Brief overview and history
The Apple TV is a home theatre device that allows a user to stream content from iTunes or other iOS devices, outputting the content onto an HDTV and home theatre system. It allows user to view photos, stream music or stream video, provided that they are in a supported format. In addition to streaming your own content, the Apple TV also supports other Internet media services such as YouTube.
The first generation of the Apple TV was released to the public on March 21, 2007. It included a 40 GB hard drive and 256 MB of DDR2 RAM and was powered by a 1 GHz Intel "Crofton" Pentium M. On May 31 of the same year, Apple released another model with a 160 GB hard drive that was otherwise identical to the previously released version. The 40 GB model would go on to eventually become discontinued as of September 14, 2009.
Up until January 15 of the following year, the Apple TV could only stream or sync content with the help of a computer running iTunes on either Windows or Mac OS X. This changed when a free update was released that day, allowing the device to retrieve and output content directly from iTunes, MobileMe, Flickr, and, later in the device's lifecycle, YouTube.
On September 1, 2010, the second generation of the Apple TV was released. It added support for Netflix on the device as well as other subscription based models such as NBA TV and MLB.TV. With this second generation, Apple also switched the operating system powering the device from a modified version of Mac OS X 10.4 to iOS, the same operating system that powers the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Though the operating system is the same, the user interface is presented drastically differently to be much simpler and user-friendly to use on a full-size television. This second generation model also had some notable changes in its hardware which are noted in the Technical Specifications below.
The third generation of the Apple TV was released on March 16, 2012 along with a new version of iOS that overhauled the user interface and added some minor functionality to searching and browsing through the native iTunes and Trailers applications. It is a very modest generational leap when compared with the changes made between the first and second generations of devices.
First Generation Devices
The first generation devices contained the following ports:
- Optical Audio
- Analog RCA Stereo Audio
- 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet
- USB 2.0
In addition to these external ports, these devices also housed the following internal technologies:
- 802.11n wireless networking
- Built-in IR receiver (supported by the included Apple Remote)
They supported the following video formats:
- H.264 and Protected H.264 encoding in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov formats
- MPEG-4 encoding in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov formats
They supported the following audio formats:
- AAC and Protected AAC
- MP3 and MP3 VBR
- Apple Lossless
- Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound pass-through
They supported the following photo formats:
The dimensions of the first generation Apple TV models were 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.1", and they weighed in at 2.4 pounds. They were also both home to a built-in 48-watt universal power supply.
Second generation devices
For simplicity's sake only the differences in specifications from the first generation devices that are described above will be listed.
The processor used by the second generation Apple TV was Apple's own A4 Chip. It also lost the usable hard drive that was present in the original model, though there are 8 GB of NAND Flash Storage within the device.
Keeping with the trend of shedding different technologies, this device also removed the following ports:
- Analog RCA Stereo Audio
- USB 2.0
The USB 2.0 port was replaced with a Micro-USB port, though it can only be used to reset the device back to its factory settings.
The second generation Apple TV also removed photo support for BMP & PNG file types, though it did add video support for M-PEG encoding in .avi format as well as both HE-AAC (V1) and Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4) audio formats.
This device is also notably considerably smaller and lighter than its predecessor, with dimensions of 3.9" x 3.9" x 0.9" and a weight of 0.6 pounds. They are also much more energy efficient, running off of only a 6-watt universal power supply as opposed to the 48-watt power supply present in the first iteration.
Third generation devices
This device was released in March 2012, and included a number of component changes. The processor has been upgraded to the Apple Single-Core A5 chip, and the device allows for a maximum resolution output of 1080p as opposed to the previous maximum resolution of 720p in earlier generations. Otherwise, the device appears to be strikingly similar to the second generation. A Rev A model was released on 28 January 2013, with a software upgrade to version 5.2, and able to run on iOS 6.1.
Modifications and hacks
Though the Apple TV is a very capable device, it is lacking in many aspects of functionality that people wanted to achieve. One example of this is the very limiting number of video (and even audio) formats that the device could natively handle. As is the case with a large number of Apple devices, hacks eventually became available that could drastically expand upon the device's existing capabilities:
First generation devices
Arguably one of the most popular and easiest ways to modify a first generation Apple TV is by using a program called aTV Flash. This program allows you to play just about any video format, use a web browser, display weather information or view RSS feeds. It even allows you to use an external hard drive with the device through the USB interface, greatly increasing your storage capacity.
Another very powerful function that this modification allows for is the use of alternative media center software such as XBMC (Xbox Media Center). This is a very powerful tool that can be loaded with many useful extensions. See below for more details.
Users have also modified the hardware of the device to install a new internal hard drive or even enable true 1080p resolution output.
Second generation devices
aTV Flash has also been updated to support the second generation of Apple TV devices. The version of the software that supports this is known as aTV Flash (black). However, a second generation Apple TV needs to be jailbroken for this software to be installed. Incidentally, the same company (FireCore) that is behind aTV Flash (black) has also developed a tool that allows a custom firmware to be installed on the device. The tool is known as Seas0nPass, and is a necessary tool in performing any sort of software modification on this generation of Apple TVs. The current version of Seas0nPass is compatible with iOS 4.4.4, which supports the following plugins:
- Couch Surfer = web browser
- Last.fm = music streaming service
- Media Player = allows user to stream most video files through native Apple TV user interface
- NitoTV = application repository that allows user to install other custom plugins
- Overflow = allows user to hide unwanted items on home screen
- Plex = easily stream videos from another computer, not necessarily on the same network
- Remote HD = control/mirror an Apple TV with an iPhone, iPad or other iOS device
- Rowmote = alternative application to control Apple TV with iOS device
- RSS Feeds = allows user to read custom RSS feeds on Apple TV
- Weather = adds weather forecast functionality to home screen
- XBMC = aforementioned alternative media manager
Third generation devices
Firecore is planning on releasing a version of aTV Flash (black) that will be compatible with both second and third generation Apple TV devices. No other information is available at this time.
Alternative media managers
XBMC is the most popular alternative media manager that is available for Apple TV, and is likely one of the most popular media managers on any platform. It is free and open source and will play virtually any audio or video format. It is optimized to play content over a network and is supplemented with many different add-ons to extend its functionality. Many of these available add-ons are compatible with iOS. Here is a short list of some of the most popular add-ons and their functionalities:
- Free Cable = searches cable network websites for free tv streaming feeds
- VEVO = searches the popular music video website for music videos that can be streamed
- Grooveshark = stream music using this popular music streaming service
- Apple TV (1st generation) - Technical Specifications. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Apple TV - Part 1: Unboxed and Dissected. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- What's inside an Apple TV: Tear-down reveals (almost) all. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Apple TV (2nd generation) - Technical Specifications. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- New Apple TV Offers 8 GB of Internal Storage, 256 MB. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Apple TV 3 Specs. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Couch Surfer. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Last.FM. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Plex. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Overflow. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Grooveshark. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.
- Free Cable and Vevo. Retrieved on 2012-03-13.