There are a few ways to hack the AppleTV 1G (the one with a hard disk inside) of which “atvusb-creator” and “aTV Flash” are popular. They are essentially the same thing except “atvusb-creator” is a freeware while “aTV Flash” costs US$49.95. The free “atvusb-creator”, however, requires a little more work to get it going. So if you’re a computer idiot I’d suggest you buy the “aTV Flash” and let the pros help you. Here I detail the steps you will follow to hack your AppleTV using “atvusb-creator.”

You’ll need a USB flash drive. Most newer models of USB flash drive will work. I currently use a 8GB SanDisk Cruzer Blade that I have lying around the house. Don’t worry what disk format your USB flash drive is; atvusb-creator will format it accordingly. Just plug your emptied USB flash drive into your Mac’s USB port.
Step 1: Downloading the AppleTV Firmware File

You need to download the current AppleTV firmware version 3.0.2 file by right-clicking and saving this link to your Mac [1]. It’s probably harmless but do not open the downloaded .dmg in case you mess it up.

Step 2: Downloading and Preparing the avtusb-creator Patchstick, on Mac OS X

If you’re on Windows, please follow this guide to create the Patchstick.  It’s important that you tick the option to install the “SSH” software (see reference pic) or else you won’t be able to transfer files between your PC and the AppleTV. After that, come back here and skip to Step 3.

Go and download atvusb-creator from here to your Mac. I’m using version 1.0.b13 in this tutorial. After that, unzip the downloaded file and run the enclosed app named, atvusb-creator (see reference pic).  You’ll make sure “ATV-Patchstick” is selected under “Choose an Installation”. Then click on “Choose a DMG” and select the AppleTV firmware file, named 2Z694-6013-013.dmg, you downloaded in Step 1. Now make sure all four green check marks under “Installation Options” are checked. Finally, and this is important, make sure the “USB Target Device” listed is your USB flash drive. You can verify that by looking in Mac OS X’s System Profiler (see reference pic), accessible via clicking “More Info” in “About This Mac”. Then look under “Hardware -> USB -> Name of your USB Flash Drive -> BSD Name: . Make sure the target device is absolutely correct. Otherwise if you accidentally selected your external USB hard disk instead, its contents will be wiped out by atvusb-creator! You have been warned. I repeat, check and make sure you selected the correct USB flash drive. You have been warned, twice. Ready? Click on the “Create using ->” button to start making the Patchstick. Once it’s done, you can yank out your USB flash drive straight away as it has been unmounted from your Mac OS X for you.

Unable to Create USB Stick on Mac OS X Mountain Lion?
It has come to my attention users of Mac OS X 10.8 (and maybe 10.7 too) are not able to create the USB stick. Read this post on how to do it.


Step 3: Hacking it

Before we actually do that, please make sure your AppleTV is working nicely as per it should such as it is connected, can sync to your iTunes, can play streaming media etc.

Now plug the Patchstick USB flash drive you created in Step 2 into the AppleTV’s USB port. Then making sure the AppleTV is not actively assessing its hard disk, turn off its power supply to shut it down. Wait 5 seconds before you power it up again. Sit back and watch text scrolling by. It’s done hacking when the scrolling text stops. At this point, read the on-screen instructions, one of which says to the effect you can reboot your AppleTV. But before you turn off the power to reboot it, and this is uber important, unplug the Patchstick first! I repeat, unplug the Patchstick *before* you turn off power to reboot your newly hacked AppleTV. Otherwise, it will hack your AppleTV again, which was causing problems in an earlier release of atvusb-creator!

Step 4: Initial Setup After Hacking

Your AppleTV should boot up as per normal showing the nice Apple logo followed by the fancy animated opening ceremony before it settles down to its familiar home screen. But wait, you now have two new Options — “Software Menu” and “Launcher”. Let’s look at “Launcher”, which is where you launch 3rd party apps like XBMC & Boxee.  They are apps that essentially let you play videos and music files not supported by Apple such as .rmvb, .avi, .divx, .wmv, .wma, .aiff, just to name a few, and gain access to more online contents then just YouTube that Apple provided.

