Couch-oriented video player

Dear Lazyweb,

I'm preemptively worrying about what I'm going to use when Movist stops working. I've been using it for over ten years, but have needed to avoid letting it update since 2008, because after version 1.4.2, they removed "full screen navigation", which makes any later release useless to me.

It is still currently working, but obviously the codecs are not being updated, and it will be running in emulation on M1, which seems less than ideal for a video player. Thus my worry.

Here's what I want out of a movie player:

  • Operable without a mouse.
  • A full-screen folder outline browser, navigable with arrow keys, SPC and ESC, no other keys needed.
  • Control playback and volume with only those keys.
  • Always launch with the full screen navigator, on the monitor I have chosen, regardless of where my mouse is.
  • Play files in order. Keep going.
  • Play every codec. So ffmpeg or VLC inside.

Things I explicitly don't want:

  • Integration with any streaming service.
  • Built-in BitTorrent client.
  • Integration with anything in the Clown.
  • Anything to do with Chromecast, Airplay, Roku, etc.
  • Any other distractions that might have led the developers astray from their core mission, "just play the files, and let me sit on my couch while you do it."


(Note that VLC is very much not this.)

Regarding my insistence on arrow keys only, it's because I really like the Satechi Bluetooth remote. That combined with some USB Overdrive tweaks lets my computer behave like a video appliance.

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41 Responses:

  1. Rioting pacifist says:

    Kodi? The artist formally known as XBMC.

    • jwz says:

      Well, the first screenshot is of it pretending to be an iTunes replacement, which makes me feel they have misunderstood the assignment.

      Also "Kodi keeps all your tv organized" is what I explicitly want it to not do. My files are already organized, thank you very much. Just fuckin' play them.

      • Dirk says:

        Well, Kodi doesn't move or rename your files (at least not until maybe using a plugin you explicitly tell it to). It just maybe adds metadata and indexes them. Organizing for them means probably "these files are TV shows, and these files are movies, and this folder is music". I use Kodi for a few years now, and it absolutely leaves my files alone and plays it. Don't know about the other requirements using arrow keys and space and escape though.

        • Cameron says:

          I second Kodi.  It definitely likes to do (non destructive) Library Mode (This folder TV, that Folder Movies, etc.) But you can also just use files mode and browse to your content that way.  It absolutely has a keyboard only interface.  In fact the current remote is basically a small usb wireless keyboard as far as the computer is concerned. It plays anything I've thrown at it and has a nice player interface with great features like non-linear stretch for 4:3 and configurable progressive skips (10s, 30s, 1m, 5m, 10m)

          • Cameron says:

            *my current remote

          • Carlos says:

            Kodi is great - I use it with a dedicated appliance box.

            But I don't think it's a great match for jwz's wants.  It's complicated to set up unless you want everything absolutely default.  Controlling it with a random wireless remote involves a process somewhat less user-friendly than hand-editing an xmodmap file.  I don't believe it can do the specific things he wants, at least not without finding, downloading, installing, and configuring non-default plugins.

            Telling jwz to use Kodi in this instance is a recipe to him climbing the nearest bell tower.


      • Line Noise says:

        Another +1 for Kodi.

        It has several skins so you can choose one without all the bling.
        You can customise the options on the home screen so just turn off everything except "Files" for basic navigation.
        Don't give media folders a media type (TV, Movies, Music, etc) so it won't go looking for episode synopses, friendly episode titles rather than filenames, etc.
        Navigation is with cursor keys by default. "Enter" to play a file. "Space" to pause. I can't remember what the keyboard volume controls are. All key bindings are configurable.
        It supports playlists so you can queue up a list of files and it will play them one after the other.
        It also supports "Play next file" automatically but you'll have to turn that on in the Settings. I've never tried it.
        The core functionality has been the same since I ran it on the original XBox 15 or so years ago.

      • roeme says:

        I think you get the point of the commenters with regards to Kodi; to drive it home:

        Here's what I want out of a movie player:

        • Operable without a mouse.


        • A full-screen folder outline browser, navigable with arrow keys, SPC and ESC, no other keys needed.

        check, maybe a few other keys, but configurable anyway

        • Control playback and volume with only those keys.


        • Always launch with the full screen navigator, on the monitor I have chosen, regardless of where my mouse is.

        dunno, only have a projector connected to mine, but should be "check", because macos?

