Where great old Macs live again!

Well, as some would know, I purchased an Apple TV late last year. I got a second hand 40Gb HDD model running v1.0 of the firmware with the purpose of using it to stream video from my G4 Xserve over a 802.11g network.

As most of my video collection was in AVI/DIVX format in order to work with my old Elgato EyeHome, I had two choices:

1). Re-encode every video file that I had (which would have taken months)
2). Hack the Apple TV to accept the AVI/DIVX format

Not having much time or processor power at my disposal, and also being rather impatient, I opted for the second option.

This was actually a pretty easy task in the end. But like most, I wanted to play with all the goodies available to a hacked Apple TV to see what it could do!

Originally, the only way to hack your Apple TV was to open the case and remove the hard drive, take an image, apply the hacks and then re-install the drive. Very messy - and voids your warantee.

Fortunately, now there are both commerical and open source USB patch sticks that can do the job without the need for any tools - other than a suitable USB stick.

Step one: Choose your firmware

Now, the Apple TV has had a lot of firmware updates. At the time of writing, it has just been upgraded to version 2.3.1. There are a number of reasons why you might want to stay with version 2.1 - largely to do with a number of hacked applications that do not work with newer versions. If you want to try out a slightly older version of the firmware, it can be easily done using the application OSUpdate ( It has good instuctions over at Awkward TV. But you need to hack your Apple TV first to do this! Probably the best option is to do a factory reset, hack and them upgrade to your desired firmware version, and then hack again. I have done this and it works.

However, there are features since version 2.3 that I can't do with out - most notably movie playlists. As a result I have stuck with the latest firmware and do not use many of the hacked applications.

You need to decide what is best for you!

Step two: Create a patchstick

I opted to use the "atvusb-creator" at GoogleCode open source patch stick ( It worked beautifully with my Lexar 2Gb USB drive (model JDFF2BG-00-5003 Rev G) and was applied using a G4 Cube.

Most recently I have chosen not to include XBMC or Boxee as part of the patchstick, because I prefer the simplicity ot the Apple TV - iTunes interface. I found XBMC and Boxee to have quite clunky interfaces, and required navigating lots of directories.

But lots of people like these applications - if you do, then go for it!

Step theee: install Nito TV Take 2

Nito TV ( is a great little application which provides an on screen interface to perform a range of codec and other installations. In the end, I only install the codecs to allow the embedded iTunes streaming software to play a variety of formats (in particular AVI/DIVX).

You do need to be comfortable with the Unix command line (ie Mac OS Terminal) and the ssh and scp commands, to get it installed, but there are good instructions and I consider it to be an easy install.

Step four: install the codecs

As mentioned above, once installed Nito TV appears as an application on the main menu of your Apple TV. For my purposes, I ended up just installing the Perian packaged codecs. The current version of Nito TV also allows you to check for updates to itself, and Perian using the on screen menu. You will need an internet connection on your Apple TV for this.

Step five: convert your movie files

Now when you've done all the above, your Apple TV is able stream and play AVI/DIVX movies - but a build in 'feature' of iTunes means the Apple TV will not see them!

There is a little trick that adds the appropriate code to the start of an AVI/DIVX movie and allows the Apple TV to 'see' them in the iTunes directory. A handy Applescrpt has been written called 'AppleTV fooler' ( which automates this process, and allows batch processing. While this does create a new file for each movie, it does not re-encode the format, and is therefore significantly faster! One downside however, is that any surround encoding will be lost in the process.

That's it. My current AppleTV set up was made exactly as described above, and I'm happy with it. You mileage may vary, and that's OK too. Hacking your Apple TV is all about personal preferences.

PS: For those who want to connect a composite TV to your Apple TV, it is possible, and I did that originally. I've since moved to pure HDMI connectivity. However if you're looking for a software solution to the composite problem, take a look at this thread
. NB: won't worry about the discussion on changing cables - you don't need to do that!

Regards to all,


Views: 395

Comment by JonG on March 21, 2009 at 3:49pm
I use ATVFiles which gives you a new Files menu on the AppleTV that you use to navigate your files. I have an external drive plugged in to the AppleTV, and use AFP from the Mac to mount the external drive and copy files across to it. Saves mucking about with iTunes.
Comment by Mark Frischknecht on March 29, 2009 at 3:02pm
I just use boxee and don't bother with apple's frontrow interface on the appleTV


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