A big part of any modern home is a comprehensive media center that can play any kind of media you can throw at it – movies, music, TV shows, and pictures – in all kinds of formats. We’ll cover various options in upcoming posts, but until recently AppleTV was my go-to media center device. And I’m not talking about the latest 3rd-generation Apple TV – I’ve been sticking with my first-generation Apple TV for years (although the 2nd Generation would also suffice). So why is it that if you search for Apple TV on Amazon, the cost of OLDER generation hardware is 2-3 times more expensive?
Simple: Jailbreaking. Apple TV is a nifty little device, but you are really confined to Apple’s own walled garden. To get the most of out the Apple TV hardware, you need to hack it to enable all kinds of new functionality. The problem is, the third generation AppleTV is so secure, no hack has yet been discovered for it in the roughly year and a half it’s been around. Impressive, considering that if you compare that to every other Apple product, you’ll see that no iDevice has held out for longer than five months, and many are cracked within the first week. So it turns out that while the hardware is better with the latest generation, Apple can sell it for $99 because they make up the money charging you big bucks for movies, music, and TV shows. Older generations cost more because they’re being re-sold by those who realize how much more powerful they are once they’re “opened up”. It’s basically the same reason used iPhones can often be sold for more than you paid for them new – because the original cost included a carrier subsidy.
So, to get the most out of the first- or second-generation Apple TV, the first thing you’ll want to do is jailbreak it, which will allow you to install additional media player center software. Personally, I am strongly partial to XBMC, which is really slick home theater software, but there are other options. While virtually all of these jailbreaking and media center tools are free and have been around for years, Firecore bundles everything (including the jailbreak) up in a nice little package called ATVFlash for the first and second generation Apple TVs for about $30. Also, if you do end up with a first-generation Apple TV, the original hardware can’t play 1080p, but you can replace the wifi module with a new Crystal HD video decoder. It’s not a difficult process, and it’s described on the XBMC wiki, with a step-by-step guide here.
We’ll be covering more media/home entertainment options in upcoming posts, so if you don’t have an AppleTV lying around from the Apple Glory Days, I wouldn’t recommend rushing out and buying a “new to you” one for a couple hundred bucks – there are lots of other options for a sweet XBMC media center experience out there for much cheaper these days!