I’ve got an AppleTV 2. I like bouncing video from my iPad 1 to the telly via AirPlay but other than that it’s largely useless because I don’t buy video from iTunes and I don’t convert the video I do own to the format that iTunes and all dependant Apple devices recognise, because life’s too short. Instead, I jailbroke the box when I got it and installed XBMC. This worked really well until I upgraded to Lion which broke streaming due to Apple changing how Lion handled SMB sharing.

After much hair-pulling and XBMC-forum-surfing I found workarounds and posted about them (here and here). I stuck with using Playback to get my media available on the network, but I missed the lack of cover-art and metadata (which Playback doesn’t support). And then eventually my XBMC install became quite unusable after something, somewhere, stopped it from reliably connecting to anything at all. After all the jiggery pokery trying to get streaming working again I had no idea what I’d done and I gave up.

I switched back to streaming to my Xbox 360 via Playback even though: the 360 sounds like a jet engine taking off; it drinks electricity like water on a hot day; and it doesn’t show metadata or cover-art (whether you’re using Playback or not). It just streams the video, but that’s all I wanted at this point.

Enough!

Yesterday I had the house to myself and I decided to start over.

According to the AppleTV menus I was running OS 4.1.1, a comparatively archaic version. You may have noticed that for some reason Apple’s naming conventions for their iDevice versions of iOS and their ATV versions of iOS do not match, although for a brief time around iOS 4.3 they came in sync. I found a great post on Firecore’s forum that explained it. The current version of that post is reproduced below for ease of reference:

Firecore forum post explaining iOS naming conventions for ATV2 vs iDevices

It turns out that the ATV2 OS version 4.3 is the most recent version that supports untethered jail breaking, and that version also adds Airplay support for many 3rd party apps, not just Apple’s (try it with AirVideo from your iPad – just awesome). There is currently a tethered jailbreak for 4.4 (which is the equivalent of iOS 5.0.1 for iDevices) but trust me, you’d be better sticking to untethered if you value a quiet life.

UPDATE: When I performed the jailbreak only the 4.3 version supported untethered, but the latest Seas0npass includes an untethered jailbreak for 4.4. The major differences are AirPlay Mirroring from the iPad 2 but seeing as I only have an iPad 1 I am sticking with my 4.3 jailbreak for now.

I downloaded Seas0nPass from Firecore’s website, performed the jailbreak to 4.3 and all went well. I reinstalled XBMC Version 11 (Eden) which adds greater stability and also a new, easy-to-do streaming solution called AFP that supposedly works well with Lion. Well, it didn’t work out for me.

Although XBMC showed me an AFP connection to my networked computers, and although I’d turned AFP on and set up the folders I wanted to share, XBMC wasn’t seeing any shares. I appreciate it’s a work in progress and that maybe I missed something, but after trying all the other usual methods and coming up with a whole bunch of not-much just like last time (some folders shared, others didn’t, don’t know why, can’t be bothered to work it out any more), I decided that XBMC is still far too flakey to get stressed over and started looking at Firecore’s ATV Flash solution.

(For clarity – my Playback shares still worked but it doesn’t send any metadata like cover-art and that’s the main reason I like XBMC; ATV Flash does use metadata, so it won my favour.)

It’s a $30 bit of software that gets installed onto the ATV at the click of a button (unlike XBMC which requires installing either it or NitoTV via the Terminal, which can be a bit fiddly). The main difference between it and XBMC is that ATV Flash sets up shop in the AppleTV’s existing dashboard, maintaining the Apple-y feel; interactions all use the existing Apple UI. It’s pretty cool.

I’d had a look at ATV Flash before, when it was in beta, and had been suspicious of paying for software that does something that XBMC does with greater customisability for free. However, I was at the end of my tether with the implications of ‘free’ for now, and Firecore promised that setting up shared media would be as simple as making sure File Sharing was turned on in my Mac’s settings.

It worked seamlessly.

I appreciate there are people complaining in their forums that it doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that, glitches with streaming, etc, but the same is true throughout computing – some people’s setups will play nice and others won’t. My experience so far has been flawless, touch wood. We streamed a movie over wifi from my iMac to the ATV and it was smooth and uninterrupted (the movie itself, Insidious, was fun but kinda stoopid). It has a couple of areas I’d like to see improved, such as the ability to scrape for movie metadata based on a folder name rather than a media-file (because all my movies reside in their own named folder within a Movies folder) but apparently features like that are coming, and updates do seem to be quite regular.

So: it didn’t crash, it was ridiculously easy to add my computer’s shared folders, and it all feels like it’s part of the same Apple experience.

You do have to buy before you try, but they have a 15-day money back guarantee. I can’t tell you how well that works because I won’t be needing it. For $30, I’ve hopefully found my final ATV2 streaming solution.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to comment on anything I’m @myglasseye on Twitter.

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5 thoughts on “Adventures in Apple TV streaming: switching from XBMC to Firecore’s ATV Flash

  1. You might be interested to know that an untethered jailbreak for the latest apple tv software should be available very soon. Firecore website just tweeted this bit of info.

  2. Ye, saw that today, it’s good news! My policy has always been to stay well away from the bleeding edge of jailbreak tricks, though. I let other beta test and jump on board later… ;)

  3. I completely agree with you on that. My plan is to jailbreak 4.4 once the new version of seas0npass has been out for 2 weeks without any reported bugs. I don’t own an iPad and none of the other new features of 4.4 are available in Norway anyway, so I’m in no real rush to update.

    I’ve been using the Media Player in firecore for about a week now and have learnt a few nice tricks. It’s great when combined with a NAS such as the ReadyNAS ultra 2 which I currently have running with a 2tb drive. Means I don’t need to have the computer running, and by using two disks in a raid, I don’t risk loosing my media in the event of a disk failure. Many people don’t think of it as important to backup movie rips, but considering how much time I spend ripping them from my blu-ray and DVD collection, it would be devastating to have to do it all again.

  4. Other than for JailBreaking, Do I need iTunes afterwards?
    Can I JailBreak then wipe the PC I installed iTunes on?

    Do I need iTunes BillBoard software to keep FireCore’s ATV Flash up to date?

    Can you JailBreak using a VM (as in VMware)?

  5. After jailbreaking, if you don’t want to use iTunes then no, you don’t need it.

    Yes, you can do whatever you like to the PC you had installed iTunes on, but if you ever need to re-jailbreak you will need iTunes back.

    I use a Mac so I don’t know what ‘iTunes Billboard’ is, sorry, but keeping ATV Flash up to date from a Mac is done purely with their installer software and nothing else; you should check their website for PC instructions but I expect they will be similar.

    Finally, I don’t know about if Jailbreaking works through a VM, all I know is that once Seas0npass creates the jailbroken OS, you need to have iTunes installed so that you can use it to install the jailbroken OS onto the ATV2. If you can run iTunes properly in a VM, I’d imagine that would work but don’t quote me.

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