Hacking the Apple TV
Part 1 Apple continues to describe its Apple TV set-top box as a “hobby” project: it’ll continue to develop the platform, but it’s not making any money out of it yet. The gadget’s a hobby project for a lot of other folk too. They want to gain access to this closed but surprisingly powerful system to make it more useful.
We’ve had an Apple TV unit for a while now, and we decided it was time to dig a little deeper into its foundations. Under the hood, it’s essentially a tweaked Mac OS X 10.4 box. There’s no shortage of information on a variety of internet sites, Awkward TV, in particular. But, like so many online guides, bits were written some time ago and not updated, while others skip steps.
Apple’s Apple TV: Mac OS X computer in set-top box form
What follows is our attempt to collate and make consistent a number of online guides, and to ensure they work on the latest version of the Apple TV’s OS.
Apple released Apple TV 2.0 system software almost a year ago, and many — but not all — of the hacks posted online have been modified to work with the second-gen OS, recently upgraded to 2.3. Our Apple TV was still running 1.1, so we allowed the device to update itself to the latest version of the OS.
The Apple TV hacker’s first stop should be the ATV USB Creator site, home of the premier tool for installing the basic access code into an Apple TV without having to rip the hardware apart to get your hands on the hard drive.
ATV USB Creator in action
There are versions of the utility for Mac and Windows machines. Both take a USB stick — it’s dubbed a ‘patchstick’ in Apple TV hacking circles — and prep it for connection to the Apple TV’s otherwise-unused USB port. ATV USB Creator will grab the latest Apple TV system software from Apple, pull out the important components and add the code that’ll be installed at runtime. The result is a Flash drive that the Apple TV will boot from.
By default, ATV USB Creator will prep the drive with SSH; some general tools; a software acquisition tool for the Apple TV; XMBC, an open source media manager; and Boxee, an open source media sharing system. We didn’t — for now — want anything other than SSH, which is key to access the Apple TV remotely, so we made sure only that was selected in ATV USB Creator’s Installation Options.
Standard Definition Colour
Want an Apple TV, but you’ve only got an SD TV and you’re frustrated by Apple’s insistence its box only works with flat panels? The device will output a colour signal to an SD TV’s composite-video input. You need to access the unit’s OS, as outlined on the next page, but when you’re done, you can install a composite colour hack.
Next page: Using the Patchstick
Was very happy to see this little gem.
Have been trying to get the Component / Composite malarkey sorted on my old TV so was keen to try this. But I haven't had any luck with the links to the awkwardtv forum or oxfeedbeef for the files to ssh over. any Idea what's going on as both sites seem to have out of action for a while. I cat fine any other sources either.
found a neat HDMI-DVI / DVI-VGA TRICK but I'm not sure if it will out NASC of PAL.
As always some real misconceptions about quality, target markets etc....
AppleTV is a great product, for doing what it was designed to do... sure a Netgear EVA or Popcorn Hour is a great product also, but neither can hold a candle to the UI and ease of sync/use of the AppleTV.... but the AppleTV isn't so hot at networked machine playback, cannot do 1080p files, no divx, mkv etc without hacking it... but again the AppleTV can do movie rentals.
It depends what you need really... but to call the AppleTV shite, useless etc is very naive and bordering on plain old Apple hating... i've recommended and setup several for friends now, as they want a simple interface, that doesn't require extensive setup. If you're techy then fine, but not everyone is.
As for Tom and his comments regarding TV's and monitors, may i suggest a visit to Specsavers if that is your true feeling as you've clearly got some eyesight issues going on... sure there are a lot of lousy TV's around, but for not a huge chunk of cash there are some cracking ones around too!
Good to see some hacking tips on El Reg -though it means that the hackers herd is getting thin... :-( . Anyway, keep it up!
Of course, a "real" hacker can build an amazing set-top box, with a stripped-down GNU-Linux on it, for 50 quids (Yes, 50. Time ain't worth nothing when it's fun, mate. And it ain't reall hacking actually, just a good selection of off-the-shelf stuff).
Well,to be honest a _real_ real hacker would probably find a way to build a state-of-the-art set-top box running OpenVMS for 1.25 quids. But it might take a few years and involve quite a bit of McGyvering...