        • Play files in order. Keep going.

        check / possibly two keypresses needed. i don't usually binge-watch episodes back-to-back

        • Play every codec. So ffmpeg or VLC inside.

        check (ffmpeg)

        Things I explicitly don't want:

        • Integration with any streaming service.

        check, (or at least you can disable it)

        • Built-in BitTorrent client.

        check, (or at least you can disable it)

        • Integration with anything in the Clown.

        check. formerly XBMC, still has a lot of that codebase, there is no company, there is no clown.
        only default clown integration asking IMDB, but again, you can disable that

        • Anything to do with Chromecast, Airplay, Roku, etc.

        check? can act as an airplay device, but off by default methinks, or can be disabled

        • Any other distractions that might have led the developers astray from their core mission, "just play the files, and let me sit on my couch while you do it."

        they're nerding out over video acceleration on older devices, mostly
        any extra crap is done in add-ons, which can be disabled.

        and my impression is that they like to focus on the core and don't upset my muscle memory between versions

        it's quite customizable; I did my config roughly 10 years ago and had/wanted to adjust something one time since. which sounds like something that a jwz wants

        • 3
          • Play files in order. Keep going.

          Kodi has a "Continue Watching/Still Watching" add-on in the official repositories, that mimics Netflix behavior for this.

          I use it flawlessly with local files, and with the unofficial Netflix and Amazon Video Prime add-ons.

        • K says:

          Necro reply - I'm at 14 years in to my Kodi config and it's still doing what I want with the latest version and nearly no UI relearning. My only annoyance is that some of the slightly less common adjustments are buried as if they were rare adjustments.

      • Nick says:

        I think Kodi is fine for this. My Plex setup eventually succumbed to chaos and entropy, and now I just stick a USB drive into the Xbox and play stuff through Kodi. You can certainly just have it work with your own folder structures. Occasionally I use it on my Macbook and it seems similarly unintrusive there. I'm not sure if it meets your requirement of only using the six keys including volume, but I expect it can be set up to do that if it's not there out of the box. For everythign else, I reckon it's close enough to your target to deserve a shot.

        I tried a few alternatives, Kodi got in my way the least. They do seem to push the features you don't want, but in my experience (so far) that's all easily avoidable for people who just want the basics.

      • Chris says:

        There are Kodi distros for raspberry pi boards, but they don't do great with 1080p content. (libreelec and the like)

        Kodi does not keep your files organized. You point it at an organized set and browse it.

        What did work great was a regular PC running Ubuntu. I use both an Intel NUC and a $80 fanless PC from ebay.
        Enable login without a password in Ubuntu, then apt install kodi, and you can select Kodi from the gdm login screen and avoid the desktop experience completely. A $15 remote from Amazon completed the set for me. It's basically an appliance at that point.

        • Adolf Osborne says:

          Kodi works great with a Pi 4 at 1080p with every codec I've ever thrown at it.  It does hardware h.264 and h.265 (HEVC) decoding.  It supposedly can do 4k HEVC @ 60FPS, in hardware, but I'm unable to fully test that with any of my monitors.

          The libreelec image even lets me dedicate one of the two HDMI outputs to audio output, out-of-the-box, which is fantastic for my old (and still awesome, sonically at least) first-gen "high-end" AV receiver that falls down with anything more than 1080i over HDMI.  (Sure, I could have fudged the ALSA configuration to make this available on any Kodi installation.  But "It Just Works" is better.)

          Libreelec is also nice in that it is self-contained, minimal, and zero bullshit as far as Linux distributions go:  Their tagline is something like "Just enough Linux to run Kodi."  There's approximately nothing to administer:  Just use it and let it do its thing.

          At the proper retail price it's kind of a no-brainer for me to run this on a Pi 4.  

          But Pi 4s are a lot more expensive than they should be.  With the scalper pricing we have right now, a cheap PC might be the superior option for a person who wants to administer yet-another Linux box.  (And yes, your Ubuntu box needs administration.  At some point -- maybe years from now -- you'll want to update Kodi to get The New Shit, and a thousand new dependencies will get sucked in that aren't necessary for Kodi to work but that the system relies on, along with a myriad array of system-wide regime changes.  Things will break.  Hopefully it's easy to fix, but breakage is ultimately inevitable.)

          Based on previous rants here, some parts of which I think may have directed at me personally, I'm lead to believe that Jamie is quite thoroughly disinclined to do any more hands-on Linux administration than is absolutely necessary for him to do what he needs to do to support his business, and wants absolutely none of that at his home.

