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The Ill-Tempered Audiophool

AV interfaces: XBMC, Plex, Front Row and all that

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More slightly off-topic stuff.

Like many Mac mini owners, my audio server is also a video server. My attention span is better suited to a CD than a two-hour movie, so I seldom sit still long enough to watch movies on TV. But others in the family like to, occasionally. So I have Front Row on the mini, and then I have an ATV2 as well. The mini seems to prefer its HDMI hose to connect directly to the TV, whereas the HDMI from ATV2 goes to my AVR (Marantz NR 1402, which, for a $350 receiver, doesn't suck). I have an optical toslink from the mini to the AVR as well.

Recently, I realized I can get a lot of free video with my Amazon prime membership. (An Amazon prime membership is almost worth it if you despise shopping and general human interaction as much as I do.) Sadly, it isn't compatible with ATV2 or OS X, apart from running it in flash-supportive web browser. When your 12 year old daughter wants to watch "All Creatures Great and Small" and no one else in your household seems to be at all appreciative of the inherent elegance and simplicity of starting up an Apple Screen Sharing session just to log into Amazon, start a video in a web browser, and figure out how to get it into full screen and to use the correct audio output (as if three audio output options is really that confusing, especially when all you have to do is use a remote ssh command to a command-line audio switching utility I compiled and put in /usr/local/bin for those occasions when I forget to click on one of the applescripts I made for this purpose) while standing on one foot and singing the Gettysburg Address backward, it would be kind of nice to have an alternative.

So today I looked at Plex and XBMC. Plex forked off of XBMC and clearly won the propaganda war. I downloaded Plex on my laptop, which has a very modest collection of music, mainly for test purposes, and I quickly decided this was a resource-pig that seemed hell-bent upon trying to fuck with my music library without my permission. It installs a server that is a constantly running background process. There is an Amazon plug-in that some dude on the inter web is or was developing, but he was last seen or heard from back when my house was worth more than my Toyota Camry. I downloaded the abandon-ware, but it just didn't work at all.

I was about to give up, when I decided to have a look at XBMC. This app is much simpler and more straightforward. I also downloaded an unofficial but very up-to-date Amazon streaming plug-in, and in less than an hour I managed to get it to work. I also found a Front Row plug-in that lets you launch XBMC from within Front Row.

Now my daughter can watch "All Creatures Great and Small" and I can watch "Dr. Who" via Amazon video streaming, for free, using just the standard Apple (physical) remote.

Summary:

1. Get the most current nightly build of XBMC for OS X.

2. Get the Amazon plugin from a third-party repository and install it.

3. If you want to launch stuff from Front Row, here is a bunch.

If you are running 10.7 and miss Front Row, it can be reinstalled.


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XBMC integrated with Front Row has been working well for me, but I kind of wish we could have this on AppleTV.

It turns out, you can.


Step 1: Jailbreak your ATV2. I always have an inertial barrier to doing this, but let's keep perspective. This is a $90 plastic box. If you bork it so badly you can't recover, that is the extent of your loss. But you won't bork it. It is dead easy to do, and harmless, and a wee bit empowering. However, you ABSOLUTELY want an UNTETHERED jailbreak. (Tethered means you have to hook it up to your computer via USB every lousy time you turn it on.) OS version 4.4.4 permits you to do so, following these instructions: http://blog.firecore.com/6434

Step 2: Log in and install XBMC
You need a terminal application to do this.

ssh root@apple-tv.local
When you are prompted for the password, it is "alpine" by default.

Then install with this command (familiar to debian linux and OS X fink users):

apt-get update
apt-get dist-upgrade
apt-get install org.xbmc.xbmc-atv2

You are done. It really is that easy. XMBC will appear as a menu item in the ATV2 interface.
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