Show more covers in iTunes screen saver

The iTunes Artwork screen saver covers your screen with small versions of your album covers when the monitor goes idle. It’s visually interesting, but one limitation is that you can only display up to eight rows of covers. If you’re fortunate enough to have a 30” display, you’ll find the covers to be somewhat large. Adding more rows would shrink the size of the displayed covers, but the Options page for the iTunes Artwork screen saver only lets you go up to eight.

There is, however, a workaround. You can manually edit the screen saver’s preferences file and set any number of rows you like. This hint is easiest to implement if you have Apple’s Xcode (which includes the Property List Editor application) or Fat Cat Software’s PListEdit Pro installed, but I’ll also provide Terminal instructions. It’s a relatively simple trick, too, as you need only change one line in one file.

To make this work, you must first activate the iTunes Artwork screen saver, and set its options. Launch System Preferences, choose Desktop & Screen Saver, click on the Screen Saver tab, then click on iTunes Artwork in the Screen Savers column. Now click the Options button and change the number of displayed rows and click OK. Quit System Prefrences. These steps are necessary to make sure that there’s a preferences file to be edited. Back in the Finder, navigate to your user’s Library -> Preferences -> ByHost folder. In here, you should see a file named something like this:

The string of characters between iTunesArtwork and plist will differ on your machine, but the rest should be the same. What happens next depends on if you’re using Property List Editor (or PListEdit Pro) or Terminal.

Property List Editor / PListEdit Pro

Though these programs differ slightly in their implementation, they’re similar enough to treat as the same. Double-click the iTunesArtwork file in the Finder and the property list editor program should launch. Click the triangle next to Root, and then double-click on the number in the Value column for the “Rows” entry. Set this to whatever number you like, though the bigger you make it, the longer it will take the screen saver to launch. I suggest keeping it smaller than 16 or so, unless you’ve got one of those beautiful 30” LCDs. After changing the number, select File -> Save and quit the editor.


Open a Terminal window such that you can see it and your Finder window at the same time. In Terminal, type cd ~/Library/Preferences/ByHost and press Return. OS X stores its preference files in binary format, so we need to convert it to ASCII first. Do that by typing this command:

plutil -convert xml1

Modify the filename to match the name of your particular file, of course. Once that’s done, it’s time to edit the file. pico is a simple text editor, and it’s what I’ll use for these instructions—feel free to use vi, emacs, or your editor of choice. (Note that you can also do this in a GUI editor such as TextWrangler or even TextEdit.) To open the file for editing, type this command, and then press Return:


You should now see something like this on your screen:

Use the arrow keys to move down to the row below the one that reads <key>Rows</key>, and then delete the number that appears there ( 5 in my screenshot). Type the number of rows you’d like to see instead, then press Control-O to save the file. Press Return when prompted for a file name, then press Control-X to exit pico.

The last step is to convert the plist file back into binary mode; do that with this command:

plutil -convert binary1

Although not strictly necessary, it’s always best to put things back the way you found them!

Test it out

Open the Desktop & Screen Saver System Preferences panel again, switch to the Screen Saver tab, and click Test. You’ll have to wait a bit as your iTunes covers are loaded up, but once that’s done, you should see the screen saver displayed with your specified number of rows.

If you tire of the extra rows, reverting the changes is simple: just click Options and use the slider to pick a number of rows. Doing so will overwrite your manual changes, and your screen saver will be back to normal.

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