Make your old Apple TV better than new

By | November 14, 2011

The 2nd generation Apple TV is selling faster than imagined and offers features seemingly impossible for the 1st gen ATV, but with a minimal ~$50 investment and some simple hacks you can turn Apple’s old “hobby” into something quite special: a HDTV appliance running XBMC (and Boxee). Note that Netflix streaming is technologically possible, but not available at the time of this post.

To be more specific: out of the box Apple TV only decodes H264 video and has some really old hardware, however by replacing the Wifi card with a brand-new 1-watt hardware decoder called the “Broadcom Crystal HD” you can start playing very high quality video for other codecs such as DivX, Xvid, WMV, and so on. As for a video library, personally I’ve opted to stream video from a NAS in my house, but others have upgraded the internal hard drive on the Apple TV to hold more videos.

For this project you’ll need:

– 1st Gen Apple TV (40GB or 160GB)
– Torx T8 and T10 screwdrivers (to install Crystal HD)
– Broadcom Crystal HD BCM970015 (~$39.99)

You can buy it from our buydvb online shop:

– Non-wifi connectivity for your Apple TV (we’re replacing the wifi card)
– About 45-90 minutes depending on your comfort level

Alright, let’s get started…

1.) Install the Broadcom Crystal HD BCM970015 (or the inferior but okay BCM970012 or Habey HB-VD904) card in an Apple TV.

Click here to watch the installation instructions >>

2.) Hack your Apple TV for Boxee, except on step 6 just install XBMC as well as Boxee (it’s in the same place).

3.) Install custom Crystal HD drivers [source] by running the following commands in the Terminal in Mac OS X (or whatever you want in Windows) [credits]:

ssh frontrow@appletv.local

The default password is “frontrow”. Now enter this command into the terminal once the password is accepted to add a menu item for downloading the drivers:

defaults write com.teamxbmc.xbmclauncher XBMCAdditionalDownloadPlistURLs -array-add

Also add a menu item for the nightly build of XBMC; this makes the very most recent version available rather than just major releases:

defaults write com.teamxbmc.xbmclauncher XBMCAdditionalDownloadPlistURLs -array-add

Finally, go to the Launcher menu and then Downloads in the main Apple TV menu and select “Crystal HD r171 (20101009)”. Do the same for the nightly build (e.g. “XBMC svn r33778″). These two downloads will install the driver and update XBMC respectively. Reboot the Apple TV afterwards.

4.) Launch XBMC and confirm the setup worked by navigating to System -> Video -> Playback and the second item down should say “allow hardware acceleration (crystalhd)”.

5.) Profit.

That’s all! Enjoy the 720p and 1080p HDTV video. Btw, (re)focus is a really well-designed skin for XBMC that works more fluidly on the Apple TV.

PS: You can remove the extra download menu items we added in step 4 by using the following Terminal command after SSHing into the Apple TV:

defaults delete com.teamxbmc.xbmclauncher XBMCAdditionalDownloadPlistURLs


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1.What is HDTV Decoder?