Personal Tech

April 9, 2009, 6:24 pm

Apple TV + Boxee, the Discoveries Continue

Music and Video

On Wednesday I posted about my experience with Apple TV and its hack app, Boxee. Like many gadgets, the Apple TV is a complex being, and many of you pointed out some major features I missed. I’m here, head humbly hanging down, to highlight some things I didn’t realize were possible.

The first is that the Apple TV can, in fact, stream content from the iTunes library found on your computer. Don’t expect to find an explanation of how to do this in the Apple TV instructions though. I flipped through the entire booklet and there’s no information on how to even configure your Apple TV using iTunes.

Luckily one commenter, Josh, clarified that you can sync rather than copy files over to the Apple TV if you make a few adjustments in iTunes.

Select the Apple TV in your iTunes library and click, “Custom Sync” within the Summary tab and unselect “Show only the synced items on my Apple TV.” Then go tab by tab, from Movies to Photos, and unselect the sync button. Click “apply” and head over to your TV. Now you’ll be able to access everything in your movies and TV shows folders as a stream. Sweet!

Yes, as VaughnSC points out, you can play anything that’s in your iTunes, not just purchased items, but as of now iTunes won’t allow you to rip DVDs to its library (you’ll need a hack app for that, which I’ll post about later). Also, there are ways to convert non-iTunes video so they play through iTunes, but that’s also a hack for another day.

As for Boxee, well, this is what happens when you’re dealing with open-source software: With a collective group working on improvements, updates happen daily and it’s easy to miss one – especially since before March 24 (the latest Boxee update) the only way to find out if new software was available was by keeping track of the company’s blog.

As previously mentioned, Hulu pulled out as a Boxee channel, but lo and behold, Boxee tinkerers figured out a way around the block–an RSS feed. By subscribing to the Hulu RSS feed through Boxee you can access the majority of Hulu’s content. Not only that, click on the Hulu feed via the Boxee browser and you’ll get a window with a list of all the shows available on Hulu. You can then go through and subscribe to specific show feeds and watch the videos available. It’s a clever way around Hulu’s choice to pull out. So clever I wonder how long it will last before network heads squash it.

Netflix, unfortunately, still isn’t available for Boxee’s Apple TV software. Netflix uses Microsoft’s Silverlight plug-in, which requires a minimum 2 GHz processor. The Apple TV runs a 1 GHz processor.


  1. 1. April 9, 2009 10:21 pm Link


    Sorry, you’re still wrong about syncing on the Apple TV. You can sync AND stream. As you said, you just unselect the tab to show “Show only the synced items on my Apple TV”. Now all items from iTunes will show up on Apple TV regardless of whether they are synced or not. You can leave all your other syncing settings on. You DO NOT need to go tab by tab and unselect syncing to see the streamed content on Apple TV

    When you access your library from AppleTV items that have been synced to AppleTV will play directly from Apple TV. Items that aren’t synced will still play, but they will be streamed from iTunes. Why would you want to have some items synced and some items stream? Easy - HD content are generally large files and, depending on the speed of your network, may have some playback hiccups during streaming. Its much smoother to play HD content directly from ApppleTV. Why else would you sync? Sometimes your network might be off-line. If this is the case, you can still access content directly from AppleTV.

    I use syncing on Apple TV by leaving items that will get played soon or played often (for example, kids’ shows) synced, but I still have the flexibility to play anything else from iTunes.

    One minor point on playing DVDs through iTunes. While there are many third-party converters that allow you rip DVDs to an MP4 format playable in iTunes and on Apple TV (and iPods/iPhones) this is still a gray area. However, many retail DVDs now come with a “Digital Copy” which is an additional copy of the movie that is playable in iTunes. You can import the movie directly into iTunes after supplying the included authorization code. The Digital Copy can then be played on Apple TV and iPods as well.

    One more thing: Converting videos to play on Apple TV is not a “hack” as you don’t need to alter Apple TV in any way. If you have QuickTime Pro, anything that QuickTime can play can be exported to an iTunes format. There are options for exporting to iPod, iPhone and AppleTV. QuickTime can play any commonly found file formats such as DivX, Xvid if you install the codec. There are numerous other third party converters that can do this as well.

