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Front Row Media Center
April 12th, 2008

For the last 6 months or so, Jess and I have been using a MacBook running (Leopard) Front Row as a media center. It used to be that the MacBook had the largest hard drive of all the machines in the house and so it used to be home to all of our media (TV shows and movies). When I bought the external hard drive for my iMac, however, it made far more sense to shift our media onto that and use Front Row to stream it to the MacBook. Easy enough, right?

Front Row’s streaming functionality works through iTunes libraries. So my first problem was that I needed to transcode everything into a format that iTunes would recognize. VisualHub fit the bill nicely. For a while this was working well. I then discovered Front Row’s network utilization problem. Front Row takes several minutes to start streaming a high bitrate video (4600 kbps or so). And even when it does start playing, it pauses and rebuffers every 10 minutes or so. My network bandwidth is not the problem; the MacBook is connected to the iMac with ethernet. When I copy the video from the iMac to the MacBook, Activity Monitor indicates a transfer rate of about 10 MB/s. Front Row’s streaming on the other hand, only utilizes 500 KB/s. A video with a bitrate of 4600 kbps requires that Front Row stream a minimum of 575 KB/s if it is to keep up.

Now, I don’t have an Apple TV but my buddy Neven does. He confirmed for me that only 530 KB/s was utilized when streaming a 4900 kbps movie using Front Row. The story was different when he tried the same thing on his Apple TV; the movie started playing instantly and more than 4 MB/s was utilized.

I’ve filed this bug with Apple Bug Reporter. My fingers are firmly crossed that it will be addressed as part of 10.5.3.