PermaLink AppleTV comes to town04/11/2007 03:05 PM

In keeping with my de-redmondization project, I acquire an AppleTV and immediately start investigating ways to hack it.
I told you that a couple of weeks ago Suzanne got herself a 2.0Ghz MacBook, right?  She's become quite addicted to it, reaching for it in the morning before she even reaches for me.  Yes, I've assisted her in primping the thing so that it has useful stuff on it and by removing evil things, so Microsoft Office for the Mac is now safely zipped up out of the way and replaced with NeoOffice, and of course she's using Firefox and open-source IM clients.  She also has a Notes 7.02 client on it, though I haven't shown her what to do with it yet... we're working on the domain and once it's set up properly she can do her blogging with the BlogSphere 3 template.

By the way, good job on the new version, Dec and Rocky and everybody.  I jumped straight from 1.2b to this V3 release with no major hassles at all.  Comment spam is down somewhat.

We were at CompUSA the other night, and I decided I was going to get (a) an AppleTV and (b) a Seagate 160Gb drive to eventually put in it to replace the rather anemic 40Gb it ships with.  Yes, there are rumors of impending higher-capacity aTVs, but I didn't wanna wait and figured that since Apple still hasn't gotten around to shipping a notebook with anything like a 160 in it, they won't ship an aTV with one, either... but I can do it myself.  Master voider-of-warranties that I am, I figured I'd get the raw materials now.  In fact, the Seagate rang up at $139 even though its shelf tag said $179.  See also, "CompUSA closing half its stores."

Brought it home, found enough component cables to attach it to my Philips HD-ready set, and lit it up.

I am quite impressed with it.  Like almost all Apple stuff, it's simple, elegant and loaded with nice touches that just make it very Appley.  The thing found my wireless network all by itself, syncing it to my existing Apple machines was very straightforward, and even finding the right screen resolution to work with the Philips was simple once I checked the manual to see how to do it (the only time I looked at the manual, by the way).

If you like FrontRow, you'll adore the AppleTV.  It's a smooth interface to allow you to play movies, television shows, podcasts (including video podcasts), and of course, music.  You can also download movie trailers and show previews on the fly from the Apple Store, and it doesn't ask you to key in anything to do so.  Just goes and gets it, and you watch.

But that's not the cool part.

The cool part is, the AppleTV has already been hacked.  Basically, when you buy one, you're buying a $299 low-powered Intel Mac "nano."  1GHz Pentium M processor, 256M of soldered RAM (not upgradeable), and a 40Gb hard drive.  The video out is component or HDMI , and the single USB port is disabled in software by Apple.  However, several projects have figured out how to re-enable the thing, meaning you can then plug in a regular old Apple keyboard and mouse.  What's more, they've hacked up a version of the kernel which allows you to basically run the full version of Mac OS 10.4.9 for Intel, and thus run anything else you want on the box.  Albeit slowly.

Even better, you don't lose the media playback functionality, because that pretty front-end the aTV displays out of the box is just another app.  People have gotten it to work on standard Macs.

Other fun stuff:  out of the box, aTV only plays H.264 and MPEG4-encoded video, but there are now ways to put XviD and DivX codecs (and presumably others) on the thing.  Rumors of somebody getting Linux to run on it are a little vague.

Here, don't listen to me, just go read the links:

Enable additional codecs on your AppleTV

AwkwardTV, home of a lot of AppleTV hacking activity

Upgrade your hard drive and void your warranty

Semthex's blog (he's the guy who released a hacked aTV kernel allowing the aTV to run normal Mac OS X)

If you do this stuff right, you'll have the least-expensive low-end Macintosh in history.  Of course, if you do it wrong, you'll probably brick the thing, but it's only $299...

Go have fun.  I will.

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