Weekend Project: Patching AppleTV Take 2

AppleTV Take 2When I was in New York last summer I picked up an AppleTV set top box. Personally I think it’s the bargain of the century — for 200 I got a fast, virtually silent, easy-to-use replacement for my noisy old Windows Media Centre PC. Best of all, I managed to sell the old Media Centre on Ebay for 270.

I liked the AppleTV when I first plugged it in with its Version 1.o software. I liked it even more when they added YouTube in 1.1. But it was Take 2 that really made it special. Being able to find and stream Podcasts directly on AppleTV is my favourite addition.

However, the one niggle I’ve always had is the need to convert videos to MP4 then add them to iTunes before I could watch them. Software like iPodifier made the process pretty simple, but on my old ‘always on’ server machine (a 1.4GHz Celeron) it would take a couple of hours to convert a typical half-hour show.

Fortunately, a group of like-minded individuals have now come up with the solution, and it works both on PC and Mac. Basically, the key is to build a ‘patchstick’ — a bootable USB memory stick that you insert into the AppleTV which then enables SSH access into your set-top box! There’s a fairly long-winded process available to Mac users, but if you’re on a PC you can now shortcut the whole process thanks to ATV4Windows.com.

Patch 1Within an hour you can build a patchstick and patch your AppleTV. From there its a fairly simple process to install whatever software you want. Perian is a good place to start — it’ll give you support for Divx, WMV, etc. You’ll also want ATVFiles, a useful tool that lets you browse the hard drive for video files so you don’t have to add them to iTunes first.

Another useful little program is CouchSurfer — a WebKit-based browser with support for Flash that you can control using your AppleTV remote. It works surprisingly well.

There are other things I’d still like to get sorted. For example, there’s a torrent client that would allow you to download torrents directly using AppleTV; there’s a few tools that you can combine to browse SMB network shares; and there’s even NES, SNES and Sega Megadrive emulators available — although I guess you’d need a USB joystick to get the most out of those.

If anyone gets any of the cooler features working, please feel free to give me some pointers!