Noel Erskine, Technology Coordinator Norris Schools

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Apple TV for the classroom, some benefits, hacks and more. (Updated 5-29-12)0

Monday, January 9, 2012

This was my first look at the AppleTV 2, and I figured for $99, what did I have to lose. For $99 you get a really small device, that comes with a nice simple remote.  The device (Apple TV box) plugs into power and then to your TV through an HDMI cable. (The HDMI cable is not supplied with your $99 purchase.) If you need to hook the Apple TV to a projector or other device that will only accept a VGA cable, then you can purchase a HDMI to VGA converter. You can get one from MonoPrice inc. for around $40 and a HDMI cable for $2.50. Both are fresh off the boat and seem to work fine.

Here is the setup I ordered (March 2011 part numbers)
8126 HDMI® to VGA & R/L Stereo Audio Converter --> UPDATED:  Order this instead - http://www.kanexlive.com/atvpro
6359 3ft Ultra Slim SVGA Super VGA 30/32AWG M/M Monitor Cable w/ ferrites (Gold Plated Connector)
5361 1.5ft SVGA Super VGA M/M Monitor Cable w/ ferrites (Gold Plated)
3872 1.5ft 28AWG High Speed HDMI® Cable w/Ferrite Cores - Black
4084 2X4 SVGA VGA MATRIX Switcher Splitter Amplifier Multiplier 250MHz


Some points and notes on the AppleTV 2 and uses for the classroom:

  • The best feature for the classroom is probably the AirPlay, where the Apple TV shows your entire Apple iPad2 screen on the TV. (This requires IOS 5 or higher on the iPad 2). Hooked into a classroom projector or large LCD TV, this can add a lot of functionality to your iPad for the classroom. (Airplay also sends video playbacks to your TV as well.)
  • If you use your TV or an external audio device hooked to the AppleTV for music, then this thing offers hundreds of radio stations. It has an amazing selection and all are free. This alone, would be worth it for the consumer if this feature is important to you. 
  • The interface and remote are nice and easy to use.
  • It has great graphics, with only HDMI out.
  • All of the Movies, TV shows, etc... are all expensive, if purchased through the normal Apple TV offerings. ($5 per movie to rent, and $3 per TV episode to purchase.)
  • It offers a great interface for NetFlix, YoutTube, Flixter and a few other services. (Small list, but well done.) For the consumer... if you have Netflix, and do not have a device that streams it easily, then buy this thing.)
  • A lot of the content offered on the AppleTV is driven for the consumer, so depending on the classroom... uses may be more limited concerning content. (Unless you Jailbreak it and add content.)
  • The device comes with wireless, but also includes a network connection. It includes a digital audio out, but I was unable to test that aspect of the device. 


Hack it for more content and features. 
Being the typical tech guy, I first needed to figure out what I can do to hack this thing and add more content and functionality.  So here it goes...

First Jail Break the Apple TV 2, so you can add more services. Jailbreak it using Seas0nPass. Great directions are here: http://www.redmondpie.com/jailbreak-apple-tv-4.4.4-untethered-using-seas0npass-how-to-tutorial/

You may want to watch this YouTube on adding XBMC to your Atp prior to doing any of the following steps.

Next start adding extras:
Add XBMC:
(This is what I did, but if you add nitoTV in the next section, you can do it from there.)
Open up your terminal/ssh application and enter the following command to log in to your ATV2:
ssh root@YOUR.ATV2.IP.ADDRESS  OR ssh root@apple-tv.local
You will be asked for a password: default password is alpine
Continue to enter the following commands:

apt-get install wget
wget -O- http://apt.awkwardtv.org/awkwardtv.pub | apt-key add -
echo "deb http://apt.awkwardtv.org/ stable main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/awkwardtv.list
echo "deb http://mirrors.xbmc.org/apt/atv2 ./" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/xbmc.list
apt-get update
apt-get install org.xbmc.xbmc-atv2

It will then start it's install.

