Apple TV – Nearly Hacked

Last modified on May 31st, 2008

The other day John contacted me and told me about a new hack for the Apple TV. It’s basically an amalgamation of all the available hacks and updates for it, but it’s packaged in a nice, easy to use USB installer.

Before I get into my hacking attempt, I want to give a quick review of what I think of Apple TV so far. To be honest, I really like the idea of what Apple TV is supposed to be. Unfortunately, it’s not really that yet. The main problem is there really isn’t enough content on it. I check back every week, hoping for a massive change in titles, but for the most part there’s just not much to watch. There are so few in fact that Apple has resorted to duplicating the same title multiple times on the page so as to make it seem like they have more.

The main part of the Apple TV hack that appeals to me is the ability to access an external storage drive. With that functionality I can basically rip all my DVDs to my hard drive and watch them whenever I want on my Apple TV.

The actually hacking procedure was really straight forward, so I won’t go into any detail. The hard part for me was making Apple TV talk to my 1TB drive over on my Linux box. I messed around for 90 minutes trying to mount the Linux drive as NFS, but just had so many problems with it I eventually gave up. I then managed to installed an Apple File Protocol (AFP) daemon on the Linux box, which ended up solving the problem. So now I have my Apple TV connected to my Linux box over AFP.

I haven’t played around with this too much yet, so I really have no idea what to do next. I tried streaming a MPEG2 file from my Linux box using the MediaCloud functionality in the hacked Apple TV navigator, but it barfed on the file content for some reason.

Over the next few days I’ll try and figure out some way for my setup to be useful. Check back then.

** Update — actually, the Apple TV NiTo program works well for all content. All the folders it shows are in /Users/frontrow/Movies. So to use it, I just created a symbolic link to my mounted Linux drive, which caused Apple TV to automatically show all that content in NiTo. That’s not as nice as a streaming solution, but it seems to work well enough. I just downloaded one of the m4v files I took at the Junos onto my Linux drive and watched it in Apple TV without problems, so I’m good to go I think. The next step will be to try and get a DVD ripped. Maybe I’ll try that right now.

*** Update 2 – I ripped a few chapters of Star Wars Episode III to a mp4 file using HandBrake and tossed that on my Linux drive. The quality was actually surprisingly awesome. Unfortunately, the video is a bit choppy in Sapphire for some reason, but seems to work fairly well in nitoTV.

5 responses to “Apple TV – Nearly Hacked”

  1. Hesty says:

    Sounds like interesting hack. I’ve found that MacOS seems to have problem talking to other samba share or nfs share.

    That said, I still don’t get the appeal of Apple TV. I’ve put together a linux HTPC and get my movies from various sources (of dubious legality). Now I can play any silly YouTube video, streaming radio, HD stuff while sitting on the couch. Oh, I can even read slashdot and digg. What more can a geek want?

  2. John says:

    I just used NitoTV to create the share mount points and make them auto-connect.

    Then I browse them under the ‘Files’ menu item since you can map ‘places’ to that. I found everything else a little too beta and the Files option to be the most stable and allowed the avi/divx/etc content to behave/playback just like native mp4 content.

    The latest news from Apple is that movie content will be coming to Canada very soon – although I’m not sure of the date. So watch for lots of Anne of Green Gables soon!

    @Hesty: The biggest difference between the Apple TV and your HTPC is that it’s tiny and can connect to the other boxes/drives anywhere else in your house. It’s also super quiet, unlike the fans in your HTPC.

  3. Hesty says:

    @John: I have an HP slimline as my HTPC. It is not as small as AppleTV but it’s definitely not big either. Plus it is absolutely dead silent.

    The main concern I have with devices like AppleTV is whether it has the needed horsepower in the future for H.264 decoding at 1080p resolution. It seems like the audio decoding needed is no slouch either with TruHD etc.

  4. This is interesting. I’ve currently got an MG-35 unit (from MediaGate) that I’ve been using to stream video to my TV. It is possible to put a HDD into the thing, but I’ve never bothered. I’ve been eyeing the Apple TV for a while, mainly due to the fact that it has an HDMI port (and the fact that it would play nicely with the macs in my house) but have been holding off because I’d have to make a choice between the smaller HDD or larger one. If you’re telling me that I can now (using this hack) simply mount the drives in my other computers (linux server, iMac, etc) and be able to play nearly any format, then I’m thinking I should go out and pick up the low end Apple TV today!

  5. Duane Storey says:

    I have my AppleTV mounting a 1TB linux drive using AFP right now. The only problem is that the players are a bit flaky on the AppleTV in that they sometimes do weird things (like the audio will play but not the video). You can usually fiddle with it until it plays properly, but it’s sort of a pain in the butt. But they are getting closer.

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