          But the experience of using Libreelec on a Pi 4 isn't like running a Linux box -- it's much closer to using a cartridge-based game console that happens to have writable storage instead of masked ROMs.

          • jwz says:

            That's great, but I have no interest in driving my TV with a second computer, and the associated file-sharing hassle that would entail. I have a perfectly good computer, with files on it, and I want to play them with minimal fuss and without a keyboard. Madness, I know.

            • Adolf Osborne says:

              Yeah, I get it.  Sucks.

              I don't have (and perhaps never will have) a MacOS machine here, so the above is the extent of my unhelpfulness on this matter.  ;)

      • k3ninho says:

        Nth-ing Kodi for movie and music player, keyboard folder navigation plus back/forward/volume and DVD menu navigation. Builds current playlists and steps through them, can drop them if 'stop' is used instead of 'pause'. Not used, nor would advocate for moving files around.

        On a desktop it will go fullscreen unless persuaded otherwise.


      • I've been running XBMC (and now Kodi) for a decade as a standalone player.  I tend to let it go awhile between updates because I find shit breaks and I have to go in an reconfigure the remote or something, but with a minimalist skin it's been perfect that whole time.  I run it on an old MacMini but when that dies or I get sick of trying to disable iCloud I'll go Linux.

  2. 1

    I haven't used Kodi in a few years for [audiophile strangling noises] reasons, but my install still does all of this on disposable ~2009 linux hardware. I'm told the mac version is better, but I haven't tried assigning screens that way.

    Don't believe anything they say about "organization." They provide a halfassed norton commander clone as a file browser. If it was good enough for 1985, it'll be good enough for you.

    • Rioting pacifist says:

      Kodi on my rPi: Oh you wanted audio with that Youtube video, guess ya should have rebooted.

      Audio is still glitchy when it resumes from inactivity (at least on libreElEC), but it doesn't sound like it would be relevant if you're using it on OSX as an app rather than as an OS.

  3. Drew says:

    I've had this set aside to look at for some time, I think it was Marco Arment from Overcast that had mentioned in a podcast:

    • jwz says:

      This is just a single-file player, it has no navigation. It's not even VLC, it's just Quicktime Player. I have no idea why it even exists.

  4. JohnB says:

    My first thought was Kodi. I have it on a Raspberry Pi 3, a 10 yr old mini, and MacBook Air M1. It struggles on the Pi and is sluggish on the mini but flies on the M1. Keyboard support is excellent, often quicker than a mouse, due to it being designed for game controllers I guess.

  5. nfd says:

    If nothing else ends up fitting the bill, mpv is pretty damn extensible ( includes a file browser, easy input controls incl. some sort of little state machine setup that I haven't looked at too hard, and so on) and would probably be among the easiest projects to harass into working the way you specifically want (whether from extensions or bodging some scripts from the outside). ffmpeg inside, also.

    • jwz says:

      "Here's something that doesn't do what you want, but it has a scripting language" is about the farthest thing in the world from what I am asking.

      It may surprise you to know that I am absolutely capable of writing my own video player. But I would prefer not to.

      • nfd says:

        Thus the "if nothing else ends up fitting the bill" hedge. I don't have perfect knowledge of your priorities; I'm sure Even Lazierweb might stumble onto something closer than my guess. (Kodi's one of my best guesses too, but I don't really know if fishing around for the exact right set of extensions is that much better than just writing a little glue.)

        I'd personally probably crack at most of those problems with mpv and the Blackbox file browser script in that list because it's already there, and I'd guess the risk of my workflow later being broken out from under me is pretty low (mpv is pretty well-maintained and probably isn't going to start making wild changes to its general design philosophy). Getting the keybinds working for that remote appears to require messing with approximately one config file. Outside of your scope, I love that a Sponsorblock extension is available: Youtube is approaching complete unusability without it these days.

    • ix says:

      I second mpv, it does everything you want and none of the things you don't want. alias mpv to mpv --fs to always start fullscreen and if you want to have a filemanager instead of the shell, here is a script that does this using board tools [cd, pwd, sort, ls] ready to use.
      There exist a ton of GUI for mpv but I never felt the need for one. It's completly usable by keyboard and while it's true that you could customize the crap out of it, there is actually no need imo. It just plays anything you feed it. Afaik it works the same on any OS.

  6. Tim says:

    I think IINA ( has some, but not all, of what you want.  Seems to be missing the folder outline browser, and though it has preferences for configuring startup behavior I don't see anything about always launching fullscreen.

