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By now you may have heard that Apple has released a new version of its operating system (OS X 10.5 Leopard) and that Front Row and the DVD player have been updated. Its exciting news if your own a Mac and if you don't we'll give you yet another reason to consider building a Video server out of the Mac Mini.
There are two big changes here. First, the interface looks just like that of Apple TV. We find that it's clean and easy to navigate. The other big deal is that you can now play ripped DVDs right in the Front Row interface. Just drop a folder containing the VIDEO_TS folder into the Movies folder and voila, it shows up in Front Row and can be played via the Apple DVD player.
In the past we talked about a great application called DVDPedia that allowed you to view your library and play it through the DVD player but it lacked an integrated feel. You could tell that the DVD player was launching and the focus was switching away from DVDPedia to the DVD player. Having this capability built into Front Row is so much smoother and it just feels right. DVDPedia had a great full screen interface that showcased your library by showing your DVD cover art. Front Row takes it to the next level and showcases your library with what we call the march of the covers. When you click on the folder with your movies in it all your covers march past you in a very dynamic way. Its quite impressive. Then when you enter the folder with all your movies the DVD cover art is displayed as you scroll through your library. In order to have the cover art display you need to drop a file called Preview.jpg into the DVD folder (Thank you Carl for that tip). You can also see previews of movies that are in release or will be in release soon. There is also a section for popular movies at iTunes.
Front Row also does a good job with any TV programs you may have bought via the iTunes music store. If Apple would support DVD quality and Dolby Digital through the store I would stop buying DVDs and run everything through Front Row.
Font Row also displays your photos and plays your music. We found an issue with the music playback however. Front Row does not recognize remote speakers via Airtunes. This is a major omission in our book. The way Front Row handles music art and playback is visually entertaining. We can easily see leaving your TV on while your music plays throughout your home. We hope Apple will fix this omission in an upcoming update.
Apple has almost completely made over the DVD player. But if you use it through Front Row it doesn't matter as you won't really see the interface. To us the big deal is that Apple has improved the quality of the player. There are now three settings for deinterlacing quality (Optimal, Good, and Better).
To use deinterlacing:
While the DVD is inserted, choose View > Deinterlacing and choose to enable or disable it.
If you enable deinterlacing, choose a picture quality:
Optimal Quality: DVD Player automatically selects the best setting. DVD Player indicates which setting it chose by placing a diamond symbol next to the setting.
Good Quality: An acceptable quality that does not impact other processes running on your computer.
Better Quality: The highest quality, which can cause other processes on your computer to run more slowly. If your computer doesn't support this level of quality, the option is dimmed.
Our basic testing at this point has found that the new DVD player has improved quite a bit over the previous version. We compared the Mini with the new DVD player side by side with the Oppo 981 and found that the Oppo was still a better upconnverting player but the Mini has closed the gap.
We still feel that as a pure video server the Mini is a great product. Its small, dead quite, and now with Leopard has an incredible interface for storing your movies. The only thing we would like to see added is Front Row integration with EyeTV and HD Homerun!