Island in the tech stream


— 4:16 PM on December 19, 2011

It's been over a year since the second-generation Apple TV emerged from the Cupertino location of Hobbytown USA, yet the black, minier-than-a-mini set-top box remains intriguing for what it does and confounding for what it doesn't. It's much smaller and more powerful than the original Apple TV that debuted in 2007. Yet that new A4 chip still won't push out 1080p video, limiting itself to 720p just like its forbear. And it runs cooler because it lacks a hard drive. It's nothing but a streamer, baby. So I hope you like keeping your computer on all the time. At least until iTunes Match extends to videos. And good luck with that.

Still, it's a lot cheaper than the original ATV. When I was gifted my Gen1 over Christmas in 2008, I think it was just over $200 for a refurb 40GB version. How quaint. Of course, as I've written of before, I hacked that ATV with a 250GB drive and ATVUSB-creator to give it some additional oomph with Boxee and other bits. But in the end, that original ATV became nothing more than a way to watch home movies on our main television instead of having to gather the children around a laptop.

What I really wanted from my Apple TV was AirPlay and AirPlay Mirroring, features that the second generation now sports. These handy new standards from Apple let you beam video from one device to another—in my case, an iPhone to, hopefully, an Apple TV. Mirroring lets you, you know, mirror what's on one device to another. So you can play Infinity Blade II on your 80-inch AQUOS. Assuming you have an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S and an ATV 2, of course.

Which I don't. As in, I don't own any of those devices. I'm holding out for the iPad 3 that should hit in three or four months. I'd love a 4S, but might just hang on to my 3GS until the 5 arrives so I can get off the "S" upgrade train. And unless your memory or reading skills are truly horrific, you know my ATV status.

So what to do, what to do? What else? Hack that mother.

While I had initially set up my Apple TV in a hacked manner, its usefulness had waned over the years. As such, when Apple released its final update for the Gen1 ATVs, I went ahead and updated without re-hacking. Fortunately, using ATVUSB-creator is ridiculously easy. Plug in a USB stick, run the program. Take said USB stick, plug it into your ATV, restart ATV and watch the hacking unfold. Reboot. Done.

The hacking permits SSH access to your Apple TV, necessary for step two: Enabling AirPlay. Now, this isn't quite full-on Apple-approved AirPlay. It's AirPlay via a third-party iOS app called RemoteHD. RemoteHD can be used as a remote control for any Apple device, as well as viewing one device's screen on another. It is not specifically meant for Apple TV. But the devs were cool enough to add AirPlay enhancement to the mix. After sending three little commands via Terminal to the ATV, the RemoteHD components were installed.

Then I downloaded the actual app to my iPhone. At $7.99, it's a bit steep. A lot steep. But cheaper than a $90 ATV 2 (at Amazon). And really, I do it for you people, so it's a smallish price to pay. I fired up the app and, well, had no real idea what to do. I could control my ATV just fine, just like with Apple's own Remote app. No big whoop. But I couldn't find any hint of AirPlay. So I got all Millennial and called my mom who called the developers' moms and informed them that their sons were denying me entitled right to stream Ernie's Rubber Ducky song to my TV for my own entitled children to see.

Or I just opened up YouTube, tapped the output button and selected the ATV. And it worked. Huzzah, yadda, yadda.

I'm glad it worked. I'm glad it was easy. I'm glad it was cheap. It'll tide me over until I upgrade everything (and will probably end up with some actual Apple TV TV instead of a box). But, of course, it's only halfway there. I can stream YouTube, my own videos and my own photos. But no mirroring of apps. So, no A Charlie Brown Christmas or The Monster at the End of This Book in 720p semi-glory.

Oh well. Not bad for mildly aged tech.

Later, Fox

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