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Sexier than Front Row? You decide.
Plex, formerly OSXMBC, began life as an open-source media center exclusively for use with original hacked Xboxes. The project was so well received that developers decided to port the application over to Mac OS X and Linux. Today, Plex retains the refined look of the original app, but it can now handle advanced features like HD video on most Macs.
After an easy download and install, Plex looks right at home on the Mac in windowed and full-screen modes with its animated menus, tight design, and full integration with the Apple remote. It also offers a few tricks missing from Front Row, including a built-in weather forecaster and scrolling Apple news feed. Plus, unlike Front Row, Plex supports custom skins such as Aeon (www .aeonproject.com), which can be added simply by dropping the file into Plex’s Skins folder.
Plex’s file support is extensive, including MP3, AAC, FLAC, RealAudio, WMA, and more. Video support for both standard and high-definition video formats includes AVI, MKV, H.264, MOV, WMV, and Ogg. Best of all, these formats are supported natively within Plex, so there’s no need to download additional plug-ins. We were able to play 1080p video without problem on a 2GHz MacBook.
Once you’ve got all your media together, Plex does a great job organizing everything, including metadata and art. Unfortunately, while Plex will locate your existing videos, music, and pictures, it won’t import your art and track data from iTunes. It grabs new info from the Web. Getting your library to look exactly the way you want it can take some tweaking, but the gorgeous Cover Flow–inspired library is well worth it. The Aeon skin also contains an attractive mosaic view for browsing media.
Plex isn’t a total Front Row killer, though. The one basic feature missing is CD/DVD playback, as Plex will not recognize some Mac optical drives. Similarly, networking is not as intuitive as it should be for streaming media. We were unable to browse our network for media shares and had to manually input a username, password, and IP address to locate shared folders. Not a deal breaker, but hardly the smooth Mac interface we’re used to. Aside from the minor bugs that should be corrected with time (official releases and updates are coming every few weeks), Plex can hold its own against other media-center solutions. The free price tag doesn’t hurt either.Plex has the potential to dethrone Front Row as the your Mac’s media front-end, but it will take some time.