I’ve had my AppleTV for awhile now and it’s great at doing a few things: playing back anything I have in my iTunes libraries on any Mac in my house (I have 4), renting and downloading movies from iTunes, viewing photos off Flickr and playing Youtube videos.
The only thing really missing from it, that I’m able to do with my Xbox 360 is play back divx video, ideally over my network as I have a large media server – I could even do this on my original Xbox using the Xbox Media Center. So close yet so far….until now.
There has been a number of ways to hack the AppleTV to make it more useful. Some are free and others cost money.
One friend tried the free way….but there is a lot of reading and gathering of files to do it. He was never able to get it working properly so he gave up and just restored the Apple TV to it’s factory state and went on his divx-less way.
Then one company got a lot of press because they were selling a usb thumb drive with all the files needed to just plug-in and go. While reading up on this company, I was directed to a site that had a members only forum ($15/year) where all the same software could be found as well as installation guides. Both of these for-pay options have been criticized for charging for work created by others and offered freely. I’ll let you decide what’s right or wrong in this case, after all you are hacking something. It was just easier for me to get a packaged download that was tested than to wade through endless forum/wiki posts trying to track down all that was needed.
Watching this video is what finally sold me (it’s long):
Needless to say if you watched the whole video, I am now able to easily watch nearly any format of video on my AppleTV while still being able to revert it back to factory should I need to. I’m able to stream anything over my local network and so far the playback has been pretty much flawless. I have run into a couple of bad videos but they are flaky on other machines as well so I’m not too concerned about it. The software is a little on the beta side but there are updates available from within the tools installed which will hopefully stabilize things even more.
There are a number of other plugins available for installation on the AppleTV once this hack is up and running and I’m just starting to explore them – like the Couch Surfer web browser (webkit) shown above. You have full ftp/ssh access to the AppleTV. It reminds me of the early days of hacking the iPhone and is just as fun.
I can’t help but think how many more AppleTV’s would be sold if Apple at least offered divx playback natively on it. After all, Microsoft and Sony both allow it on their game consoles (for free), but of course this would crash head-on into their digital media strategy with the iTunes store.