Apple TV (1st Generation)
It seems silly to be writing about a device that went end of life over a decade ago, but I recently came across a 1st Generation Apple TV for less than a price of a carton of domestic beer and had an itch that needed scratching. You can read about the Apple TV family of devices here. There’s also an Apple TV (1st Generation) overview here. I think I bought my first one in 2009 or 2010 – not long before the end of its usefulness, if I recall correctly. At the time (and to this day), I was fascinated by the idea of being able to stream content to a television from my computer. I’d messed about with cheap hard drive based streaming devices, and even have a Pixel Magic HD MediaBox sitting in one of my cupboards. This was my first foray into Apple-based media handling (beyond plugging my iMac into the TV). The 1st Generation device was cool in that it was able to store data locally on its hard drive that was synced from iTunes. Unfortunately, the hardware was a little underpowered for what you paid for it, and you were locked in to the Apple ecosystem when it came to content selection. By that time I’d already invested in iTunes for music, but the video side of the equation was still a ways away from the relatively seamless experience that it is today.
Enter The FireCore
It took about 5 minutes to realise that only being able to watch Apple content was going to be a pain, so I paid for an app (aTV Flash) from FireCore that effectively enabled the Apple TV to load software like nitoTV and XBMC. You booted off a USB stick, loaded some code, and then you could run the FireCore apps and the Apple TV code at the same time. I thought it was pretty neat, although it again highlighted how the Apple TV wasn’t that great a performer when it came to watching any real variety of media formats. That said, it handled music videos pretty well, and I remember it playing standard definition DivX without too much trouble. FireCore Support is still up on the website, and I was even able to login to my account again and download the files I needed to get up and running with this new box.
High Definition, Or More Than Standard Definition?
I harp on a bit about the specs of the Apple TV, but it really wasn’t all that bad. If you wanted support for 1080p content, however, you really needed to install a third-party card: the Broadcom Crystal HD card (model BCM70015). FireCore support for the card is outlined here. You can view an installation guide here. There were a few different options for accessing the capabilities of the Crystal HD card, including using FireCore. I think I booted a USB stick running Crystalbuntu. There’s also an article on playing non-iTunes video that’s worth looking at.
You probably won’t be able to watch Netflix with it, even with the HD card installed and a working copy of XBMC. The native youTube app won’t work anymore either, I think. And there’s no chance you can log in to the Apple servers, or watch or listen to any of your content with modern versions of Apple Music or TV. I will admit, I have some old versions of macOS running as VMs, and I haven’t fired them up to see whether I could get iTunes to connect to the AppleTV at that point. Maybe something to waste a few more hours with on the weekend.
If you try to ssh into the box, you’ll likely get an error and you’ll need to configure your client to deal with a legacy ssh connection.
ssh -oKexAlgorithms=+diffie-hellman-group1-sha1 user@legacyhost
Once you’ve done that, you can login to the box and have a poke around. The username is frontrow. The password isn’t hard to guess.
Also, if you’re having trouble with the Smart Installer for nitoTV, you’ll need to track down a copy of MacOSXUpdCombo10.4.9Intel.dmg and ftp it to ~/Documents. You should then be able to run the installer.
I get what I need from my Apple TV (4th Generation) box nowadays via Plex and various streaming services, but my fascination with these little boxes that can connect you to various media sources remains a drain on my disposable income. Just as my Boxee box is no longer anything more than a fancy paperweight, so too has the utility of my various, older generation Apple TV devices waned over time. It’s not just an interesting lesson in the useful lifecycle of technology devices (“How dare I expect something to be functional after ten years”), but also an interesting reminder of how little control we have over the content we continue to pay the big studios for. I’m sure I’ve opined over the years about the number of times I’ve purchased Enter The Dragon and various Star Wars episodes on a plethora of different formats and resolutions, never really owning a “license” to consume the movie across various resolutions and devices. But the Apple TV (1st Generation) really brings home the fact that, even when I’ve purchased a copy of media from Apple, when and how I watch that piece of media is somewhat out of my control.
Hey, I’m not saying you need to be a weirdo like me and buy everything on physical media and then own multiple players of various formats. Heck, they’re just movies after all. And when you’re buying digital content from Apple they are reasonably clear about the fact that you’re really not in control of said media. But it’s nonetheless a scary thought to think about how much money we plough into this stuff. Just to have working devices sitting obsolete on the shelf within 5 years. Which reminds me, I should fire up my 2nd and 3rd Generation devices and see what they can do.