Fixing Apple TV’s Terrible UI

IR

Despite Apple’s unfailing dedication to UI, they still sometimes manage to put out some stinkers. The latest of these is the ‘keyboard’ for the search interface in the Apple TV. It’s an alphabetical keyboard, laid out in a square with the obvious frustration that goes along with that terrible idea. [Lasse] was frustrated with this design and realized searching anything with the Apple TV IR remote is a pain. His solution was to build his own version of the Apple TV remote with a web interface, powered by an Arduino.

Inspired by the Apple Remote Arduino Shield we featured a few years ago, [Lasse] stuck an IR LED int the pins of Arduino with an Ethernet shield, current limiting resistors be damned. The web UI is the innovative part of this build. He’s hosting a simple website on the Arduino that allows him to type – with a real keyboard – a search query into the website, and have the Arduino take care of moving the Apple TV cursor around to select each letter.

The web UI has all the features found on the Apple TV remote, including the swipe gestures, and has a really slick brushed metal texture to boot. You can check out the video of [Lasse]‘s project typing text into an Apple TV hilariously fast below.

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Raspberry Pi Media Center on an Apple TV

appletv_raspi

You may tend to think of the AppleTV as a sort of walled garden, and you would mostly be right. Apple keeps tight control over what runs on their devices. That said, [David] decided to look closer at how the various ‘applications’ work. It turns out, the applications are nothing more than glorified web plugins. Using XML and Javascript, the apps simply define library function calls, giving them a consistent interface. So using fairly simply methods, the options really open up. Unfortunately, the method for adding new sites isn’t enabled by default.

Using a jailbroken AppleTV, [David] was able to do a fair bit of detective work and found a way to enable the ‘Add Site’ option, which allowed him to use his Raspberry Pi as a media server. The good news: you don’t need to jailbreak if you’re running 5.2 or 5.3… you should be able to recreate his success fairly easily. The bad news: things seem to have changed in 6.0. [David] isn’t sure if this was Apple intentionally closing a hole, or just not dotting all of their i’s.

[David] put all of his research up on Github, including the rough code. If you haven’t updated your AppleTV yet, and you have a Raspberry Pi to use as a media server, give it a try and let us know how it goes in the comments.

Rant: Why I love what the Chromecast stands for

chromecast-and-box

I’ve had my hands on this Chromecast for almost a week now and I love it. Years ago I hacked my first Xbox after seeing [Kevin Rose] do it on The Screensavers (I did the hardware mod but that’s inconsequential). Why did I do this? So that I could run Xbox Media Center, the predecessor of XBMC. Since then I’ve dreamed of a device which can be hung on the back of the TV with Velcro and run XBMC. We basically got there with the Raspberry Pi, but the Chromecast is the form-factor that I had always envisioned. This lets me watch Netflix, while the RPi runs XBMC. The two are match made in heaven for under a hundred bucks.

That’s why I love the Chromecast device itself, but the bigger picture is that I love what it stands for. Keep reading to see what i mean.

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Plex hack runs Apple TV without a Jailbreak

plex-connect-on-apple-tv

Apple has been keeping a tight leash on the third generation of their Apple TV hardware. Not only has it stood up to every attempt at a Jailbreak, but they don’t allow 3rd party applications through the app store like the other iOS hardware does. The second generation hardware was a popular platform for XBMC. It required a jailbreak to load the home media software which is why it can’t be done on the newest box. But here’s an alternative. This hack uses DNS redirects to make Apple TV 3 a Plex frontend.

Instead of putting new software on the Apple TV this uses a separate computer to intercept its web traffic. You aim your Apple TV DNS at the computer running the script, then use the native Movie Trailer app, which will be populated with movies and TV shows from your Plex backend. All other functionality will be retained, making for a near-perfect solution. For more info on the system check out this forum.

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MythTV library on Apple TV without a jailbreak

[Dan] wrote in to share a link to his MythTv to Apple TV setup. He found a way to make the recordings he made on his Linux box available on the 2nd Generation Apple TV. Our first thought is that he would use XBMC on a jailbroken device  but that is not the case. The secret is to roll iTunes into the mix.

Take a look at the diagram above. The system starts with an Arch Linux box that runs MythTV, an open source program which allows you to record from tuner or encoder hardware. But actually watching those recordings on an iOS device is difficult for a couple of reasons. First, Apple likes to keep their devices locked up tight in hopes that you buy your entertainment rather than watching over-the-air records. Second, if you’re recording ATSC channels the files may be 1080i or 1080p, neither of which can be handled by the Apple TV 2. [Dan] gets around this by first using the command line version of Handbrake to transcode the recordings to an h264 format. He then uses iTunes running on an Windows 7 virtual machine (on the Linux box) to host the transcoded files in a library the Apple TV can access.

The new Apple TV

You’ve probably already heard about the Apple TV 2. It retails for $99 and packs a punch with HD video, optical audio, and WiFi in that tiny package. But as always, we like it for its hackability. Even though it’s just starting to ship, the hacks are already rolling in. The firmware is available from Apple’s servers and has already been unlocked with the yet-to-be-release SHAtter exploit. [Das_coach] even sent us a link to a video of the new Frontrow ported for the iPod touch (embedded after the break).

But the holy grail has to be XBMC. We’ve seen it on the first generation Apple TV and it was good. The second generation switches to the A4 processor which is an ARM Cortex-A8. Not quite as easy to port for as the Intel chip on the first generation was. But there is hope, one of the 2010 Google Summer of Code projects worked to port XBMC to another ARM device, it’s just a matter of inspiring some developers to take on the quest to make it happen. We can’t wait for the day that we can just velcro one of these to the back of our TV and be done with it, that first generation Xbox isn’t going to last forever.

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Apple TV with Boxee and more update

atvusb-creator

In November, we covered installing Boxee on AppleTV using atv-usb-creator. [Danny] has written a tutorial on installing Boxee, XBMC, NitoTV, SSH access, and external USB hard drive support. His method installs most of the software via the USB patch stick, then uses the SSH support to enable the external drive and install NitoTV. The tutorial lists a Mac running OSX 10.4 or newer as a prerequisite but there is now a Windows version of atv-usb-creator. According to their Google Code page Linux support for this package is on the way.

[via AppleTV Hacks]

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