After XBMC is installed, it will show up as a menu item on your AppleTV2.  You will want to look at how to add programs and video sources to get a lot of the great content.  (If you do not read more about how to do this, you will think that XBMC really added little to this device.)

Add the Navix plug-in to your XBMC:
http://www.funkyspacemonkey.com/navix-xbmc-plugin-appletv-2-stream-full-movies-tv-shows-video
This program add-in to XBMC adds a lot of content and movies.
Add the Crackle plug-in to your XBMC:
http://appletvblogr.com/2011/05/how-to-install-crackle-on-appletv2-tutorial/
Other XBMC add-ins via ZIP files:
http://xbmc.git.sourceforge.net/git/gitweb.cgi?p=xbmc/plugins;a=summary
http://nervion.us.es/xbmc/addons/dharma/ (I used the TED add-in)


Add Bluecop's Video Plugin Repository
Download this zip 
Download the above zip and then in the Add ons section of XBMC choose install from zip.
This will get you HULU, CBS, ESPN, and a bunch more. (Make sure you install the hulu and free cable video add-ins that this repository adds. With the ESPN plug-in, enable all of the ESPN channels.)
Note: Copy the zip to your Atv via SSH or Cyberduck  to /private/var/mobile folder.
Other repository sites:
http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=Unofficial_add-on_repositories

To Transfer files to your Apple TV2:
You will need to do this for certain installs, including installing some XBMC plug-ins from a Zip file. (Specifically IceFilms, Navix and others.)
Nice tutorial: http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=HOW-TO:Install_an_Add-on_from_a_zip_file_on_ATV2
(I used Putty when I first logged into my AppleTV, but later on I staring using Cyberduck for file transfers. I would recommend Cyberduck.)

Add nitoTV:
Allows for Streaming from computers, has some nice plug-ins (Overflow, HD remote support, etc...)
Visit this site: http://www.funkyspacemonkey.com/install-nitotv-jailbroken-appletv-2g-mac
Home page of project for more info: http://wiki.awkwardtv.org/wiki/NitoTV
Video of top 5 add-ins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R3xMpyqUAo
If you are changing the weather feed app in nito, here is the file:
/User/Library/Preferences/com.nito.nitoTV.weather.plist (Open it with Wordpad to edit it. (SSH into the TV box to edit)

Remote HD now supports Apple TV2:
http://www.appletvhacks.net/2011/03/22/remote-hd-now-supports-apple-tv-2/#more-1017

A how-to on Jailbreaking, Nito, XBMC and IceFilms:
http://sliced-apple.com/2011/06/17/how-to-jailbreak-install-nito-xmbc-and-icefilms-to-your-apple-t-v-2/ (Most of this will be review from the above procedures, but good info and new info on adding the IceFilms plug in to the XBMC add-on.
Info for just IceFilms: http://www.sinfuliphone.com/showthread.php?t=77175

What was gained by the Hacks I did?

  • A lot more content.  Some of the content is consumer oriented and some would be great in the classroom. (A few academic channels in XBMC, etc...)
  • Apple TV control from my iPad using the RemoteHD program.
  • Ability to customize the look and feel of the interface.
  • A RSS feeds display program. (Part of Nito)
  • Weather displays. (Part of XBMC and Nito)
  • And again... a LOT more content. (If this is for your home use... it's a must to Jailbreak and add XBMC.) The content alone makes Netflix seem like a small listing of videos. 
There are some hacks that I would not do for classroom use, so you would want to evaluate what features you would need for your classrooms.  I know there are many more hacks and add-ins that may offer more functionality, so have fun discovering them.  (And drop me a note if you find some!)


I will probably be doing a few more articles on this since I know we will be facing some other issues and considerations if we decide to deploy these devices in our classrooms.  So keep an eye out for more AppleTV blogs coming in the following month or two.  In the meantime... don't bother me, I am watching AppleTV.

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