    Notably, it has configurable keybinds, presets for same, and one of the presets mimicks Movist, so with one click keyboard nav should be familiar.

  7. Karl Shea says:

    This leans into “not what you want”, but if you can’t find a Mac replacement: there’s an Apple TV version of “FE File Explorer” which I’ve been using on my iPhone for years, and it’s basically a file browser with ffmpeg that supports SMB, and it will just keep playing everything in a directory.

  8. Anon says:

    I had been hesitant to suggest it, but if most everyone is pushing Kodi I will suggest Infuse (available for Macs, AppleTV, and the various iDevices). It's a pure playback client that you just point at a share (I use SMB and symbolic links so that my computer file organization and naming scheme is kept separate from organizing videos for viewing purposes; this would also work for different pools of media for different users).  No special server software is needed. It doesn't sound like you want a DVR or games or something.

    It gives you more control over movies (and their metadata, poster art, etc) than TV shows, but is basically fine and seems to be getting continual improvement.  Has the standard sort of UI with a zillion poster images you scroll through.

    There's a free trial period and it's not expensive. Has yet to choke on anything I throw at it.

    • Gordo says:

      I second Infuze, I use it with an Apple TV 4K.

      I have been happy with it's UI, the Apple TV 4K remote is reasonably sane and similar to your current remote.

      I point it at a smb repo of movies and tv shows and it seems to understand things.

      I wanted Kodi to work, but it felt like a struggle.  I don't mind paying for Infuze if it just works, which (for me) it seems to.

      • jwz says:

        Infuse has no full-screen navigation. It is not operable without a mouse. It's just a normal desktop client.

  9. jwz says:

    Wow, Kodi is an absolutely incomprehensible mess. You people who recommended it are all insane.

    • Pakraticus says:

      Heh... A lot of folks haven't looked at what a hot mess the Kodi keybindings are vs your constraints.
      And Kodi has a somewhat opinionated way to organize things.
      90% of Kodi worked just fine with CEC forwarding the out of the box signals from the TV remote.
      And I could just navigate the filesystem without it's library crud if I spent several navigation steps shoving my elbow up my anus.

      Anyways you hit two interesting problems.
      What does it take to make a full screen filesystem navigation tool that uses a minimal set of keys?
      What does it take to make a full screen media player that uses a minimal set of keys?

      I have no clue how to solve them.  I embraced the delusion that Kodi is good and usable :-).

    • chaosite says:

      Sigh, it is.

      But it sounds like it is the closest maintained thing to what you what you want, and I'm convinced you can make it do what you want via configuration and not scripting.

      Like other commenters said, you're going to want to choose a skin (from the included add-on repository) that you do not find visually offensive and includes the things you want. Then you'll going to want to disable the things you don't want, probably anything to do with the library. That should leave you with a menu called "Videos" that lists your videos, at least after you wrangle the sources to your liking.

      The play files in order thing might require a plugin which I've not used, or an extra 2 clicks.

      • jwz says:

        You must realize how terrible this advice is, right? "Go install 30 different skins (as that is the only way to preview them) then figure out which one lets you disable enough of the useless crap you don't want (good luck with that) and then maybe it will sort of work, but you probably need a plugin for other stuff too (again, good luck with that)".

      • jwz says:

        Also: things I have learned from a few sessions of goofing around with Kodi:

        • The "open on monitor" option simply does not work.
        • By just navigating menus and not even playing video, I can make it crash randomly within 10 minutes.
        • It cannot comprehend or accept that movies and TV shows might exist in the same directory. The interwebs are full of complaints about this.
        • If there is an upper bound to how many sketchy-sounding domains it tries to contact during normal operation, I have not yet found it.
  10. Michael says:

    Infuse might be close.

    It can be controlled on the keyboard. I have not checked if you can launch it in full screen every time though and it doesn’t really do give you a file system, it wants to enrich your experience by pulling down meta data (similar to Plex and Kodi, but it will show you any file in that folder / sub folder, regardless if it can identify the content or not.

    • jwz says:

      Arrow keys work exactly nowhere in this app, so I have no idea what you're talking about. This is a non-full-screen mouse-only program.

  11. jwz says:

    Movist used to be open source, so for laughs I grabbed a fork of some old version of it on Github just to see if it still builds. It does not. (I'm not even sure that this version still contains full-screen navigation.)

  12. Steven Baker says:

    I have been using Jellyfin to solve this problem.  I really enjoy it, I think it meets your requirements.