    Bottom line is that anything that’s in iTunes can be played on Apple TV by using synching, streaming or a combination of both. There are many ways to get content into iTunes without having to buy it from the iTunes store. And you can do all that without having to hack Apple TV ala Boxee

    — Glenn Rubin
  2. 2. April 10, 2009 1:07 pm Link

    can’t they just make one stupid box that does it all? netflix, hulu, itunes, ripped DVD’s? that going wireless to an NAS drive with all your content would be a beautiful thing.

    It’s not that hard, only the individual companies trying to protect their interests impedes media convergence.

    — tsh
  3. 3. April 10, 2009 1:28 pm Link

    Thanks Sonia for pushing through the details this very deep product. AppleTV is easily the most misunderstood Apple device because what it attempts to do is foreign to most everyone.

    Adding Boxee is “okay”, but too clunky for my use… so please spend more time on Podcasts in your reviews. The word “Podcast” makes it sound like little tiny video or audio snippets, but the real value to the AppleTV is behind the “Podcast” button… it’s endless and they are all free… it puts Boxee to shame in terms of consistency, quality and ease of use…

    The AppleTV provides the most value of all Apple products, it’s just us “pioneers” are having to sort out all the complexities during this “hobby” period of its life.

    — Ted Landry
  4. 4. April 10, 2009 5:17 pm Link

    Dear Tsh,

    The mythic “one box that does it all” does exist - it’s called the XBOX 360. It does Netflix streaming, plays ripped DIVX DVDs, connects to your PC to stream all your music and photos via Windows Media Centers, and plays DVDs. Did I mention it’s a great video game console as well? At $200, it’s $29 cheaper than the jumbo-sized iPod that is the Apple TV!

    — Konrad
  5. 5. April 10, 2009 5:52 pm Link

    tsh, I’d add to Konrad’s comment by saying that the box you speak of is called the Mac Mini. Why anyone would buy an Apple TV is beyond me, given that it’s little more than a hard drive (a small one at that) with some limited added functionality.

    — Larry
  6. 6. April 10, 2009 7:13 pm Link

    It’s true what Konrad said about the xbox 360, unfortunately it’s very loud. Sometimes it sounds like a small cessna flying around my living room.

    Larry is right, the mac mini is the way to go. Get Plex [] and you’ll have everything you need. Well, of course, it doesn’t have a blu ray player

    — Frank
  7. 7. April 10, 2009 7:19 pm Link

    The iTV is phenomenal and has so many rich media applications. It is the media content management / delivery system equivalent of Warp Drive.

    It is so Apple in its elegance of implementation.

    I use the iTV in conjunction with Apple video editing software (Final Cut Studio) to accomplish some amazing HD rich content creation / end user experience delivery environments. What is created for the iTV platform is instantly accessible via MAC or iTUNES equipped PC, iPOD, iPHONE, iTUNES store hosted Podcast, and even conventional DVD or conventional internet video stream.

    Get one and begin to use it. You will be glad and because of what it is - a programable device - count on Apple to continue to increase its capability, performance, and ease of use simply via periodic “automatic” software updates, performed in the background, with no bother to you the user.

    AND the iTUNES store is a killer application. You may begin to wonder why you did not think up with the idea. So very logical and so very cool. But don’t be envious just take advantage of what has been created for you and enjoy all the possibilities. WOW!

    written on my iPHONE

    — Robert Curtis
  8. 8. April 11, 2009 12:18 am Link

    Larry, Agreed - the Mini is definitely one of the best form factor home theatre computers, out of the box. But, the Apple TV does offer a couple of advantages over the Mini: the obvious one is price, but AppleTV also offers 5.1 Dolby Digital from rentals and purchases from the iTunes Store - some people report that a bug in iTunes 8.1 prevents computers from outputting 5.1 Dolby Digital from those iTunes Store purchases to their receivers. The Apple TV works for me (in fact, I love it so much I started up an HD podcast “Scene from Florida HD” which looks amazing when played through aTV), but in my opinion, the ultimate-super-easy-to-use home theatre convergence device is still a few years away.

    — Jeff

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