Apple’s answer to Microsoft’s Media Center came with the release of OSX Tiger in 2004. Using your Apple Remote, users could control anything in their iTunes Music Library. The core animations built into OSX created a beautiful, smooth and friendly interface. Unlike Media Center, Front Row would only show media it could play. The caveat being it could only play a small number of media formats and no web media.
Front Row 2.0 added some GUI improvements and YouTube integration but little else, though it was already a polished product no one really knew something was missing.
Now we have example of what Front Row show be and they come in the form of Center State and Boxee. These programs run on Apple computers running Leopard and Boxee also runs on Linux, sorry Microsoft. You have plenty of other viable options however.
Both of these programs take over for front row and both have incredible features that neither Front Row nor Media Center can claim.
Center Stage is available for download on their site. It sports a slick interface with stunning transitions as you move through the levels of your media.
CenterStage UI Demo from Gizmodo on Vimeo.
You really must go to their main page and watch the demo videos to experience how beautiful the system is.
I’m a Boxee alpha user and got a chance to try out their software today. Installation was a breeze, took just a few minutes and 75mb of space.
I logged in with my Boxee username and was in with no delay. Typing was a little confusing, you had to select the box you wanted and then press enter, then type your username and then press enter again. Seems like selecting the box would be enough.
Boxee didn’t pick up any videos it could read off my Macbook Pro. Not surprised as it cannot read DRM’d media from iTunes. Unfortunately for me, nearly all of my media, at least 90% of my video, comes from the iTunes Music Store so, unless it’s a DRM free video from ITMS, it doesn’t show up. Damn the DRM. Once Apple finally releases their ITMS of music/video DRM, I wonder if these old files will be unlocked as well. Doubt it.
Anyways, my music did show up, and I got to playing around. Logged into my Last.fm account and started scrobbling. Great, seamless integration. Unfortunately your password is not character protected. As you type it in, the letters pop up on the screen. So instead of ******** you see password. This does not happen when you log into your Boxee account on the login screen.
There are lots of settings to play around with though most don’t make too much of a difference; it comes out quite nicely straight from the box. Navigation with a keyboard is difficult and confusing. It is often hard to tell where you are and how to get out. I was playing a Will Young CD, recommended it to two people on Boxee and then tried to get back to the main menu.
It took probably ten tries on the keyboard. Then, duh, pulled out the Apple Remote, worked like a charm.
As it stands right now, both of these programs whip Front Row’s ass. They offer a unique set of features such as auto IMDB lookup, a social network where you can recommend media to friends and a wide array of supported media formats.
I love the social networking aspect of Boxee and the fun experience it has plus the slick interface but navigation and some security holes need to be checked out before it’s a solid product. Of course, this is alpha, not even beta so I say, good job Boxee.
Center Stage wins with the interface, beautiful albeit, a little slow compared to Boxee and not as inviting; the Now Playing in Center Stage fabulous. No social networking hurts it’s adoption.
Bottom line, check out both of these projects. I look forward to seeing them come to fruition. Competition builds improvement!