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Hacking the Apple TV

Getting in

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Set up SoftwareMenu

Copy the file across to your Apple TV, and then type this into your terminal:

sudo cp SoftwareMenu.frappliance /System/Library/CoreServices/Finder.app/Contents/Plugins/SoftwareMenu.frappliance
cd /System/Library/CoreServices/Finder.app/Contents/PlugIns
sudo chown -R root:wheel SoftwareMenu.frappliance

That’ll put SoftwareMenu in the right place and give it the correct ownership settings. Restart your Apple TV, and when it’s come back up, you’ll see Software Menu listed in the main UI. If not, try again and check your typing.

Apple TV SoftwareMenu

SoftwareMenu in the Apple TV’s UI

SoftwareMenu’s sub-menus provide some handy plug-in download tools, and the ability to keep the add-ins updated. It also runs scripts, and comes with a pre-loaded one to restart the Apple TV, saving you the need to yank out the power cable every time you want to reboot the box. For the hacker, SoftwareMenu’s worth installing for that alone.

SoftwareMenu allows you to install a number of plug-ins directly, including the useful ATVFiles, which can be used with the regular Apple TV remote to find and play files that the main UI will not allow you to view.

We’ll cover ATVFiles in detail next time, when we’ll also step through the process of adding other codecs, such as DivX, to the Apple TV.

Apple TV SoftwareMenu

SoftwareMenu has a very useful script runner

Meantime, other third-party plug-ins available include CouchSurfer, a web browser with Flash support. It’s still in development — Register Hardware was not a site it was happy rendering, alas — but it provides a way of getting the web on your telly. Entering URLs with the remote is a little bit of a chore, but with both History and Bookmark menu options, you shouldn’t need to type addresses in too often.

The remaining SoftwareMenu-supported plug-ins all focus on media playback. NitoTV is a bionic front end for the mPlayer media player app that chucks in network sharing, RSS feeds, weather news and even old games console emulators.

Sapphire is an alternative to ATVFiles, presenting internet-sourced album art, video covers and so on when you use it to select files you’ve copied over to the AppleTV that use unofficial codecs.

Apple TV SoftwareMenu

Install other plug-ins directly

Finally, XMBCLauncher is an open source skinnable-media centre application that provides an alternative UI to the Apple TV’s own. It also runs on Macs, Windows PCs and Linux boxes. Just make sure you disable the Apple TV’s screensaver, which can prevent XMBC firing up correctly.

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