Your Apple TV just got a lot less boring with the help of nifty new tools that override its restrictions and add powerful capabilities.
Launched Friday morning, the hack for Apple TV 2 expands the set-top box’s multimedia playback to support almost every type of audio or video format, including 1080p HD content. By default, the Apple TV can only play a few formats compatible with iTunes, and only supports 720p video.
The hack gives Apple TV the ability to run XBMC, a versatile open-source media player already available for Windows, OS X, Linux, and the Xbox.
Most interestingly, you’ll be able to install plug-ins to add new features to the XBMC media player that have yet to be released (similar to the add-ons or extensions found in modern browsers like Firefox and Chrome). That could open the door to additional tools, such as support for Bluetooth keyboards and mice, widgets to display additional web information, new codecs and the like.
The XBMC player also launched today for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, giving these devices similar capabilities to play different kinds of media formats. Installation requires jailbreaking the devices.
“With what we’ve done under XBMC and iOS, we’re going to see very shortly a huge jump under what people start offering under the Apple TV,” said Scott Davilla, maker of XBMC.
The XBMC app is part of a renewed communal effort to hack the Apple TV, as Wired.com reported late last year. Shortly after Apple released the Apple TV 2, coders realized it ran iOS, the same operating system as the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Some key programmers in the iOS community and a few hackers of the original Apple TV have turned their attention to tinkering with the new $100 set-top box.
“Now you have all the people who have done amazing stuff on the iPhone working with us, and it’s made our jobs for the Apple TV a thousand times easier,” said Kevin Bradley, an Apple TV programmer who works under the handle [bile], in a previous interview with Wired.com. “I think some really amazing things could come out of this.”
The first new Apple TV hacks have been promising. Prior to the release of XBMC, programmer Erica Sadun released a utility called AirFlick to stream non-iTunes-supported video from a Mac to the Apple TV. She also released an app called AirPlayer to stream video from the Apple TV to the Mac, which you can’t normally do with the Apple TV alone.
So far, Apple TV has been jailbroken and a few apps, like XBMC, are available for the jailbroken platform. But there is no equivalent to Cydia, the underground marketplace for apps that’s available for jailbroken iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches.
Apple TV hackers are working on that, as adding Cydia support would allow people to add a wide variety of apps to the device’s main menu. For now, you’re limited to adding plugins to the XBMC media player, or manually installing a handful of other apps.
XBMC has not yet announced what plug-ins will be available, but stay tuned on the XBMC plug-ins page for any new releases.
To install the XBMC software on your Apple TV 2, you must connect it via USB to a computer and jailbreak it with Season Pass, which will automatically install XBMC.