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This is hardly a new topic.  There have been multiple ways to get Front Row working on your pre-Leopard, pre-IR-Receiver, no-usb-IR-Receiver Mac throughout the years.  The most notable of these would be the famous Andrew Escobar’s Front Row Enabler, which has mysteriously disappeared from the web (the link here is for a web archive version)  for some unknown reason (with some mention earlier that he did not believe the email he received from Apple (C&D?) was legitimate.  And many may believe this topic is irrelevant, since Front Row comes with Leopard and works on all macs that Leopard runs on automatically.  However, if you don’t have the cash for Leopard, or your not willing to upgrade for some other reason, then you still need a way to have fun on your non-IR Mac.

There are multiple pages on how to do parts of this around the web, and several utilities, but as I’ve done a lot of research on it, I decided to put together a more complete tutorial.  Here’s the full scoop:

What is Front Row?

Front Row is a very nice and fun media center program well known to many modern Mac users, but if you have an older mac you may never have heard of it.  It gives access to a great interface for viewing your videos, playing DVDs, seeing Apple’s movie previews, your photos, and listening to music.  Front Row 1.0 came installed on any Mac Pro Tower (Tiger), and can be installed and run fine on any 10.4 (Tiger) and possibly earlier Mac by downloading the update from Apple’s website.  But it wouldn’t run on the Mac Pro, and the update package won’t let you install it on your Tiger Mac.  Front Row 1 only runs on Macs that have a built-in IR-Receiver (or a separately purchased USB IR-Receiver).  Even though the program is made to work just fine using the keyboard, Apple must not want you to have any fun if you can’t have the whole “remote control experience”.

Making it Install and Run Anyway

Well, this didn’t seem fair to a lot of people, who questioned why only some Apple users should get software that anyone could use, for the same price as the rest of us paid, just because their computer is newer and came with a remote.  So, users set out to get around these little arbitrary restrictions Apple placed on their software.

The Easy Way:

There is a great utility to get Front Row working on your Mac: Activate Front Row.  This little program will go online, download Front Row 1.3.1, modify the package, install Front Row, then modify your I/O kext files to allow Front Row to run, effectively activating Front Row in a few easy steps.  See the Readme on the download page.  It even can change your movie preview download resolution and put a little Front Row icon on your dock.  It also allows Leopard users to uninstall the new Front Row 2.1.6 and install the older 1.3.1 in it’s place (Front Row 2 is thought to be much uglier and harder use than Front Row 1 by many users, including myself).  However, some people don’t trust this program because there is no excessive documentation on it to tell them everything it does.  As it is mainly a script running applet, the methods it uses are pretty obvious.  For the wary, or for those do-it-yourself-ers, the many steps are provided below.

The Hard Way:

Installation:

If you have a Mac Pro, Front Row is probably already installed on your system, you just don’t know it.  Everyone should go to /System/Library/CoreServices and see if there’s an app there called Front Row.  If so, jump down to Getting it to Run.

If you don’t have the program, you can download the full program (masquerading as an update) from Apple’s downloads site.  Just go here, or search for “Front Row 1.3”.  Download the .dmg to your desktop.

Historical Note-

When Front Row was first being toyed with, Front Row 1.3.0 was available for download.  Andrew Escobar created the Front Row Enabler program, that would allow you to install and fix the app to run on your 10.4.9-10.4.10 system.  Then Apple released the 1.3.1 update which broke Andrew’s method.  So he released the next Enabler1.5 release, which worked until Apple came out with OS 10.4.11.  Andrew’s Enabler won’t work with 10.4.11 as it checked your OS version to be safe.  The other drawbacks to Enabler are that it didn’t work on Intel Macs, patched your system binaries directly (which was less safe and more illegal), and has been removed from the web since Andrew’s site was taken down.  Although it can still be found, it is hard to find, and I figure everyone wants to be using the latest OS update anyway.

