For the past week, I’ve been messing around with aTV Flash, an add-on that turns my beloved Apple TV into something like the product Apple should have made from the get go.
The Macworld review above pretty much outlines the pros of aTV Flash – simple to install, adds a browser to your TV screen, enables you to plug in external or streaming network drives to your Apple TV, FTP access, and includes media centre services like Boxee and XMBC. It also allows you to play pretty much any movie format (such as divx, avi, etc) thanks to the installed Perian tool.
Now I have all our family media, downloaded movies, music and photos centrally located on a networked 1TB drive onto which I can rip our entire DVD collection if I so choose. A useful tool included in aTV Flash called Sapphire imports meta data and poster artwork for any ripped DVD and music files.
However the software, while great value at about $50, is not quite ready for prime time – and you may need to spend a fair bit of time tweaking files and access to get it just right.
As impressive as much of aTV Flash is, its what’s missing that lets it down. For example, the Couch Surfer browser is OK (you can add Firefox if you want too) but does support Flash at present so much video media content simply doesn’t work (Quicktime is fine). ATV says this will be fixed sometime this month.
While Boxee and XMBC are OK – the beta version of Boxee promises to be much better (although not yet available for the Apple TV) – I much prefer the far more elegant, easy to navigate Plex, which at present is not supported by aTV.
But the biggest issue for me is that the VPN integration for HotShield and Tunnelblick has major problems. I had been all set to add a new Mac Mini to my set up to enable me to access My Private Network, a excellent UK-based VPN provider that lets me watch otherwise UK and US services (BBC iPlayer, Hulu, etc) seamlessly on my Mac or iPhone for about $10-12 a month. The new aTV Flash release, which includes Tunnelblick, looked as though it was going to save me $1,000 in hardware (Bermuda prices, overseas readers!) but for days I and other users have spent a frustrated week going back and forth on aTV’s forums but so far, with little success. It seems to be very hit and miss for many users – and Hulu has blocked HotShield access anyway so that’s useless right out of the box.
Unless it gets resolved soon, it looks as thought I will have to fork out for a new Mac Mini to hook up to the plasma after all. But then maybe Steve Jobs has something up his sleeve on January 26 – an Apple TV-Touch-Tablet perhaps? I can but dream …
UPDATE: After a week of back and forth on the forums and support groups, turns out MPN won’t work on aTV Flash because it requires password authentication in the configuration apparently. Switched to Strong VPN – which at $85/year is cheaper than MPN and enables you to easily switch servers in several locations – but that still doesn’t seem to work on aTV. Fortunately a three-month old Mac Mini was up for grabs at a good price on eMoo yesterday so I nabbed it, installed StrongVPN and it runs BBC iPlayer and other UK channels beautifully.