Like its more popular cousin the iPhone, the AppleTV is a beacon of simplicity in a category—set-top boxes that download and stream video from a computer or other device to your TV—crowded with wonky and complex options. Also like the iPhone, the AppleTV has its needless limitations: It plays video only in iTunes formats or from YouTube. No home movies or video (legally) downloaded from other sites are playable unless they’ve been specially converted.
Fortunately, a crop of unofficial software has sprung up that enables the AppleTV to play just about any video format, including ripped DVDs. There’s also a Web browser you can put onto the box that lets you navigate to any site, including video sites like Hulu or ABC.com, and programs that display local weather or RSS feeds onscreen. Most of the software is free or inexpensive, but the DIY methods for loading it onto the box can be a pain. Instead, we used a $50 program called aTV Flash that gives you an idiot-proof installation—just load it onto a flash drive, plug it into the AppleTV’s USB port, and turn on the power. Remember that there’s always a risk of damaging the device when installing unofficial software. One other note: While Apple Core, the company behind aTV Flash, claims that installing it would not void your warranty, an Apple rep we spoke with says it would. If you need warranty service, restore your box to the original software and no one will be the wiser.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.