AppleTV and XBMC

xbox
Not one for Apple products, it came to my attention recently that the media centre I had been running on my old xbox for well over two years. Had been ported over to the first generation AppleTV. Way back when Apple first released this device, I originally thought it looked like an expansion for the Apple Mac Mini, all be it for a disc slot on the front, they look very similar.

For those of you not in the know, here’s is the principle of the AppleTV in a nugget. If you own an Ipod, Ipad or another fruit branded product sporting OSX. The chances are high that you use Itunes to play all of your music, which through itunes can be shared to other computers on your local network. I believe like Windows media player, Itunes uses UPnP to carry out this operation.

xbmc

With an AppleTV hooked in your living room, you can link the ATV to your network via Wifi, just as you might do with your laptop. Once connected you can log in to your Itunes shares, play music from your music library, even purchase new music/movies via Itunes.

While people with old xbox’s have been doing this for some years now using XBMC (XBox Media Center). The technology or ability to set up this sort of service has been for some time restricted to the tech savvy. While attempts have been made to push the computer in to the living room, nobody really did it better then Apple. Keeping with tradition, Apple took the technology, made it idiot proof and offered it to everyone. But as always with Apple there was a catch, if you want to watch movies, listen to music, you had to do it under their terms. Which meant using Itunes, spending money via itunes, renting movies via itunes, selling your soul via itunes..ok i made that last bit up, but trust me that time is coming!

Escape from Apples shackles was finally granted, thanks to the efforts of Scott Davilla and Stephan Diederich two men from the XBMC team. While the process does require you jailbreak your ATV, the end result is very rewarding. XBMC pushes the usefulness of the device well beyond the limits of the stock software. Once installed, you can access any networks shares on your Apple or Windows network. Browsing through folders and streaming content straight to your television.

I honestly can’t praise XBMC enough, early this year i installed the software on to my girlfriends Xbox. Since then the little black box from Microsoft is in daily use. As Television reception is terribly poor in her area, the Xbox has taken on the role of set top box, music center. Streaming live feeds of BBC One, BBC Two and with the aid of such impressive software as Navi-x a wealth of other content is available.

Now no review would be fair without a run down of the failings of this software, of which there are some. However in my opinion for something that is free, these failings or bugs are negligible.

XBMC is a work in progress, it is never 100%. The developers of the software prefer to use the term “Stable release” which you may find is a term toss about by many software developers. Indeed you will likely find releases of Linux prescribe to this system when describing some of their downloads. Stable as the name might suggest, is a version of the software which having under gone extensive testing, has operated in the way intended without visible fault or error. At least that is my interpretation, feel free to look it up online.

But to say it is stable, does not mean you wont encounter the odd crash when performing a certain operation or when trying to run a video file the software does not recognise. Essentially it’s us button pressers and technological simpletons who are left to stumble across these bugs, where ever they might be hiding and to report them to the developers, so that the program can be ironed out and the bugs removed.

I have found in my experience XBMC crashes or stalls on me about 2-3 times a week, depending on what i am doing. I would say 50% of the time this is due to the Xbox running short of memory and simply being unable to get the job done. But this is easily rectified by a quick on and off and we are back in business. As for the AppleTV, I have witnessed it crash 3 times, each time it was while i had left it alone for an extended period of time. I eventually solved the problem by altering the sleep/screen saver settings within XBMC. As it appears the device does not like being put in to standby via the media centre software.

My overall verdict is that this software while still with some faults, is a must have for anyone owning an ageing 1st gen AppleTV. Overall the benefits for having this on the device out way the odd bug. And while XMBC is no longer officially supporting the Xbox, the AppleTV is and will likely get support for some time to come.

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