Futuristic Note-

You can also download the whole latest Front Row 2 from the Apple Downloads page as an update, and you can follow these methods to install it to your Tiger OS.  It doesn’t require an IR-Receiver so it should work, right?  No. It crashes out on load with this Link (dyld) error: Symbol Not Found: _kUTTagClassFileNameExtension referenced from the BackRow Framework.  As far as I know no one has figured out how to make Front Row 2 work on an older operating system.  It only runs on Leopard.  Hopefully someone will get on that for all those Tiger users who want to run the newest, but uglier and clunkier version…

Once the .dmg is downloaded, it may try to install.  Go ahead and try to install it, just to see how it stops you.  Now, to get around the installation checks:

  1. Open the .dmg, drag the package to your desktop (you need to write to it)
  2. Command-click the FrontRowUpdate.pkg, select show package contents
  3. Open contents, command click the FrontRowUpdate.dist file, select open with -> other.
  4. Find textedit, select it, hit open. Now you’re looking at the package’s script to check your system
  5. Scroll down until you see or search for the text “if (!hasIR())
  6. Remove all text (all the if statement) from that to ” return false; } “, only remove the if statement. (now the function installationCheck() should just have return true inside of it)
  7. Now, scroll down to the line that says: “// must have Front Row”, remove everything from there to just before line “return true”, (leaving “return true” and removing both if statements that check to make sure you are updating an existing Front Row version).
  8. Notice all the rest of the if statements and what they do (there’s one to make sure your running 10.4.5 or later, and one for if you’re running a server, etc), you can make the installer run on anything by experimenting with taking out more if statements inside the volumeCheck() function.
  9. Save the file.
  10. Double click on the package on your desktop again, it should now allow you to install.  If it doesn’t, go back to the .dist text file and make sure you didn’t take out anything extra.  If you’re getting other install messages than the IR and OS version messages, examine the rest of the if statements to see which ones to take out.

Getting it To Run

If you’re done doing stuff yourself, you can now use Front Row Activator to activate Front Row, or if you still want to do things the hard way, you can follow the steps below.

Since Front Row requires an IR-Receiver, you need to make it believe you have one.  Andrew Escobar’s Front Row Enabler patched binary system files to make the OS register the presence of an IR-Receiver when there wasn’t one there.  Some people modify kernal extension files to register their mouse or keyboard as an IR-Receiver.  Patching binary files isn’t very safe and modifying existing extensions can be difficult if you don’t have a common setup, so the best way (and the method Activator uses) seems to be to add a new extension file.

  1. Go here and download this Apple IR Emulator called IRKeyBoardEMU.
  2. Don’t install it, just open the .dmg.
  3. Command-click on the package and select show package contents.
  4. Open contents, then d-click on Archive.pax.gz.
  5. A library folder is installed to your desktop, open it, then open StartupItems/IREmu/
  6. Copy the IRKeyboardEMU.kext file and paste it in /System/Library/Extensions/
  7. Command-click on IRKeyBoardEMU.kext, select Get Info, expand Ownership and Permissions, Owner should be root (or admin), and group should be set to wheel.
  8. Command-click on IRKeyBoardEMU.kext, select show Package Contents. The Contents folder should have the same permissions
  9. Go to Applications/Utilities, open the Terminal
  10. Type sudo touch /System/Library/Extensions
  11. Reboot

For even more info see some of these posts where I got this information:

Adding an Extension: Another Way to run Front Row on any mac.

Modifying existing extensions: Trivially Running Front Row on a Mac… or   Enable Front Row on Mac Pro

Running Front Row

After following these steps or using Activator, you should now be able to open Front Row by pressing Apple+Escape on your keyboard.  The Front Row Activator will put an icon in your dock to run Front Row.  Don’t bother downloading the Front Row dashboard widget as it won’t open this Front Row.   If you have a USB IR-Receiver, your software should include an option for running Front Row.

If you experience some problems with Front Row, make sure that your iTunes and Quicktime are fully up to date.  For example, after getting Front Row working on my G4 tower, I was able to play, but unable to actually view movie previews.  After updating to the latest iTunes version, however, the problem was solved.

Enjoy!

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The first thing an Infra-Red (IR) remote control needs is an IR receiver.  I needed to buy one of these for my project to use the Apple remote on my PC, so I needed to find a receiver that didn’t come with a remote.  You can find several out remote/receiver packages out there, but I didn’t want to spend the extra money on a remote I wouldn’t use (you can see how much extra it is in the bottom list).  

I did some shopping around and figured out that stand alone receiver are hard to find and often too expensive.    Below is a list of many of the standalone IR receivers and their price for purchase on the web. Also listed is their IR frequency ranges (what frequencies of infra-red signal they will pick up).

