back to article Hacking the Apple TV

Apple continues to describe its Apple TV set-top box as a “hobby” project: it’ll continue to develop the platform, but it’s not making any money out of it yet. The gadget’s a hobby project for a lot of other folk too. They want to gain access to this closed but surprisingly powerful system to make it more useful. We’ve had an …


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  1. Richard Sloan

    Colour hack

    Just to let you know, on newer versions of the appleTV software/firmware the rc.common is very flakey and refuses to automcatically apply the colour hack for us. We're running it every time we reboot until we find a different method of doing this.

  2. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

    @Richard Sloan

    Interesting, Richard.

    Having peered over writer Nick's shoulder, I can say it worked for him on his Firmware 2.3 Apple TV. I was so convinced, I tried it on mine, and it works there too, reboot after reboot.

    Anyone else have problems with this?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    4 page article?

    It is very annoying when websites needlessly spread articles over many pages - there isn't a finite amount of space on a web page like there is in a newspaper or magazine.

    It looks like it is done simply to try and stick more adverts is visitors faces. You think upping the amount of adverts will encourage people to not be attracted to adblocking software, which ultimately undermines your whole business model?

    Even though this article looks like it could be interesting, I am not going to bother reading it due to the pointless format.

    Stop doing this.

  4. David Haworth

    appletv vs others

    I seriously considered buying an appletv as I wanted a nice, small and quiet box to feed video to the TV with. I wouldn't have been averse to using it out of the box, but I really wanted it for XBMC. I wanted to be able to stream media, in a variety of codec's from my NAS to my TV, with audio fed through my amp. I also quite wanted the nice, rich user interface that XBMX supposedly provides (with downloads form the internet for films/tv show precis's and cover art etc).

    what put me off was

    a) it's expensive. even second hand it doesn't seem to lose much value

    b) I'd be buying a box almost soley to hack it

    c) it's not got the guts to do 1080p high def, and I didn't know what it could do with high def sound tracks (can it output truehd via the hdmi cable?)

    I eventually decided to buy the popcorn hour A110. it's a good box with support for 1080p and HD audio output and lots of codecs onboard. It also acts as a NAS so I can drag and drop stuff to it over the network. I know the costs are similar to a brand new appletv (if I include the 1TB hd I installed) and it works fine, but it certainly doesn't have the rich interface. it's a bit basic and sometimes slow to get going. I nkow there are options for better interfaces (that all rely on pre-generating HTML code) but I've not got on well with any of them and it's just not "slick".

    right now I don't think I've made the wrong decision and I'm relatively happy with my purchase, but I think if I had found a cheap appletv somewhere, then I would have been more happy with it in the interface sense, if less happy with the capabilities. I guess one of my concerns was how much of an unknown the "hacking the appletv" option was.

    now if apple released a new appletv with better hardware, but just as hackable, then I might well be interested :)

    so, did I do the wrong thing then?


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mac mini as alternative

    Isn't it easier just to get a Mac mini and use that instead of fiddling about with an Apple TV?

  6. Jared Earle

    Excellent timing

    I'll be trying this tonight.

    I've been footering around with a few patchstick images and was hoping for something more robust when this article appears just in time for me to have a go over the weekend.

    Yay, Reg!

  7. andy

    So many reasons why it'll always be just a hobby

    If you didn't have to bother with the patchstick, this thing could have sold as well as an ipod. There are just too many better alternatives to the Apple TV, especially given it's price!

    You can buy a netbook which will play any format under the sun - with VLC for instance - and it'll sit comfortably next to your TV.

    I've never met a single person (in the UK) who owns one of these and I can see why. If it were about half the price I'd have already bought one. I'm certainly no Apple hater, but if you're going to charge this much for stuff, at least make sure it plays popular file formats out of the box. But then of course that wouldn't tie people to quicktime/itunes, so that's never going to happen. A bit frustrating to say the least!

  8. Steve
    Thumb Up

    Excellent article

    El Reg needs more stuff like this!

    Any chance you could cover getting a USB HDD working with the Apple TV?

  9. Tim Parker

    Composite hack

    As many comments in your original story suggest - and one would have thought common-sense might too - if your TV has SCART inputs, and the Apple TV is actually outputing a proper component signal, then a component->SCART adaptor is surely the way to go... any reason why you've NOT mentioned it at all (or even commented on the old suggestions) ?

    Does your TV not have SCART perchance ? Even if that were the case, please don't send people down the this bloody ridiculous Heath Robinson route if it turns out not to be necessary.

    Apart from that - cheers for the article.

  10. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)


    Watch this space...

