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

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  3. Lance says:

    As far as referencing is concerned, I just tried to make an alias between a folder on my external HD (Archos AV500) but the folder doesn’t show. Does the connection have to be firewire?

  4. Jago says:

    As far as referencing is concerned, I just tried to make an alias between a folder on my external HD (Archos AV500) but the folder doesn’t show. Does the connection have to be firewire?

    It doesn’t have to be Firewire as I have alias’s for media on a USB hard drive and on NAS drive which work fine. Just make sure you’ve put the alias’s in the Movies folder on your Mac and that the drives are mounted and it ought to work.

  5. Derek says:

    As far as referencing is concerned, I just tried to make an alias between a folder on my external HD (Archos AV500) but the folder doesn’t show. Does the connection have to be firewire?

    Are you creating Aliases to folders, or the actual movie file(s)?

  6. Nathan says:

    This is a great idea! However, it prevented my QuickTime from playing my .avi files from my digital camera (Canon PowerShot). (I have 100+ short .avi files in my iPhoto library and with the xVid stuff installed, quicktime would crash everytime I tried to play one of my .AVIs).

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  10. Majid says:

    I could,t add a shared folder on my pc seen in my mac by the procedure you explained. made the alias and put it in ~/movies directory but couldn’t see any thing in th front row. So sad!
    any opinion on that?!!

  11. Derek says:

    I could,t add a shared folder on my pc seen in my mac by the procedure you explained. made the alias and put it in ~/movies directory but couldn’t see any thing in th front row. So sad!
    any opinion on that?!!

    If I’m not mistaken, Mac OS Aliases do not work with shared folders in Windows XP.

  12. kris says:

    So have we actually found a solution to use some kind of Alias in the iTunes TV folder instead of converting all TV shows to the iTunes format?

  13. Derek says:

    So have we actually found a solution to use some kind of Alias in the iTunes TV folder instead of converting all TV shows to the iTunes format?

    Download and install Perian, open your files in Quicktime, save files as Reference Movie Files, and then drop reference files into iTunes.

  14. r. says:

    Ick. Is there a way to accomplish the TV show thing w/o using iTunes, or is Front Row checking the iTunes DB for TV?

  15. Derek says:

    Ick. Is there a way to accomplish the TV show thing w/o using iTunes, or is Front Row checking the iTunes DB for TV?

    Front Row is looking under TV Shows in iTunes. Simply download Perian (to ensure Front Row can play more video formats) and browse your files manually through Front Row.

  16. Torgeir 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?

  17. Tess says:

    this is GREAT – I have just got a new mini mac – after reading all this, i am not going so bald now! – thanks

  18. […] also possible convince Front Row to identify TV recordings or video downloads encoded using non-Apple codecs (such as DivX […]