2006-12-11

Front Row as DVD Library

I like Apple's Front Row, but it is missing key functionality. One function is the ability to playback DVDs from the harddrive. Apple's DVD player allows this (color me amazed), but Front Row does not, which is a shame since lots of other media enablers out there do.

Note: How you get DVDs to your harddrive is not the subject of this post and I want to make it clear that "borrowing" DVDs from the Internet is not something that I think is right and do not participate in.

Coders to the rescue. A smart guy created a solution to allow stored DVD playback. The app is called DVD Assist. It works by monitoring what Front Row is playing and when it sees a particular file get played, it will launch a corresponding VIDEO_TS folder in the DVD player. A hack, yes. A slick hack, you bet.

To make things work, you need to do a few things.


  1. Create a placeholder movie

  2. Put the placeholder movie in the VIDEO_TS folder

  3. Alias the placeholder and put it in a different folder for easy browsing in Front Row

  4. Give all of these files useful names so you know what you are looking at in Front Row


Now, it isn't hard to do those things, but it is time consuming.

Automator to the rescue.

I play DVDs off of my MacBook, sometimes to a TV. I don't have a lot of room on the MacBook, so I keep my DVDs stored on an external hard drive and then copy them over to the MacBook when I want to watch them. Can't I just watch the DVD directly? Not if I don't have a DVD player hooked up to that TV! Plus, maybe I just want to watch the movie on the MacBook while travelling and not mess with the physical DVDs. So, along with the steps to make DVD Assist work, I add in automation for the file copy.

Before I make with the automator, please understand that I'm not an Automator pro. I'm barely a novice. Can you make a better solution? I'm sure you can. Post it on your blog. This is my solution.

If you want to use this Automator script, you'll need a couple of folders. I have everthing off of ~/Movies.

  • Temp - For temp files, derrrrrr

  • Discs - For the complete disc structures, AKA, where the VIDEO_TS folders live

  • DVDs - Where the movie alias files go. This is the folder you navigate in Front Row



  1. Copy the DVD from external drive to MacBook. The movie gets copied to ~/Movies.

  2. Make a copy of the placeholder movie. This is in the Temp folder.

  3. Ask for the name of the movie and rename the placeholder. I mucked with auto-naming, but it is just easier to spend 10 seconds typing it in.



  4. Put the placeholder in the right VIDEO_TS folder. Yes, you have to pick it. The name you put in can't be tied to the directory structure. Add 10 more seconds to the process.



  5. Make the alias in the DVDs folder that you see in Front Row. Automatic - yay!



Automator screenshots included to see what I've done. Including the saved workflow isn't that valuable as you'll need to tie it to your directory structure anyway.

Of course, after I spent the time making this solution work, I heard about Flip4Mac's Drive-in software. I haven't tried it yet, but it seems like it adds stored DVD disc image playback to Front Row, which would make it quite similar.

1 comment:

Antonio said...

Appreciate your process explanation. I like Telestream's Drive In. DVD imaging that works with front row...perfect copies to your HD. Free beta...Check it out HERE