iCaved: Apple TV edition

 

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OK, so almost 2 years I blogged on MySpace about how I didn’t need an Apple TV (a post which is mirrored here, for those of you brave enough to click back far enough in time). Long story short, now I (finally) have one. What changed?

My grievances with Apple TV basically came down to the iTunes movie infrastructure at the time. I wasn’t so into downloading movies at the same price I could buy the doggone DVD for, and there were no rentals. I also didn’t like having the stuff so tied to the iTunes software, taking up gobs of hard drive space on both my (imagined) Apple TV and my main computer. And last but not least, it was rather limited in what else it could do.

For all intents and purposes, most of those complaints have been addressed. Rentals were introduced months ago, both in SD and HD quality. More functions were added last year, such as YouTube (a time waster I can still live without, thankyouverymuch). And the big one, the open-source community has hacked the Apple TV six ways from Sunday, making that little white box far more useful than Steve Jobs probably could have imagined.

So, iCaved. A couple weeks ago, I bit the bullet, headed to the Legacy Village Apple Store, bought the damn thing and then paid $50 to hack it with ATVFlash, which is basically just a collection of freeware and open-source utilities that have been put under one package by the folks at Apple Core, LLC. Buy a cheap USB thumb stick, use their installer to transfer the appropriate files, plug it in, start up the Apple TV and wha-la! It now does way more than what Apple ever intended, and it’s no longer tied down to the iTunes monarchy. (Which, as I mentioned in my original post, is not a bad thing for music… but I still haven’t quite drank the Kool-Aid as far as movies are concerned.)

So what can I do with Apple TV now? Surf the web using Couch Surfer (think of the Safari browser on Apple TV, but not quite as elegant), play DVD disc images and formerly-incompatible movies with nitoTV or Boxee or XBMC, mount my new NAS box via an SMB share (go back two posts for more on that) and a whole lot more. Most of that “whole lot more” comes courtesy of Boxee, a great open-source package that gives you a new interface for the Apple TV, adding the ability to watch programs from Hulu, MySpaceTV, a few TV networks and much more.

Hulu? On Apple TV? Since I’ve been thinking about kicking some of my Dish HD channels to the curb to save money, I was thinking of Hulu to fill in some of the blanks, such as my 4-nights-a-week injection of THE COLBERT REPORT, which recently went live on Hulu. Unfortunately, Hulu via Boxee isn’t quite perfect yet, but it’s getting there (and it’s perfectly watchable… the picture quality is about on par with my SD Dish signal!).

The folks at Boxee just released a new update this week that streamlines some of the stuff it does, and the Mac version also adds Netflix Watch Instantly streaming, which would be an awesome addition to Apple TV. Their programmers are still working the bugs out of using it via Apple TV, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it soon.

Boxee’s other great talent is loading DVD disc images, which work almost like sticking a disc in a DVD player. I say “almost” because it seems to vary from disc to disc… some discs exhibit weird menu glitches, but in all cases you can get the movie (and extra features) playing, and with full 5.1 surround sound. I was initially disappointed with my Apple TV hacking, playing disc images through the included nitoTV, which doesn’t currently allow 5.1 streams to pass through. So when I discovered that Boxee did it (and more fluidly, for that matter), I was hooked.

Suffice it to say, I’m ripping every DVD I can get my hands on to my new NAS box and using Apple TV (and sometimes the Playstation 3) to watch them. Just in time for a long, cruel winter! And one of these days, I’ll get around to actually buying or renting some movies on iTunes, too…

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 5th, 2008 at 5:28 pm and is filed under Apple Talk, Gadgets, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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