Review of IMac Front Row software

For those of you considering computer front ends, I thought I'd share my thoughts on the new iMac G5 -- in particular, its new Front Row software. for those unacquainted with Front Row, it is a special part of iTunes designed to be the core of a home theater. You use it with a simple, slim white remote. When you click the "menu" key on it, the computer interface disappears, and you have menus you can read across the room.

I've lived with this software for about 2 months now. Basically, I'd put this software in the "pretty good" category, with a lot of room for improvement. I'd have to say, given Apple's mastery of the GUI everywhere else on the computer, it is a bit of a disappointment. (I use the computer almost exclusively for audio, so my comments pertain to that part of the program, FWIW) Herewith, some particulars:

On the plus side, it performs its basic role -- you can see the screen from across the room. But here are my questions:

One dimensional menus?? What I mean is that each screen up and down the menu tree, accessed by one click on the remote, is one long list you've got to scroll through. I catalog by album, and I'm on my way to ripping >800 of them -- pretty slow and crude, waiting for that list to scroll down to Wagner. WE're not in uncharted territory here -- DVD players have very simple remotes that let you skip among choices on the screen, including sideways. For example, albums A-F, G-N could be high level choices on one screen.

Baffling navigation. Do you ever want to know where you are in a particular album? A garden-variety CD player will tell you this; Front Row won't. Let's say you hop up 1 level from the "Now playing" screen. What you see (sometimes) is a static list of the cuts on the album. You don't know where you are in the album, either by track or timing. How do you get back to the "now playing" screen? Very counterintuitively -- by going up 1 more level (to genre, artist, etc.), where you have a "go to now playing" choice.

Even weirder -- Sometimes (I can't tell why) if you go up one level to from the "now playing" screen, the album list isn't there at all but the genre, artist, etc. screen.

I want to conclude by saying how great the Mac is for audio. I offer my comments in the hopes that Apple will take v1.0 Front Row and bring it up to the standards it sets for itself everywhere else in its products.
Thanks for that reveiw David. I'm a big fan of Mac for audio, as well as for pretty much everything else I do on the computer. I wonder why interfacing with digital audio files is such a challenge for some devices. I use my iPod (using Apple Lossless files) in my car through one of Alpine's decks and their iPod interface (iPod itself stays hidden away, connected in the glove compartment while all interface is at the deck). That interface is a bit slow, cumbersome, and initially confusing. I still can't figure out the shuffle mode after six weeks with it. It works, but it's not nearly as fast and instinctive as using the iPod directly (a brilliant interface done right). Still, nothing beats having such a huge selection of music at your fingertips without having to fumble around with CD's and their associated cases.

Glad to hear about the software (so I won't invest in it myself at this point). Seems like a step in the right direction, but not quite there yet.

Thanks for the review. My wife is a die hard Mac head (or is that Apple head? Apple core? what the hell do they call themselves?) and we were interested in this software.

Now, if the Apple Music Store could only get their act together and offer those downloads through a better lossless format as an alternative to the mp4 format (I would say "crap" but don't want to offend anyone) you get it in now.
Hartwerger -- Does MP4 = Apple Lossless? I don't do any downloading, but instead have ripped about 350 CD's using Apple Lossless and it works swell. It compresses to about 40% of original. What problems -- and in what circumstances -- have you experienced? Thanks. -- David
Davidz: Its only the downloading through Apple's Music store I was referring to. The iTunes software for burning a CD is fine. Using lossless, WAV or AIFF is fine. But, ITunes music store only lets you download music in one format and its not near the ideal for an audiophile quality. It would be nice if Apple offered a lossless format for downloading, perhaps at a slightly higher price for those who would pay a little extra for a lossless format.
Hartwerger -- Thanks for the clarification! -- David
Thanks for the review. I just got a Quad processor G5 tonight, and wish It came with front row! Oh well. I wonder If I can download it- even though It wouldn't have the remote.

I do sometimes use my Ibook with USB out into my Outlaw 990 used as a DAC. I have to one day compare the quality with the same CD played back in my STan Warren AIwa XM37 unit. Should be an intersting comparison.

If PS audio ever releases their giant killler DAC (which also supports USB) that would be interesting. PS audio's new phono stage is killer BTW. I really like what they are doing, especially all fed by a power plant.
Hartwerger: The last two pieces of music I downloaded from iTunes Music Store were in Apple Lossless.
Pardales: How do you know that or should I ask, how did you do that? My understanding is that the music that can be bought through the iTunes music store is encoded in MPEG-4 AAC, a "near CD quality". This information comes from Apples' own literature about iTunes music store. I am not aware of any other way to receive a higher quality product from the music store. For the most part the quality of music I've purchased from iTunes isn't bad, but I can tell it lacks the body, weight, or fullness, if you will, that a lossless format would provide. So, please share your secret or enlighten me if I am misinformed!!!
UPDATE: My mistake! It is NOT Apple Lossless. It is AAC -- Sorry about that.
They still sound quite good.
I was very, curious about Front Row. I think this is just a hint of what is coming. I have almost entirely switched to Mac Audio using a either a Powerbook w/Airport Express or an iPod. Although I do pop in a CD once in a while and the "window is just a little clearer".
Lextek -- I think you are right. Front Row definitely has the feel of a "work in progress." As I mentioned, given Apple's reputation for having the finest GUI's around, I can't believe they're satisfied with what's out there now. -- David
I've not used the software, but the menu sounds just like the menu on my iPod. Maybe for some reason they're trying to make it like the iPod.