Step 5: Setting Up XBMC & Boxee

If you attempt to launch XBMC or Boxee from the Launcher menu now, you’ll get an error message because we need to update them to work with Launcher. So let’s do it by selecting “Downloads” under the Launcher menu, and hit “XBMC 9.11″. AppleTV will proceed to download and install XBMC automatically. Now repeat the process for “Boxee beta 0.9.22.13692″. Finally take this opportunity to update your Launcher to version 3.2.5 by hitting “Launcher 3.2.5″ too; it’s a small download compared to the previous two apps.

Okay, you have updated XBMC, Boxee and Launcher. You may play with them now, but please go to Launcher’s “Settings” and toggle “ATV OS Update enabled” from Yes to No, just in case a new version of AppleTV’s OS upgrade breaks your hacking.

(Optional) Step 5A: Setting up nitoTV

I won’t go into details what neat things nitoTV does, but if you install it now, you’ll be able to plug in an external USB Hard/Flash Drive into your AppleTV’s USB port and access its content in XBMC. Skip to Step 6 if you’re not interested in having this functionality, or can’t spare half an hour installing it now. You can come back to install it some other day.

Let’s do it. Go to Software Menu -> 3rd Party. Notice there’re only 4 options available. Select “Check for Updates”, and wait patiently. There should be a progress bar or some animation going on the screen but no, it’s a strange blind wait. Nevetheless, you’ll notice there’ll be a whole lot more stuffs after checking for updates is done. Once that happens, scroll down and select “nitoTV”and install it. Reboot (read: turn off and on the power) when it’s done.

After rebooting, you’ll see a new option “nitoTV” on the home screen. Selecting the “Files” option under it yeilds no response. That’s because we’re still a few steps away. So let’s continue: nitoTV -> Settings -> Install Software -> Smart Installer. Wait patiently. Go take a shower or something; it’s a long wait. It’ll download the hefty Mac OS X 10.4.9 Combo Update. Oh yah, now you know; your AppleTV doesn’t run the latest Snow Leopard (OS X ver 10.6) OS nor even its predecessor, the Leopard (OS X ver 10.5) but the half a decade old Tiger (OS X ver 10.4.) There’s nothing wrong with that though.

Are we done yet? Yes, but you see a “Install Partial or Failed” error right? Don’t panic. Mine too! Just Exit the screen and run Smart Installer again. The 2nd time around everything will be fine and you will be able to complete the installation by restarting the Finder. After that, Reboot (you know how to do that already, don’t you?)

After rebooting, go try the “Files” option you tried earlier but yeild no response. You should see your USB drive. No, you don’t see it? Hmm… did you forget to plug one in?! lol. If it’s already plugged in, un-plug and plug it in again before you try again; it takes a few seconds for the OS to mount a newly connected USB device hor. Remember that.

Done. Your AppleTV now has nitoTV and more importantly, supports external USB drive [2] as a source too.

Step 6: Other Things

Strictly speaking this tutorial has accomplished its mission as you can now SSH (the how-tos) into your AppleTV, and third party apps XBMC, Boxee (and nitoTV) are up and running. I’ll leave it to you to explore the rest of the things under the “Software Menu” as installed by atvusb-creator’s Patchstick yourself.

One important bug I must point out now is; do not install the “ATVFiles” option from “Software Menu -> 3rd Party -> Trusted, as it is not compatible with AppleTV OS 3.x. If you install it, your screen will go blank and fixing that bug can be a pain.  Here’s how to install it correctly, which you can do so later as frankly, the ATVFiles plugin is of little use.

You might want to look around the blog for other topics, such as how to enable display of non-English text (such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc) , how to use XBMC, how to force re-start the AppleTV, how to keep it simple, and especially of interest to all Mac OS X user, how to mount your AppleTV’s hard disk on your Mac’s Desktop.

Enjoy your hacked AppleTV, tv as it should be.

If you find this tutorial useful, and can spare a few dollars, please consider making a donation to my online fund. Thanks!

[1] You can get other versions from: http://www.iclarified.com/entry/index.php?enid=970

[2] Apple HFS and MS-DOS format *only*; no NTFS.

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