  11. Anonymous Coward


    ladies and gentlemen, may i present..... THE iTV!!!

    just a matter of time until they buy out channel3 (not necessarily a bad thing) and make it available only to iTards (tm) who buy an iTV (tm) and pay the iLisenceFee (tm) to watch the iAds (tm) on it. Maybe they will do a version which iSyncs (tm) with your iPhaile (tm) mobile, iTouchMyself(tm) mp3 player.

    *starts running from the apple fanbois*

  12. Gareth Irwin

    Well might as well ask

    I have XBMC etc running just fine but would prefer to watch non apple cert vids etc straight from the apple menu.

    I tried to install NIto but every time I entered details of network media it would crash, infact just looking at it wrong and it crashes taking the ATV with it.

    I did not realise ATFiles or what ever it is called does the same thing, however will it do it for streamed media.

    Also I use cyber duck also but is it not possible to mount the ATV or some such so that copying any mdeia over is a little more mac like?

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Nice Article!

    I bought an Apple TV for Christmas and started converting all my .avi to .m4v with VisualHub. I did not chose the quality setting "Go nuts" but the one just before it. The output file are about 1gb.

    Certainly enough, my AppleTv ran out of disk space quickly.

    I installed XBMC on it, thanks to the USB creator, so I can access all of my movies via my network. To my surprise, I noticed that the .m4v files looks awful when viewed with XBMC. Sure, the original .avi file were not perfect, but it seems that when converted to .m4v, they look better when played with the official Apple TV if it apply a "smooth" filter on the picture..

  14. A J Stiles


    Evil Penguin-Shagging Communists™ might prefer "get_iplayer" (which grabs stuff from the BBC's iPlayer; pretending to be an iphone if there's an iPhone version, otherwise just grabbing the RTMP stream of the Flash version) and "ffmpeg". Can then convert things to DVD-friendly format, if required, and burn them to disc -- or copy them over to a HDD media player. (needs libboost-dev)

    All this stuff is Open Source, and so ought to run even on an AppleTV -- assuming gcc's been ported to it.

    @ Tim Parker:

    "Component" video nowadays means YUV. Though the plugs are coded green, blue and red, they are not carrying the red, green and blue components that a SCART connector expects; rather, the green plug is carrying the Y signal (= 0.6 * G + 0.3 * R + 0.1 * B + timing pulses), the blue plug is carrying the U signal (= B - Y) and the red plug is carrying the V signal (= R - Y). Getting back the original RGB signals requires a bunch of op-amps and resistors (and before ICs, it would have required at least three valves).

    All this was done, historically, for broadcasting purposes, so as to be compatible with existing mono receivers (although in the end, we ended up abandoning any attempt to squeeze colour into the old 405-line system and introduced a brand new 625-line system for colour broadcasting, so perhaps we needn't have bothered). The Y signal just looks like a mono picture. The U and V signals don't need as much bandwidth as Y, since the human eye actually has poor colour resolution, so they are modulated onto a carrier and added to Y to create a single signal for broadcasting.

    The reduced bandwidth requirement still applies to digital storage media, of course. DVD data is natively YUV.

  15. Ross Fleming
    Thumb Up


    Linux on a PS3 would be a nice feature... preferably one with a bootloader that gives you a choice on which one to boot!

  16. Appleski

    How about sound output?

    Is there a way to use audio output and HDMI audio at the same time?

    My TV is connected via HDMI.

    I wanted to use ATV with my receiver, but when I connect analog audio output to the receiver, I loose sound in my TV (HDMI)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward down? seems to be having DNS issues. Is TVComposite.tar posted anywhere else?

  18. Scott McKay

    just use boxee

    There's instructions on to do this sort of thing, however the patchstick version they provide has all this and more - like boxee.

    Also be warned that the ATV is very fussy about the usb drive. It's very hit and miss as to whether they work or not.

  19. Steve

    200 quid?!

    Apple can get fucked!

    You can get a XBox with a 60Gb HD for £150.....! That's HD and standard def, media streaming as well as local, works with Freeview if you slap a £20 PCI card in your PC (including pausing live TV), a DVD player, can download movies and obviously play the latest and arcade games.

    Whack Apple TV to under £100 and we'll talk....

  20. Mark

    Future updates

    It'll be interesting to see where Apple takes this unit in future now there have been cheap as chips releases such as the WD HDTV. Sure it doesn't network or web browse etc but playing pretty much any audio/video format from a USB connected hard drive out of the box covers most wants and makes it pretty portable. Quality seems good from what I've seen in display models.

  21. Robert Taylor

    @David Haworth

    The Popcorn Hour does have a rather limited interface - but there are Open Source alternatives that are just a simple install onto your Windows or Linux box. Checkout (or for screenshots)

  22. Gerry

    @Ross Fleming

    It's not difficult, in fact Sony tell you how to do...