  • USB-IRT – $50.00 – 36-40kHz (usb connection)
  • HomElectronic’s TIRA 2.1 – $51.11 – 36-40kHz (usb)
  • HomElectronic’s IRA-3 – $43.81 -36-40kHz (RJ45 or Serial DB9)
  • IRMAN – 21.68Pounds – not in stock, delivery not available US
  • PCIR – 24.68Pounds – (serial connection)
  • IRTrans – 99.00Euros (usb connection)
  • TwistedMelon Manta IR1 – $19.99 – 31-60kHz (usb connection)

For Price comparison here is a list of a bunch of remotes for windows (mostly ugly things) that come with receivers (these vary widely due to differing abilities):

  • The Keyspan Remote – This is a very nice looking remote, similar to the Apple remote – $46.24
  • ATI Remote Wonder – Radio Frequency(RF), Vista Not Supported – $49.99
  • Firefly PCRemote – RF, $49.99
  • Firefly Mini – IR – $29.99
  • StreamZap – RF – $39.95
  • SoundBlaster XFI Remote – $29.99
  • Logitech Universal Harmony 659 – 89.99
  • Harmony 550 – 89.99
  • Univeral Learning Remote – IR and RF – $79.99
  • Windows Media Center IR Remote – $39.99
  • Microsoft A90-00007 – $38.99
  • Microsoft Remote Control A9N-00009 – $51.99

Some of the standalone receivers are more expensive than ones that come with a remote! While you shouldn’t worry about the freqency too much (all of them cover the Apple Remote and most common IR remotes) you may notice a huge difference in prices, availability, and suitability.  But one of them stands out – the Manta IR1 receiver.  

The reason for this is that the Manta is put out by a company called TwistedMelon for the purpose of allowing Mac users with older Macs (or Mac towers) with no built-in IR receiver to be able to use Frontrow and control their mac from the couch. Their main product seems to be their software product, Mira, an interface that allows the Apple remote to control the older macs.  The Manta receiver is therefore not only the cheapest standalone receiver I could find on the net, it’s also the best looking, the easiest to use (some of the othe receivers aren’t even usb), and has the widest receiving frequency.  It will work with pretty much any remote control out there (and it works very nicely with my Media Center Remote).  

You might also notice that buying an apple remote plus a manta receiver is still an economical option compared to many remote/receiver packages.

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I like the Apple remote control, you know, the one that comes with the new iMacs. It is sleek, small, has a magnet in it to stick it to the iMac or wall, and is, most of all, simple. It has only six buttons and still manages to be perfectly usable (for the mac, see the bottom). But I don’t have a mac. I have a PC running Vista and I like Vista. But the remote controls that one can buy for windows are huge ugly things filled with way too many buttons for my tastes.  I have a Media Center remote that came packaged with my wife’s Lenovo tower and it has a ton of buttons I never use.  So I set out to get the Apple remote to work on my PC.

The first thing you need is the Apple IR Remote Controller. A standalone apple remote from Amazon.com is $19.00  and $29.99 on the Apple Store (why would anyone buy from the Apple store?).  You could also get this cool remote for Macs that looks exactly like the Apple one (a little thicker) but is also a card reader for even cheaper at $14.99.

Then you’ll need an IR reciever.  IR recievers are nicely built into iMacs and macBooks, but most PC’s don’t come with one (neither do Mac towers).   Since you want to use the Apple remote, you’ll want to buy a standalone reciever, one that comes without the remote control.  Whatever one you choose it will need to detect the Apple Remote’s very common frequency of 38kHz.

See my post on IR Recievers for information on pricing and the best place to get an IR-receiver (pay attention to frequencies listed).

Depending on what software you want to use to program the Apple remote,  and if you’re using Vista, you may reconsider the Manta.  Read more below, look at the programs available to see if they recognize any of the receivers more easily than the Manta, and read the comment about XP drivers, and give it some thought.  However, I still think the cheapest reciever and the easiest to use software (IR Server Suite) is the best option.

Now that you have both a remote and a receiver, you’ll want to get them working on your PC. If you’re have an old Mac without an IR receiver, you just plug it in and install Twisted Melon’s Mira Software for exactly that purpose.  With a PC, things are a little bit more complicated.

