front row up to see my media folder on my pc! Cheers!!

    J

  6. mikeT says:

    If you want to put all your videos in iTunes and Front Row without reconversion while adding metadata and cover art, there is a tool called VideoDrive exactly for this purpose.

    @Irok: It’s also great for TV shows as it automatically recognizes and numbers them. Check out: http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/27326/videodrive

  7. MEP says:

    Even better than VideoDrive is the new iFlicks (http://iflicksapp.com/) It converts any media to ipod/itunes/appletv compliant formats, and automatically looks up data with the tvdb or movie db to get details and album art. I think it is great!

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  9. Tony Pham says:

    I just bought an iMac, and used Front Row. I watched their movies and wondered, is Front Row free? Can someone help me answer this question? Is Front Row Movies, TV episodes, and music free?

    Thanks.

    • kira says:

      Front Row is free- comes with the mac bundle. It’s just a software interface/directory that makes it easier to go through your computer media files from your couch… the media on front row is provided by either your itunes purchases or CD/DVD rips.

  10. Lucy says:

    Just to say thanks so much for putting this guide up, I was floundering as to how to get Front Row to see the films on an external hard drive connected to the mac mini – gotta love a two-minute fix!

  11. Hi,

    I use the alias fix in my movies folder, pointing to my iTunes folder, which is on an external disc. This all works fine, but for some reason I’m still seeing the original old list of movies when I open Frontrow, in addition to the alias links. Can anybody tell me how to get rid of the old movies list ?

    Thanks in anticipation,

    Thomas.

  12. Jayde says:

    Thanks for all the help and tips :) I have quarries about the “Movies” folder…
    N0.1
    I use my time capsule 1GB as external wireless drive for media purposes and I can’t find in front row “sources” please correct me if I’m wrong “sources” means other volume(s) or wireless sources, How to see other drive or volumes in front row?
    No.2
    I understand making Alias in “Movies” folder solves the issue but when I move the Movies alias folder int to Time Capsule and add movies in to my TC Movies folder and found the same movies just copped in to my Imac Movies Folder (just mirrored) … I believe there is no point having movies duplicated and consume the drive space twice, Please help me where I’m going wrong to solve my issue. you great help will be highly appreciated.Best wishes to all, Jayde

  13. Moo says:

    Hi Jayde

    The sources refers to the name of the Mac running iTunes. i.e. If your Mac named “study” runs the iTunes library on the Time Capsule, then you need to have iTunes launched on that Mac, and then it will appear on other Macs as “study” under sources.

    Sorry – Don’t understand your alias situation

  14. Jayde says:

    Moo, “Thank you for your prompt reply and kind assistance”.
    In fact I would like to know how to access or see the USB or wireless drive with in the front row…
    I came across a youtube video clip showing other external drives but unfortunately did not explained it well for a newbie.
    I will highly appreciate if some one explain step by step how to add or access external drive within the front row.Thank you for your kind assistance and support.Jayde

  15. Moo says:

    Hi Jayde.

    Let’s say that your Movies are in a folder called “Monkeys” sitting in a USB drive. Create an alias of that Monkeys folder, and then move that alias (“Monkeys alias”) to your Movies folder. (“Jayde” > “Movies”).

    Now start Front Row. Select “Movies” > “Movies Folder” (above the line) > “Monkeys alias”.

    There’s your movies!

    You’d need to copy the “Monkeys alias” to Pictures, Music etc if you have media from those categories in the same USB folder, or alternatively go through the process again if the different media are in different folders.

    Regards

    Matt

  16. Jayde says:

    Matt: you are supper star, it worked and I hope many others might have similar issue and will follow your instructions making things right.
    My best wishes and kind regards.
    Jayde

  17. Nina says:

    do i have to pay anything to watch the top movies in front row? it doesn’t really say thanks

  18. Richard says:

    Any ideas on how to “Alias” existing categories such as “Podcasts” or “Audiobook” to something else like “Tuition Videos”, “Exercise”. Currently they sit in TV Shows – which is a pain