Front Row is Apple’s media centre software, which comes bundled with Mac OS X. Compared to other options, such as Boxee or Windows 7 Media Center, Front Row is lacking in many features, but it does have one saving grace: iTunes integration.
Although I use Windows, OS X and Linux on various machines, I choose to house my iTunes library on my Mac Mini. Front Row gives OS X users a great interface to view all their media from their iTunes library, without the need for a keyboard and mouse.
I have the Mini connected to my TV, so having Front Row launch on startup allows me to simply flick through my media without having to worry about getting around the very remote-friendly interface.
Split into 7 easily accessible sections, Front Row makes it really easy to get around. However, if you have a lot of content in your library, being limited to ‘up’ and ‘down’ arrows on an Apple remote makes navigating through a mass of albums a difficult task.
Despite being somewhat awkward to get through all of your content, the interface definitely looks great, in typical Apple fashion. When music’s playing, the album art looks great, and the same applies when you’re looking at movie and TV libraries.
When viewing a video, you can fast track through the content with a discrete, simple set of controls which appear when they’re needed, allowing you to fast forward, rewind, pause and play.
The level of integration that Front Row has with the iTunes store is, without a doubt, its greatest feature. You can view previews of the most popular TV shows that are on the store, watch trailers of the latest movies being released and catch up with other things, such as your podcasts.
Unfortunately, compatibility is another weak area for Front Row. Without the use of a third party application, like Perian, to play media files such as .mkv in QuickTime, you’re limited to Apple’s iTunes video formats.
Again, this puts Front Row at a major disadvantage against other competitors, with poor compatibility with many popular formats. Fortunately, you’re music’s safe, with iTunes supporting an abundance of formats such as ALAC, MP3 and AAC.
Is Front Row a big player in the media centre software market? In my opinion, not at all. The Apple TV has always been ‘just a project’, and something with such great potential has gone virtually unrecognised since its release.
If Front Row is to be considered as a viable option for Home Theatre PC’s, Apple need to make a lot of improvements to it in the future, as it struggles to be noticed behind other contenders packing some great features.