Ask LH: What’s A Good Mac TV Show Viewer?

Ask LH: What’s A Good Mac TV Show Viewer?

Dear Lifehacker, I was wondering if you could suggest a program for someone (like me) that likes to watch TV episodes (stored on an external HD) on their Mac. I’m not looking for something that will turn my Mac into a HTPC, but rather something that takes into account my already set-out folders (for TV shows and seasons) and remembers episodes I have already watched, and where I left off. Any suggestions? Cheers, Square Eyes

Dear Square Eyes

The challenge you’ve set us is not small. Essentially, you’re asking for iTunes-like functionality without the need to have everything converted to work with the limited codec support that Apple offers.

There are several options we can suggest.

One is to look at media players that simply allow you to browse through your folders and play things back. VLC [VideoLAN] and MPlayerX [Niltsh Software] are both competent playback apps that we use and like. Both are free.

If you’re happy with Quicktime Player, that ships with your Mac, you can install Perian. It adds support for just about any codec you can find so that you can use Quicktime Player for non-Apple supported codecs.

Another alternative is to convert all your media and put it into iTunes. This is a colossal PITA and takes a lot of time. However, you can keep things stored in your own folder structure if you tell iTunes to not organise your media for you.

Finally, if you want to use an iOS or Android device for playback you can look at Airplay It.

Air Playit can play over 320 audio and video formats. There’s a server component installs to your Mac that can be configured to look at the contents of different folders on or attached to your Mac. It can also monitor iTunes playlists.

Shared media can either be accessed using an app or a web browser. App support for iOS and Android is delivered by the App Store and Marketplace respectively. The apps are free.

We Air Playit with an iPad iOS 5.1. Our test library was arranged into folders and subfolders and contained videos in Quicktime and DivX formats as well as AAC and MP3 music. Our folder structure was visible within the app.

One of the neat features of Air Playit is a download function that makes it easy to transfer your media to your mobile device. This is easier than connecting to iTunes.


  • iTunes would be the way to go. Yes you need to convert your media but with HandBrakeCLI you can script the process to do your media in batches. Doing it this way also allows you to use an AppleTV in the future (if you decide to go that way).

  • Plex is the way to go. It keeps track of watched/unwatched shows and movies, gets the show artwork, description, theme song and can play on ipad, iphone, apple tv (jailbroken) and computer.

    It’s free too.

    • The Plex iOS app isn’t free but the Mac software is, and I second it. It’s a brilliant program with a whole world of very active developers behind it. As a bonus there are a range of plug-ins that add functionality like the ABC’s iView catchup TV service.

      Plex is bloody brilliant.

  • XBMC for sure, it can play anything (even archived videos), has automatic scraping (gets information on your library contents from sources like imdb) and a bunch of other stuff.

  • Plex Media Server will find, sort, display, categorise and transcode all your TV shows. If you have an LG TV it will find and play content from the Plex server with no intervention required.

  • Amazing that the author of this article did not even mention XBMC or Plex.

    Very poor, none of the solutions suggested provide anything close to the requested functionality.

  • No need to suffer the horrible UI of iTunes… or bother with tiresome timeconsuming, quality reducing re-encoding of files… just use VLC, or MPlayer, or my preferred option of Movist. Have used it for ages, back when it was free… now is paid, about $5 I think from MAS. I like Movist for it’s clean, minimalist design, it plays anything you feed it, no questions asked right up to 1080p as well as DVD and BluRay ISO files. And has fantastic subtitle capabilities. Handles playlists with ease.


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