Apple, Tech, and Gaming

Using Front Row on Macs That Don't Support Apple's Remote

- 2010.02.02 - Tip Jar

One of the greatest features added to Mac OS starting with Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" has been one of the simplest to use and yet one of the most useful.

Front Row

Front Row was introduced in late 2005 with the "iSight" iMac G5. The iSight iMac was the first Mac that utilized Apple's remote control, and to this day the Apple Remote continues to add convenience and functionality to those using a Mac as part of their home entertainment solution. Front Row allows you to quickly and easily control your iTunes and iPhoto libraries as well as watch your own iMovie projects or watch an inserted DVD.

After doing some research on the subject, the opportunities were obvious for Macs that supported Front Row but lacked a built-in IR receiver. It's a wonder that the 1.67 GHz hi-res PowerBook G4, which I'm writing this article on on, didn't include an IR port and the Apple Remote for use with Front Row, since it was released at the same time as the iSight iMac G5.

The Aluminum PowerBook G4 line and earlier also lacked built-in iSight, but that's a story for another day.

What About the Pismo's IR Port?

ports on a Pismo PowerBook
Pismo's IrDA port is on the lower right in this photo.

For many reasons, the Pismo PowerBook is a favorite among readers and writers of Low End Mac due to its expansion options and serviceability. The Pismo is the earliest portable Mac that supports Tiger without a hacked install. Even more intriguing is the IR port built into the reliable, now decade-old machine. Unfortunately, the IR port on the Pismo is predominantly for data transfer, which was a common way to move small files wirelessly between two devices before Bluetooth. The same holds true for the early 400/500 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 units.

I've searched near and far, but I haven't come across any applications that would enable the Pismo (or early TiBooks) to use the IR port to receive commands sent from Apple's remote control. Simply put, the Apple Remote won't work with these machines.

It's too bad - it would have definitely added yet one more thing for Pismo owners to brag about, aside from numerous upgrade and expansion options.

Nonetheless, Front Row can be installed on G3 machines such as the Pismo, but I would strongly suggest against it (at least without a G4 upgrade), due to the fact that Front Row seems to rely heavily on AltiVec. With the lack of AltiVec on the G3 chip, the result is flaky performance. Here is an older report of using Front Row on a Pismo running a 500 MHz G3 processor. It explains some of the issues Pismo users may experience while attempting to run Front Row.

Getting the Most out of Front Row at a Value Price

Here at Low End Mac, we are all about obtaining and using Apple gear at the most reasonable price. With that said, you can still have trouble-free, remote use of Front Row on PowerPC machines that don't have integrated IR. There's no need for a shiny new Intel machine, unless you feel compelled to buy one to run Windows apps or to run Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard".

A good starting point for a capable Front Row machine is a G4 that is officially supported by Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard". The last TiBook, available at 867 MHz and 1 GHz (with 32 MB or 64 MB of VRAM respectively) and newer will do just fine, and so should any G4 Mac mini and Aluminum PowerBook. You can always upgrade any older Mac tower or Cube with the necessary components for satisfying performance as well. Just remember, for iTunes video, a Mac must meet or exceed the 1 GHz G4 minimum with at least 32 MB of VRAM.

Power Mac G4 CubeSpeaking of upgrading a G4 Cube: With 1 GB of RAM, a 1.5 GHz PowerLogix processor upgrade available from Other World Computing, and a flashed GeForce 6200 (found on eBay from Applemacanix), you could have a nice Front Row machine (and very useful computer), as well as a stunning showpiece hooked up to your flat panel HDTV within your home entertainment center.

A Cube still turns heads today, even though it wasn't the best possible solution at the time it was released. With the aforementioned upgrades, it certainly is much better than it was at its release and still is contained within an 8" cube. The biggest drawbacks to using an upgraded Cube for your personal enjoyment and productivity are the location of the ports and the lack of USB 2.0. You can bypass the port location issue with a powered USB hub, although you will still be limited to USB 1.1 speeds. Too bad there wasn't an expansion bay. (See Re-imagining the Mac Cube for the Intel Era for a vision on what the Cube could be like if Apple were to reinstate that product line today.)

Controlling It All (a Couch Potato's Dream)

Since G4 Macs don't have support for the Apple Remote, someone had to come to the rescue so you could operate Front Row remotely. You owe your thanks to the folks at Logitech and Keyspan for the best solutions available today.

Enter the Logitech diNovo Edge Mac Edition keyboard, currently available from for $88.99 shipped, and the Keyspan Front Row Remote Control, currently available through for $26.47

This is not a product review, so I won't rate the products, but I can tell you that you get what you pay for. The Keyspan remote simply lets you access Front Row features using a USB receiver attached to your Mac. Just launch Front Row, and you control the rest remotely with this RF solution.

The diNovo Edge, on the other hand, is a fully functional command center, rather than a simple keyboard, with its built-in touchpad and scroll wheel. The diNovo Edge operates via Bluetooth and has built-in hot keys for instant access to Front Row and other common Mac Apps (iTunes, iPhoto, Safari). If your Mac is not Bluetooth equipped, simply add a Bluetooth dongle so you can use the diNovo Edge.


In conclusion, you don't have to go Intel or use an iSight iMac G5 to enjoy Front Row remotely. With most G4s, Front Row can be fully utilized with the right equipment. Stick with smaller form factor Macs for enjoyment within your home entertainment setup.

The only challenge that remains for Mac users is in the sound department. There are many available 5.1 channel solutions for PC users, but you really have to look if you're a Mac user. We'll look at that in my next column. LEM

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Dan Bashur lives in central Ohio with his wife and children. He uses various PowerPC G3 and G4 Macs running Tiger and Leopard. Besides finding new uses for Macs and other tech, Dan enjoys writing (fantasy novel series in the works), is an avid gamer, and a member of Sony's Gamer Advisor Panel. You can read more of Dan Bashur's work on, where he contributes regular articles about the PSP, classic gaming, and ways you can use Sony gaming hardware with your Mac.

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