AppleTV and XBMC – Dream to Stream

So… I was getting sick and tired of having to convert my videos (and RAW photos when I had to pull an impromptu slideshow for the family) on the PC/Mac and copy them to a USB stick, just so I could shove the drive into my 47″ LED Vizio to play them back. Now while the flash USB-in for video, photos, and music is an outstanding feature on the Vizio, the TV is still somewhat finicky in what formats it will decode. This applies to video, audio, and photos. Yeah… yeah… I have a UPnP DLNA client built into my DirecTV box, but I don’t think it has seen any development in years, has been stuck with a Beta label long enough outlast Google’s products, and frankly works about 50% of the time. So, it’s really not any solution at all to the “get content from my PC to my TV” problem.

Then, along comes Apple’s AppleTV, 2nd generation box (or puck). I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the little black piece of plastic as it was purely designed as a hobby by Apple and was nothing more that another device that allows iTunes rentals and purchases, helping Apple pad their pockets with yet more of peoples’ hard earned cash, as if the iPhones, iPads and associated AppStore aren’t enough?! In this form, it wasn’t anything that excited me to much, although it did get those iTunes purchases off your PC and to your TV. That was nice. But, then good things happened… Apple not only developed a great little piece of hardware, but made the fantastic choice to run iOS on it as well. This opened the device to a whole bunch of intelligent and creative hackers, hackers that could retool their other iDevice efforts and put them straight into practice (for the most part) on the AppleTV2. And, given a few months, they did just that. They not only jailbroke the thing, but started coding applications for it like the mad, up all night, energy drink fueled crowd they are. The little puck that could(n’t), could now do a whole lot more than it was ever originally designed to do!

Present day… All it takes is $99 and some time and you can have a very nice little media streamer that works in conjunction with Macs/PCs and a whole slew of OS’s. It all starts by jailbreaking an out-of-the-box Apple TV 2. Installing nitoTV is the first step. In the past, installing nitoTV involved first jailbreaking, then some tedious SSH’n and terminal commands, but today, Greenpois0n (RC6) is all you need. Not only will it perform an untethered jailbreak, unlocking Apple’s grip of the device running firmware v4.2.1 (which you should update to if the unit you purchase doesn’t have it installed by default), but the latest release will also install nitoTV right onto your little black Apple puck. There are numerous other custom jailbreaks out there for the Apple TV 2, and all have some differences, but Greenpois0n makes it really easy to get moving along once installed.

The good stuff…

Okay, so the puck is jailbroken, nitoTV is installed, now what? Well, XBMC (XBox Media Center for Apple TV – Info), of course. Quick instructions…

Plug your Apple TV 2 in, boot it up, and SSH into the device. Then, reference: http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=Install_XBMC_on_ATV2

I’m not going to go into a lot of details regarding how to get things installed and set up, but the lins above have about every piece of info you could ever want to make your ATV2/XBMC experience a dream. When you’re done picking one of many different skins, getting things set up and customized, you’ll be able to stream almost every video and audio codec known to man, organize your video, audio, and photo libraries, and present this all on your beautiful, large HDTV. You can also set up playlists for those family slideshows I was speaking about earlier.

Note, once set up, regardless of the skin used, ‘Weather’ will function when set up for your local, however, no weather condition images will be displayed. These were not included in the build or nightly builds, I believe to keep the package size small. However, if you wish to enable them, they can be harvested from the Mac edition of XBMC and installed via SSH to the Apple TV’s filesystem. Credit goes out to whoever created these, but to make things easier on you, I broke them out and packaged them up. You can download them right here: Apple TV 2 XBMC Weather Images

Once downloaded, unzip, SSH into the ATV2 and place the /128×128 and /64×64 sub-directories in: /private/var/mobile/Library/Preferences/XBMC/temp/weather

Restart ‘Lowtide’ via nitoTV or reboot the ATV2 and when accessing the weather, you will now have nice images to match your local weather conditions.

Movie Library

So, long and short of it, if you wanted or were looking for a solution to get content from your PC to your TV, look no further. $99 is hard to beat, and with little effort, this small puck can do as much as or exceed the capabilities of many dedicated media streamers out in the market costing twice as much. And, it does so in a beautiful way. Don’t forget either… Even with the addition of the XBMC side of things (and this is far from the only customizable app that can be installed), the device still retains its original Apple functionality, allowing you to stream your entire iTunes audio library, play Netflix ‘Watch Instantly’ titles, YouTube clips, and more.

I can’t recommend it enough! Please feel free to leave comments and/or ask any questions… I will try and field them as time permits.

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