Apple TV plus Hulu and more
Recently I acquired an Apple TV 2, in all it’s Apple glory – well, actually that’s where this story begins because if you have an Apple TV, you know it’s rather limited out of the box. So that’s where a little afternoon hacking comes in. In only a few short hours with this amazing device, I successfully installed XBMC on it, configuring it to by-pass iTunes completely and setup another configuration to access sites like Pandora, Hulu, Amazon Video-on-Demand, and many other sites. Here’s a little background on the Apple TV 2.
The Apple TV 2 is a palm-sized media box which can access the iTunes store to rent movies and TV shows. It can also access Netflix, music, and photos. It does all this via your home wi-fi or it can plug into your internet router. It’s got a sleek little remote to control the content. You connect it to your TV via HDMI. Basically, that’s it (that anyone cares about). But in my home network, this little device is not nearly up to snuff. We need more power – more juice. And here’s how I got it to function as the media box it should.
First let me say, it’s pretty darn easy. The steps are clear, it just sounds harder than it looks.
Jailbreak your Apple TV 2.
Thanks to Gizmodo and SeasOnPass there is no guess work. Now Jailbreaking is simply the process of installing custom firmware onto a device in order to add more functionality. To do that with the ATV2, AppleTvHacks.net has drawn up the procedure for opening up this device (or see it here right from the software developers). In summary, it’s a matter of connecting your ATV2 to your computer and running the installer. There’s a little more to it so make sure to check out the link.
Tip: what they don’t mention in the procedure, is that when after you’ve jailbroken it, unplug it from the computer and plug it into your TV and network. You need to set it up as you would normally so that its connected to the internet thus allowing you to proceed to the next step. What’s awesome is that once you power it up on your TV, you can’t even tell it’s been jailbroken – it looks just like it would out the box (but it’s not).
You’ve just jailbroken your Apple TV. What this immediately does is allows you to SSH into the device – in other words, you’re remoting into the file system on the hardware necessary in order to install XBMC. “XBMC (formerly “Xbox Media Center”) is a free, open source (GPL) multimedia player that runs on the first-generation Microsoft Xbox™, (not the newer Xbox 360), as well as on computers running Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows” (wiki.xbmc.org). This is the tool that allows you to connect to your media content outside of iTunes, for instance, your movies on your network harddrive, otherwise, you’d have to port all your media into iTunes (boo!). The install is pretty easy. Click here to view the steps done from a Mac.
Note: So now you can access your media out side of iTunes, plus have more functionality than before. But if you want to access hulu, you must continue on.
In order to access hulu basic, pandora, Amazon VOD, and more, you need a great piece of software called PlayOn. Oh yeah, and well, you’ll need a PC in the house. Fortunately, that’s not an issue for me. I have all sorts of computers in the house. The setup is again, pretty easy. You can see how it’s done by checking out this YouTube video (or see below). The video includes the entire process of jailbreaking and installing XBMC so it’s a good reference tool.
In summary, download and install Playon on a PC connected to your network, preferably one that’s on all the time. Open PlayOn and configure your sites in the Channels tab. Make sure the media server is running (on the General settings tab – might take 5-10 minutes). Go into XBMC on the ATV2 and connect to the PlayOn server you just set up. Kaboom! There ya go. You know have all sorts of goodies. Easy right?
I’ve been running this setup for only a day now and so far so good. No fires or bricks. Say you mess up though, and didn’t brick the device, or you don’t like the setup, just restore the factory firmware through iTunes.