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Classic Xbox and XBMC

    A classic xbox with XBMC is the ultimate solution and it outputs to 1080, I have three in my house and I use a MAC running CCXstream to pump out the video!!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    AppleTV is rubbish

  25. Richard
    Thumb Up

    @ andy

    'I've never met a single person (in the UK) who owns one of these'

    I bought the one they sold in the UK.

    tbh I think they're a nice bit of kit. Quiet night in on the sofa with SWMBO, nothing on the TV, nothing you fancy from 'other sources'? Fire up the Apple TV. With a US iTunes account the choice of viewing is very good.

    For me it was one of those impulse gadget buys that I don't regret.

  26. Matthew Johns
    Thumb Up

    Geeks vs Public

    If the iplayer downloader could run on appleTV; grab the files and store them for future watching using nothing but the remote control then it'd be worthwhile. Otherwise this is still too tech for most people. You might as well use a computer and stream...

  27. jai

    re: Mac mini as alternative

    it is a lot easier just to use a mac mini

    but it's more expensive than an AppleTV too

    i've got both a mac mini and an appletv hooked up to my telly, and i use the mac mini far far more (but then i am using it as a pvr)

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good article

    and to the moaner about multiple pages, would you have clicked any advert had it been only one page? Probably not.

  29. Tom

    @Steve + Xbox

    "works with Freeview if you slap a £20 PCI card in your PC"

    er so why bother with spending £150 on an Xbox - even the worst monitor you can buy these days is better than the best tv screen.

    I hate sitting in a room less than 30' long looking at a 48" set of pixels. I know you have to get drunk to appreciate most TV today but to have to get blind drunk to see 'through' the appalling TV's people buy!

  30. Anton Ivanov
    Thumb Down


    And all that just to get it to do what I want? No thanks, I would rather go and buy a Popcorn Hour. It is higher spec, the drive is "anything you like", no hardware hacking, built in bittorent client, runs linux and "JUST WORKS(TM)".

    Not that I need it. My current set-top box is a P3 with a fanless nvidia and vlc. Dunno what magic did the guys at Nvidia do to the XVideo scaler, but frankly I have yet to see anything that gets even close (well, with all that spare FPU power onboard it is actually not that difficult).

  31. Pierre

    Hey, good!

    Good to see some hacking tips on El Reg -though it means that the hackers herd is getting thin... :-( . Anyway, keep it up!

    Of course, a "real" hacker can build an amazing set-top box, with a stripped-down GNU-Linux on it, for 50 quids (Yes, 50. Time ain't worth nothing when it's fun, mate. And it ain't reall hacking actually, just a good selection of off-the-shelf stuff).

    Well,to be honest a _real_ real hacker would probably find a way to build a state-of-the-art set-top box running OpenVMS for 1.25 quids. But it might take a few years and involve quite a bit of McGyvering...

  32. Scott Mckenzie


    As always some real misconceptions about quality, target markets etc....

    AppleTV is a great product, for doing what it was designed to do... sure a Netgear EVA or Popcorn Hour is a great product also, but neither can hold a candle to the UI and ease of sync/use of the AppleTV.... but the AppleTV isn't so hot at networked machine playback, cannot do 1080p files, no divx, mkv etc without hacking it... but again the AppleTV can do movie rentals.

    It depends what you need really... but to call the AppleTV shite, useless etc is very naive and bordering on plain old Apple hating... i've recommended and setup several for friends now, as they want a simple interface, that doesn't require extensive setup. If you're techy then fine, but not everyone is.

    As for Tom and his comments regarding TV's and monitors, may i suggest a visit to Specsavers if that is your true feeling as you've clearly got some eyesight issues going on... sure there are a lot of lousy TV's around, but for not a huge chunk of cash there are some cracking ones around too!

  33. Mutiny


    Was very happy to see this little gem.

    Have been trying to get the Component / Composite malarkey sorted on my old TV so was keen to try this. But I haven't had any luck with the links to the awkwardtv forum or oxfeedbeef for the files to ssh over. any Idea what's going on as both sites seem to have out of action for a while. I cat fine any other sources either.

    found a neat HDMI-DVI / DVI-VGA TRICK but I'm not sure if it will out NASC of PAL.

  34. Tim Parker

    @A J Stiles


    "Component" video nowadays means YUV. Though the plugs are coded green, blue and red, they are not carrying the red, green and blue components that a SCART connector expects; rather, the green plug is carrying the Y signal (= 0.6 * G + 0.3 * R + 0.1 * B + timing pulses), the blue plug is carrying the U signal (= B - Y) and the red plug is carrying the V signal (= R - Y). Getting back the original RGB signals requires a bunch of op-amps and resistors (and before ICs, it would have required at least three valves).


    Uh yeah, indeed - I never said it needed an RGB input, but a 'component -> SCART' adaptor, of which there are legion e.g.

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