Front Row streaming secrets

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In “My multimedia Mac mini”, I detailed the trial I had from my Power Mac G5 to an Intel Mac mini via Front Row. Despite creating the fastest network possible as well as providing Front Row with the slimmest movies possible, it and iTunes refused to play them unless I created an alias of the original movie, mounted the network volume where that movie resided, and copied the alias to the mini’s Movies folder.

Reader Scott Nichol got in touch and revealed the secret to successfully playing these movies via Front Row. That secret is that movies must have their streaming option enabled. When you rip a DVD via HandBrake, such an option isn’t enabled and Front Row chokes when it attempts to share it from another Mac.

To put things right, follow these steps:

Open the movie in QuickTime Player Pro and choose File -> Export. In the Save Exported File As dialog box choose Movie to MPEG-4 from the Export pop-up menu and click the Options button. In the MPEG-4 Export Settings window that appears, choose MP4 from the File Format pop-up menu.

In the Video tab, choose Pass Through from the Video Format pop-up menu and click the Audio tab. In the Audio tab, choose Pass Through from the Audio Format pop-up menu. These two pass-through options ensure that the movie isn’t re-encoded when you save it. Finally, click the Streaming tab and enable the Enable Streaming and Optimize for Server options and click OK. Click Save in the Save Exported File As dialog box and the movie will eventually be saved with the streaming option on (depending on the length of the movie and the speed of your Mac, it can take a few-to-many minutes to create the new movie).

Note that Front Row will still choke if the movie is extraordinarily long as well as of a moderate-to-high bitrate. For example, I enabled streaming on a copy of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World encoded as a H.264 file at 800kbps in HandBrake. The file’s total bitrate in iTunes was 1,857kbps. Front Row refused to play it when shared from the other Mac. That same movie encoded at 400kbps in HandBrake (for a total bitrate of 1,061kbps in iTunes) did play in Front Row via sharing.

To ensure that the length of the movie wasn’t the crippling factor, I enabled the streaming option in a rip of Casablanca (which showed a total bitrate in iTunes of 2,686kbps), and it played perfectly via Front Row sharing.

Also note that sharing these movies still required a fast network. Even in their altered state, they refused to stream over a solid AirPort network. It was only when I established a wired gigabit Ethernet connection between the two Macs that Front Row allowed the movies to be streamed.

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