Vista will  recognize the Manta receiver as an a Microsoft eHome Infrared Transceiver and will automatically install the drivers for it.  For windows XP, you’ll need to download the driver update from Microsoft to recognize the Manta (and most IR recievers).  This makes it instantly useable with any windows MCE remote control (the most common kind). I have one of these also (it came free with my Wife’s Lenovo) and it works fine.  However, the driver will not recognize the signals coming out of the apple remote.

Here’s where things get more complicated.  Depending on what operating system you have you will have several options, but regardless of what you do you will need a software controller to learn and recognize the apple remote signals.  Below is a list of many of them out there:

  • Promixis Girder 5 – 49.99 (free trial), bad reviews
  • IRCommand2 – 9.95 (free trial)
  • ByRemote HIP – Freeware
  • EventGhost – open-source
  • Medi-Texxx VICE – 20.00 (free trial) not supported
  • PC Remote Control
  • IRAssistant – Freeware
  • LIRC – only for Linux, WinLIRC for Windows 95/98
  • IR Server Suite – Freeware – strongly recommended

I’ll rule out the ones that cost money right away (except for Girder) since its the best.  That leaves HIP, EventGhost, PCRemote, IRAssitant, and IR server suite.  PCRemote will not work for this due to the reasons below and I tried the methods below to struggle with HIP, EventGhost, and IRAssitant and found them more work than necessary (plus none of them would work for me because I have Vista 64bit).  So I thought I was up against a brick wall until I found this thread, which says that there is an easier and better way, and that is to use IR Server Suite.

Download IR Server Suite, install it, open the translator and begin using the programs section to program the Apple Remote. You just click a remote button, then tell the software what to do with it.  You can do almost anything in your computer.  So, for any version of windows, there you have it:  the Apple Remote on a PC.

Now, for the harsh truth: The apple remote has only six buttons on it, and you’ll only be able to program those six individually.  You can control your computer in many ways, but you’ll never have as much control as a Media Center Remote can give you, and you’ll never have full control over Windows Media Center.  The Apple remote is made to work with FrontRow, which is programmed to handle buttons differently depending on context, but Media Center is not.  You’ll have to decide if six buttons is really worth it for you.

Addendum: If you really want to use one of other remote programs out there, you could buy a different receiver (one that works with the software suite of your choice), but if you want the cheapest receiver (Manta) and still want those other programs, here are some steps you can follow depending on which OS you’re using. This site also has some good information to follow, and this blog has even better information.

If you’re using XP 32bit

You can use Girder, HIP, or EventGhost.  But these will not recognize the remote with the default driver, so you can use a replacement driver (which seems to not work very well) or you can follow the much simpler methods here to continue using the default driver (both the replacement driver and this method disable the default driver’s automatic input handling feature, which is necessary to use these programs).

Editing the Registry to Disable eHome tranceiver automatic handling (this is easily undoable, see bottom):

  1. Once the driver is auto-installed for your receiver.
  2. Hit windows key + r, type in “regedit.exe” and hit enter.
  3. Navigate to this key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Servic es\HidIr\Remotes\745a17a0-74d3-11d0-b6fe-00a0c90f57da
  4. Delete the keys from “CodeSetNum0” to “CodeSetNum3”.
  5. To undo this at any time:
    1. Hit windows key + r, type in “devmgmt.msc” hit enter.
    2. Expand Human Interface Devices
    3. R-Click on the Microsoft eHome Infred Transceiver
    4. Select Uninstall. Hit Ok.
    5. Click on the action menu at the top.
    6. Select Scan for hardware changes.  Wait, the installing driver dialogue will pop up and those registry keys will be readded.

Once you’ve done that, Girder, HIP, and EventGhost should recognize input signals in XP 32bit using the eHome driver setting or eHome replacement driver setting (even though you don’t have the replacement driver).  I can’t verify that they will as I’ve never tried it.

You’re using Vista 32bit

The method described above will not work for Windows Vista, those programs will not recognize the original driver.  But you can still use the replacement driver written for vista found here. Read more about that on this forum.

Vista 64-bit

You’re apparently out of luck, the only way to use an ehome transceiver like the Manta with a foreign remote is with IR Server Suite (see above).

/*NEW

Windows 7 64bit & Apple Remote V2

Erik Andersson reported to me that he got the apple remote version 2 working in Windows 7 64bit.  You can read about how to do that on IRSS Forum here.  Thanks Erik!

*/

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