You don’t have to mod your classic Xbox to run the best free media centre application around anymore: Dedicated developers have ported the Xbox Media Centre (XBMC) software to the Mac, and its killer features will convince you to abandon Front Row forever. The latest XBMC on OS X beta dropped last week, and it’s as stable and useful as ever. Dubbed the “throw out your Xbox” release, XBMC for Mac 0.5 beta 1 adds the key feature that finally puts your media centre Mac under the TV where it belongs: remote control support. Let’s take a look at how you can (and why you want to) replace Front Row with XBMC on your Mac.
Ever since I soft-modded my classic Xbox last year, XBMC won my heart as my primary media centre package. If you haven’t used XBMC before, take a look at some screenshots of the app in action.
Here’s a look at a few movies in my DVD collection on the XBMC. (XBMC can automatically download all of the DVD cover art, plot summaries, and cast lists from various sources, like IMDB.)
Like movies, TV shows also get art and summaries. Here’s the wide view of some TV series on my XBMC.
On the music side of things, XBMC can display your songs and albums in a Coverflow-like view (among others).
You can also browse and view your photo library with XBMC. The full-screen slideshow looks great on your TV screen, too.
You can see more of what’s possible with XBMC in my initial writeup, but keep in mind that a few things aren’t working in the XBMC for Mac beta. (See below for more details.) First, let’s get your Mac set up with XBMC.
What You Need
To run XBMC, you’ll need an Intel-based Mac running Leopard (the software does not run on PowerPC models or on Tiger). You’ll want a remote control (Apple remote or universal remote), and a TV with a DVI or VGA input would be nice too, for watching movies on the big screen. Finally, download the latest release of XBMC for OS X here, and install it on your Mac as usual.
You can use the mouse to drive XBMC on the Mac, but some actions (like going full-screen) are keyboard only. From the XBMC for OS X wiki, here’s the full list of useful keys to know when using XBMC on the Mac:
Backslash – Full Screen Toggle
Arrow keys – Navigate menus
Page Up and Down – Scroll up and down
Enter – Select
Esc – Previous menu
Backspace – Go back (or up) a directory
Spacebar – Pause
Period – Skip Next
Comma – Skip Previous
Tab – Minimize Video
Printscreen – Screen Shot
Minus – Volume Down
Plus – Volume Up
p – Play
f – Fast Forward
c – Context menu
r – Rewind
x – Stop
m – Player controls
s – Shutdown menu
i – Info
q – Queue
z – Change aspect ratio
Next, you want XBMC to find your media stash. To point it to your video collection, navigate to Videos, and choose Add Source. From there, add the directory where your clips live. Once you’ve done that, to add DVD art, select your newly-added source, and press c to get the context menu. Choose “Set Content” to tell XBMC where to grab art and video info from, and scan your video clip info to XBMC’s database. Wash, rinse, and repeat for your music as well.
Configure Your Apple Remote
In order to start flipping through the movie collection on your Mac under the TV while you relax on the couch, you want to enable the Apple remote to work with XBMC. To do so, in Settings, hit the Apple Remote section. If you’ve got a standard-issue Apple remote, set Mode to Standard.
(Note: I happened to have Remote Buddy installed on my Mac, and XBMC complained that the driver was getting in its way. Once I uninstalled Remote Buddy, all was well.)
Replace Front Row with XBMC: To start up XBMC instead of Front Row, check off “Always Running” in the Apple Remote section of XBMC’s Settings area.
Hook it up to the TV: I used a DVI to VGA adaptor on my MacBook Pro to connect it to the big-screen TV. As you can see from the photo, I couldn’t coax the MacBook to work at the TV’s full resolution, but it’s still way more watchable than the laptop screen.
What Doesn’t Work (Yet) in XBMC on OS X Beta
XBMC for OS X is still very much a beta, so quite a bit of secondary functionality does not yet work with it—namely weather and plug-ins (like YouTube or Tetris). Other small random things don’t work on my Mac the way they do on the Xbox, like the CPU temperature reading, as shown.
What’s Better in XBMC for OS X (versus for the Xbox)
The most obvious advantage to XBMC on the Mac instead of the Xbox itself is ease of setup. No more logging into secret FTP sites to download software, exploiting games, or modding required—simply install and go. Secondly, your Xbox doesn’t come with a full keyboard and mouse, but your Mac does, and this makes entering text and browsing directories much easier and faster. Thirdly, your Mac already has a bunch of useful files and applications on it, so XBMC’s File Manager is way more useful.
It’s also way easier to add hard drive storage to your XBMC for Mac—simply plug in a standard FireWire drive and go. (No more configuring Samba shares or cracking open your Xbox case to install a bigger hard drive.) Finally, you’ve got full-on OS X behind you, so the need for XBMC plug-ins isn’t as great. For example, you can simply run your favourite Mac BitTorrent application in the background, and have it drop videos into your XBMC source directory automatically.
To see more of what XBMC on the Mac can do, hit the play button on this clip, which demos XBMC sporting a very Front Row-like skin. (Note: this is an earlier release of XBMC for Mac, not the latest beta.)
Be sure to check out the XBMC on OS X wiki to find out more about the project and its progress.
Are you an XBMC fan and user? Have you tried XBMC on the Mac? What’s your verdict? Let us know what you think in the comments.