XBMC – A Suitable Replacement for Apple’s Front Row
key review info
- Application: XBMC 12.2
- Reviewed on:
- User-friendly interface
- (4 more, see all...)
We all enjoy our multimedia content on High Definition TVs and, although connecting your Mac to a TV using an Apple TV or various connectivity cables is not very difficult, accessing and controlling the content from your couch may pose a bigger problem. Here is where media center apps come in and help you browse, play and preview your digital videos, photo albums and music.
Watching movies, listening to music and browsing your photo collection on your Mac were once so much easier when using Front Row. Unfortunately, with the launch of Mac OS X Lion, Apple decided to remove and discontinue the app. No worries though, XMBC is here to save the day.
XBMC is a non-profit project created in 2003 and managed by volunteers from all around the world, working to expand its reach and functionality. Today, this app is available for Mac OS X, Linux, Windows, BSD, iOS and Android in more than 30 languages.
XBMC is a free and comprehensive media center, which helps you access and organize all your music, videos and image files using the concept of libraries.
A well-designed application, with support for a large number of media formats and an intuitive interface, XBMC’s installation process is simple and fast. Thus, as is the case of the vast majority of OS X apps, the only thing you have to do is drag and drop it into your /Applications folder.
Similar to Apple's Front Row, XBMC runs in full screen and features large and easy-to-read fonts, easily readable even from a distance of 10 feet. Its interface is smooth, multi-colored, well-organized, and easily adjustable to meet your needs.
Unlike Front Row, XBMC comes with downloadable skins that can totally change the app’s interface. Among the themes available to download, there is even a Front Row replica. A variety of skins can change your experience and various add-ons allow you to access online content on services (e.g. Facebook, YouTube and Spotify).
XBMC has been designed to be used as a full-screen multimedia player and organizer for your Mac, compatible with the Apple remote and capable of opening the most popular video, music and image files from local and network-based storage media.
The app will scan local and network devices in order to locate all your multimedia files, along with their metadata information, cover art and other related media artwork. The only thing you'll need to do is to choose a folder and indicate what type of files there are. XBMC is pretty quick in loading and indexing the added files, requiring only a couple of seconds to load a video library of over 30GB.
Unfortunately, XBMC did manage to crash while we were trying to browse some image folders. Also, on rare occasions, XBMC completely failed to collect the files' metadata or picked up the wrong information for some of them.
The integration with the Apple remote is another powerful feature that enables users to effortlessly add new folders to the library, browse and search for photos and videos, play, pause and rewind movies and even schedule a system shutdown.
In case you don't own an Apple remote, you can use your iOS or Android device as a full-featured remote control. In order to successfully control XBMC with your mobile device, you have to enable the Remote Control option and configure the XBMC Webserver from the Settings menu. The web server configuration process is quite simple, as you only have to turn on the feature and enter a username and password.
In addition, unlike other media center applications, XBMC comes with support for an almost endless range of playlist formats, slideshows, audio visualizations, weather forecasts reporting and, more importantly, third-party plug-ins.
Another one of its useful features is the Favorites list that will allow you to effortlessly access folders with videos, images and songs by pinning them from the contextual menu.
Moreover, XBMC is expandable via add-ons that provide features such as TV Guides, YouTube, Online Movie Trailer Support, Hulu, NetFlix, Pandora Radio and podcast streaming.
Additionally, with the help of XBMC, besides standard audio formats like OGG, APE, AAC, and MP3, one can also play DVD, VCD, and CD discs. What's more, it can also play all QuickTime compatible media formats, with AVI and WMV as an added bonus.
Furthermore, thanks to its built-in streaming engine, you will also be able to access your multimedia collection from anywhere via the Internet. This means that, once you install XBMC on your Mac, it will automatically become a fully working media hub.
On top of that, the app can also be used as a gaming platform, capable of running mini-games developed with Python, C++ and more.
XBMC is also light on CPU, GPU and RAM usage. During our testing period, the maximum CPU load we saw was of about 25-30% and around 250 MB of RAM while playing full HD videos. Of course, these values might vary according to your Mac's specifications and the media content you're playing.
All in all, XBMC is a cross-platform and user-oriented utility designed to help you access your multimedia content from your desktop or via the web, quickly and effortlessly.
Also, XBMC's highly customizable interface provides its users with rapid access to numerous third-party add-ons, themes, mini-games and services.
Over and above that, XBMC can also be used to play almost all popular videos and audio formats around and will allow you to enjoy your digital media files from either local or network-based storage media.
There are some stability issues that we encountered during the testing process. More than once, XBMC failed to open some image folders or close without crashing.
Also, once in a while, XBMC did fail to display the metadata or showed off the wrong info for some of the opened files. It would have also been useful to have a basic editing toolset for the collected metadata, in order to customize the information for some of the files in one's collection, if needed.
XBMC is a viable alternative to Front Row and manages to please numerous Mac users with its customizability, accessibility and support for an ample list of multimedia formats and, despite some stability issues, it does boast a highly expandable array of features, for no price.
In our opinion, XBMC’s characteristics make it a good choice for all estranged Front Row users looking for a powerful OS X media center app.
Here are some snapshots of the application in action: