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I really love the way latest Apple TV front-row works. Its easy, clean and fast. I've been trying many different Media Center applications for my Mac Mini, but none of them are just like the one Apple TV provides.

I could buy an AppleTV, but I really don't want to have yet another device at home, so I think there should be an application that replicates Apple TV menus/workflow.

Do you know of any? Plex, XBMC or Boxee are far of what I'm looking for

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I don't know either but I'm definitely interested. I find Plex/Boxee/XBMC to be way over-designed for what I want. I just want a list of movies, TV shows, etc that I can search and play. –  TJ Luoma Jun 16 '12 at 23:06
    
If you have OS X 10.6, there are ways to copy the necessary files to run Front Row on 10.7, more or less. That might be the closest thing to Apple TV. –  Ken Jun 17 '12 at 0:51
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how about this squireapp.com - also keep in mind that for plex there is also a ipad app –  konqui Jun 25 at 21:38

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'd say go with Plex. I've been using and testing different media center apps for years, and, like you, stuck with Front Row until Lion came out, because nothing else felt quite right. Since then, Plex has won me over, especially with the huge progress made in the last year or so.

In terms of user experience, Plex is the closest thing to Snow Leopard's Front Row. I always disliked the visual clutter of XBMC and Boxee, and even earlier Plex versions. But the current Plex version has a VERY clean interface and works great with the Apple Remote.

It can handle almost any file format (without installing extra codecs), unlike Front Row, and you can have it watch any folder on your machine (or network), not just the ~/Movies, ~/Videos and iTunes.

It automatically downloads artwork and metadata for movies and TV shows in your library based on their filenames, and there are many high-quality channels (plugins for streaming content) that you can install right inside the client.

The channels have to present their data in the same layout as the native Plex library, so the interface is consistent. Plex integrates with iPhoto and iTunes as well, showing them as available channels.

Finally, since Plex is really a two-part setup (client and server, both of which can easily run on the same machine), it's expandable. Once you set up the server, you can use it with the client on that machine, and you can also view your library on other Macs, PCs, iOS devices, Android devices, Google TV, Roku, LG Smart TVs, and DLNA TVs. I think they even released a WebOS client too.

Most of the client apps work with absolutely zero configuration. As long as you're on the same network, all available Plex servers and their libraries just show up. Start playing something, and the server will even transcode the video or audio (in realtime) if the client device doesn't have the necessary codecs to handle it.

Plex isn't perfect, but it's under very active development, and constantly improving. And the UI finally looks and feels natural.

Also, it's everywhere. Practically every screen in my house has access to my Plex library. Some of the apps (iOS, Android etc.) cost money, which is good for the long-term survival of Plex as a platform, but the Linux (server only), Mac (client + server), Win (client + server) are all free.

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Like you I have been looking for this forever and sadly it seems no such thing exists right now. Plex comes as pretty good and pretty feature rich app, but it's currently very un-Mac-like. Even though it started off as bringing XMBC to the Mac, its focus now is very cross platform and does not fit well as a Mac app at all in terms of look/feel/behaviour as well as leveraging OS X specific technologies.

Have a look at Squire. It looks like a promising, very slick and Apple-like app. Sadly it's still in early development with no apparent ETA.

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Definitely looks very promising! but as for now, yeah its almost inusable, lets hope that becomes what i have been looking for soon –  jmserra Aug 3 '12 at 10:52

If you liked Front Row, then you should take a look at nessMediaCenter. It is the only media center I know, which is like Front Row and gives access to iTunes DRM (bought or rented motion pictures and TV shows).

But nessMediaCenter has some disadvantages too: its GUI is old fashion (with a high contrast) and metadata is only available for DVDs (it is its philosophy to keep movie titles private). But you can edit / save metadata for (EyeTV) movies and DVDs by using "Movie Info".

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Squire

Sylion recently came out with a 1.0 release of Squire. At first glance it looks very barebones and minimal compared to Plex or XBMC, but it has almost everything I need. I see it as the first true Front Row replacement.

Some of my favorite things:

  • Only a handful of settings - not hundreds of settings like XMBC or Plex.
  • The helper app is great. It tore through my ~5TB video library in seconds. It's ~90% accurate at tagging my media, and only a couple clicks to match those it misses.
  • Adding media is dead-simple. Drag any folder(s) your Mac can see into the helper app. Internal, external, network, etc. drives all work.
  • No skins, add-ons, etc. to complicate things. Can it be a DVR? Show RSS feeds? Manage your torrents? Control your home lighting? None of the above. All it does is play your movies and TV shows - and it does this extremely well.
  • Extremely easy to understand interface, a la Front Row.

Things I don't like

  • No music support.
  • Picky with file names. It doesn't appear to use folder names for anything but show name. So if, like me, you have things organized as Show/Season/Episode it probably wont like it.
  • While otherwise great, when the helper app mistags something it's almost always way off. It matched The Roots of The Matrix with Marley. An easy fix for me, but still not something I should have to do in the first place.
  • No AirPlay support.
  • The backgrounds are a little gaudy, but that's just nitpicking.

None of the other big name media center apps really click with me. I don't want to spend time looking for a simple skin or fiddling with hundreds of settings - why on earth should I have to choose or know what the "A/V sync method" is? While Squire may not have near the feature list of others, it doesn't come with the headache either.

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And as of an hour ago, they just released version 1.2. –  Patience Jun 26 at 15:40

If your like Squire and see it as a first replacement for Front Row, then you should definitely take a look at nessMediaCenter.

I would like to agree to your statement that less settings are helpful! Applications should be easy to use.

But I would like to disagree that playing my movies and TV shows is enough: in my opinion a media center should give me access to all media. Just some examples:

  • iPhoto media (albums, events, pictures and videos)
  • iTunes music aka playlist, DRM (bought or rented motion pictures or TV shows)
  • internet content, if available by different selection (categories, newest, latest, next page...)
  • Other local media like pictures, EyeTV movies, DVDs or just movie files (like "MOV", "AVI", "DivX").
  • Direct access to folders and volumes - I do not want to do all work again to set up another library.

As already mentioned, the GUI is "old school" (just a list of names and a preview and description for the current selected entry) - but you do not have to search for any skin.

I have one big problem with the "cover view" of some media centers: I know my movies, and what I need is to see as much entries as possible. 10 feet interface is needed as well - the small covers and low contrast of the common media centers is less helpful in my opinion.

Another problem: I have thousands of videos which are recorded by myself. And I do not want any application to share its titles by searching for metadata. Beside the fact that it would make no sense...

"Double-click" is very important, too. Seeing a list of movies, I can recognize very quickly if I want to see the next page. Moving one page down to see the next 9 - 13 next entries helps me a lot.

Another feature which is important for me: selecting folders. Just think of a folder which contains short music videos or many pictures: I need the feature to select one of this folders remotely - and then I want to watch this content continuously.

I could go on with many features I am still missing if I test other media centers... :-)

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