Apple TV hacks are making the box more attractive

Apple Store

Since Apple talked about the Apple TV or iTV I've been listening, but was deeply disappointed with the final product. When I was over in San Francisco I did pop into the Apple store to check out the Apple TV which I heard just launched recently. But at 299 dollars or 165 pounds I decided it was too much for essentially a iTunes extender.

That was before I came back to the UK, I started reading about the hacking which has been going on already. AppleTV hacks seems to be leading the way right now, and there certainly making the machine much more attractive to someone like me.

You can now play non-itunes videos via VLC, SSH, Apache, Asterisk and other services on the box. Joost is working on it (which even the Xbox couldn't do) and yeah a last a RSS reader.

The backdoor claim is a little worrying but actually think this is a repair script or something. Theres also lots of talk that the Apple TV isn't that powerful and can't play back 720p H.264 content let alone 1080p content. Now this may not sound like the end of the world, but actually for future proofing and remember Apple are selling this as a HD device. This could be bad news. I already own a couple of 1080p Xvids which simply won't play on my xbox right now but would play on a Xbox 360 and Playstation3.

So yeah, I'm considering the Apple TV for my replacement to the Xbox Media Centre if it can do most of the things XBMC can do. Such as stream straight from YouTube, connect to shoutcast, play all media, read from SMB and other file systems. Someone elses been thinking the same thing.

While in Columbus, we happened to pass through the Apple store, and I got my first look at the AppleTV. A slick piece of kit, to be sure, and one you'll be able to read all about at Ars Technica shortly, but not quite suited to my needs.  I want to be able to watch DivX files on my TV; it's the only way to keep up with TV from back home, and legally, too (thanks, Auntie Beeb!). Apple's beautiful little box can't help me out, but give my wife a used XBox, and 20 minutes later an XBMC media center is the solution to my needs.  Plus, it can stream BBC Radio 4 to boot! Sure, you can always open up and hack an AppleTV, but you do so at the cost of your warranty.  With secondhand hardware that's cheap, that's not a concern.

The arrival of our XBox 360 meant that our first XBox could be repurposed as the living-room media server. Now I don't need to keep plugging my PowerBook into the bedroom TV set, and Elle can pipe her music collection from her PC to her heart's content. It's not the sort of thing I'd suggest for my parents or anyone else of a technophobic nature, but if the AppleTV won't do what you want or if you prefer rolling your own, pop down to your local used video game emporium and see what's lurking in their stockroom. Apple TV certainly has its uses, but the original Xbox is easier to hack, cheaper, and has much more support from the hacking community right now than Apple TV. If you've not looked into XBMC, it's absolutely worth it. Depending on your needs, it may be a far superior option to Apple TV, or any of the other PC-to-TV devices out there today. 

Some people are looking at it slightly differently. Apple TV on Xbox anyone? And more here. Oh and theres a nice discussion about maybe porting XBMC to the mac.


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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser. Can be found at, and