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Hacking the Apple TV

Getting in

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Using the Patchstick

We plugged ATV USB Creator into the Apple TV, restarted the hardware and watched Linux boot up and SSH copied across. It takes a just couple of minutes all told, but it doesn’t automatically restart, so you’ll need to watch out for the on-screen warning to remove the patchstick and restart the Apple TV.

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Logging in to the Apple TV using SSH

Restarting the device, this time without the Flash drive disconnected, and we got the usual Apple TV front end. And so far there’s nothing about the UI to tell you it’s been opened up.

Starting up a terminal application on a nearby networked computer, however, and you’ll be able to log in to the Apple TV using SSH. Just enter ssh frontrow@appletv.local then key in the password — frontrow — when you’re asked for it. If appletv.local isn’t recognised, use the Apple TV’s IP address, which you can get from the machine’s Settings/General/Network menu.

SSH lets you explore the file system through a terminal application, but you’ll also need an SFTP client to copy files across easily.

Apple TV Network Settings

Apple TV’s network settings

Users comfortable with the Unix terminal may prefer the scp command. You’ll need to use the -r option to ensure Mac OS X entities that appear as single files but are actually directories get copied across in their entirety.

Now back to the modifications. ATV USB Creator allows you to load your USB boot drive with SoftwareMenu, a handy tool for running scripts and managing Apple TV functionality plug-ins — of which SoftwareMenu is itself one. We didn’t use this option, so had to install SoftwareMenu manually, which we’ll detail here. You can use ATV USB Creator, but it’s worth reading the next few paragraphs because it shows you how to install any Apple TV plug-in beyond those the ATV USB Creator and SoftwareMenu will install for you.

File transfer

Copy across files using SFTP

You can download the latest version of Thomas Cool’s SoftwareMenu from Awkward TV here. Unpack the file and you’ll get a folder containing a second folder, called SoftwareMenu.frappliance — it’s the .frappliance suffix that identifies it as an Apple TV plug-in.

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Next page: Set up SoftwareMenu

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