Walking past Front Row

22.29.36 - Mark

While I still live in a house with a subscription to a satellite TV network, even with an included DVR, I really could do without it. While I was skeptical about the success and value of streaming video when it really started appearing it's grown on me a lot - to the point where I almost only watch streaming videos. I can watch it when I want to, love having to deal with fewer commercials, and being able to rewatch things that have been off the air for years (and some which never made it to DVD) Yes, it's a little hard to watch some things I miss from the plethora of TV stations, but there are solutions to those problems.

For almost all of these streaming videos, I've been tolerant of my MacBook's screen. One person watching a 13" screen from a foot or two away works fine - battery powered and completely portable can even make it favorable. Using a decent 22" LCD desktop screen and a set of speakers and you can make it work for 2, occasionally 3 people. Not the most comfortable, but it works.

So recently I went back and got the Mini-DVI to Video adapter for my MacBook, dug out the Apple remote that came with it, twiddled with some of my cable solution and now enjoy using all these full screen streaming videos on a decent sized TV. Navigating around to find the right video however, has become a bit annoying.

The browser and Finder are work fine when you're at the computer, but if you want to use a remote from across the room control you need to keep it simplified. At one point, Apple's Front Row (which no, doesn't require a remote) along with a plug in called Understudy let you get to Netflix and hulu though FrontRow. It worked, but was a bit of a hack. When Hulu had to start actively preventing people from putting the streaming video onto their TVs, Understudy doesn't work with it anymore. While it still works with Netflix, it's more of a kludge than a useful tool.

Boxee's software, which is sort of like Front Row on steroids. While it's a beta, it's open source, cross platform, and a few weeks ago announced it was releasing a hardware solution at CES. At one point I actually preferred it over Front Row. More power, easier navigation, and no hacks needed to get to some streaming video content providers - including Netflix. It's useful, particularly for navigating around Netflix via remote, but I never really enjoyed it enough to find a way of making the Apple Remote open it in place of Front Row. I also wanted a good way of getting into Hulu over remote.

The only non-browser approach to hulu streams is Hulu Desktop. After they had to block boxee (and other applications) they developed their own desktop player. To their credit it provides better navigation and works with my Apple remote, but it's all it does. No other streams, no messing with local files.

So my question became, how can I get to all these tools by using my Remote. Understudy plugin instantly picked up on Hulu Desktop's presence, and while it's a little buried, I was able to "switch" from Front Row to Hulu, but since it was off the path, and wouldn't open Boxee I turned around to dig. and sure enough it was out there.

Hole in the Ceiling figured it out and posted Front Row plugins to launch several applications including Hulu Desktop and Boxee.

So while there's no single application that lets me watch what I want to controlled by a simple remote, at least I don't have to walk across the room to run one commands.

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