Thursday, 4 July 2013

Jailbreaking Apple TV 3 (Well Sort Of) with Plex

I managed to inherit a couple of Apple TV's but was disappointed when I found out they were 3rd Generation which meant no jailbreak was found for them. At least until now.... well.... sort of.

So what does jailbreaking do for an Apple TV anyways? Those of us who have Roku, Boxee or WDTV media players know that we can access internet videos and apps easily, media servers and computer storage on our network, and also plug a USB key directly in the device (loaded with movies in various video formats) and play them directly on the screen.

Unfortunately, Apple TV comes with many restrictions on these features. For example, the feature I need the most is the ability to plug in a USB flash drive with movies. There is no way to attach external storage to the Apple TV. You can play movies loaded into iTunes using the "Home Sharing" feature but that seems to be flakey on my setup, and it will only support certain media format types.

Thanks to Plex and some clever "hacking" on the back-end using PlexConnect, we can now access our non-iTunes media library through any Apple TV (including Apple TV 3). The way it works is it redirects the Trailers section of Apple TV to your Plex Media Server instead, so you can access your media through there. In order to perform this hack though, you need to download a few things. Read this Installation Guide for full instructions.

In summary:

Setting up computer:

1. Download Plex Media Server (PMS) for your computer and install it.
 - Set up your libraries in PMS by setting up the folders with your movies

2. Download Python 2.7.5 and install it (needed to run the PlexConnect scripts)
 - Must download 2.7x (need the older version), not 3.0

3. Download PlexConnect for Apple TV OS pre-5.1 and for OS 5.1+
 - You can also access the iBaa PlexConnect GitHub page directly for latest builds

4. Unzip PlexConnect and double-click "" to launch.
 - This pretends to be the Trailer server for your Apple TV but instead will inject your media
 - Note the IP address that is listed when it runs in the command window
 - It should say (on about the 6th line) "IP_Self:" or similar
 - Alternatively, in Windows use "ipconfig /all" and look for IPv4 address for your network adapter

Setting up Apple TV:

5. Go to General > Network Settings page and either Wi-Fi or Ethernet settings

6. Choose to Configure DNS Manual and change it to your computer's IP address
  - This is your computer running the PMS and PlexConnect
  - See step #4 above to find out your computer's IP address
  - Usually IP is similar to 192.168.0.x (where "x" is a number from 1-255)

7. Apple TV will now try to access the internet through your computer's DNS
  - PlexConnect handles the DNS now and intercepts the Trailer section
  - Instead of Trailers it substitutes your Plex library, tricking the Apple TV

So for now we can at least hack the Apple TV into playing from another media source besides iTunes Home Sharing and the built-in apps (like YouTube and so on). I look forward to seeing what else can be done with the Apple TV 3. Otherwise, I'm off to purchase a WD TV Play which will give me the flexibility and freedom to play anything I want off a simple plug-in USB flash drive!

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