Hack the Apple TV without opening the case

by editor @ AppleTVHacks.net on April 3, 2007

Now that we can install full Mac OS X on the Apple TV, it really opens up the doors for making softmods to the Apple TV.

It appears the full version of Mac OS X will boot from an external USB drive, according to Turbo, the hacker who first managed to get the Apple TV to boot from USB.

Once booted, you can modify the Apple TV’s internal harddrive without needing to crack the case; and so you could enable SSH, Apache, or Apple Remote Desktop. You could even install 3rd party media centers, or just install some plugins.

Booting from USB requires booting the Apple TV as nromal then holding ‘menu’ and ‘-‘ keys on the remote to initiate a restore boot. From there it takes a bit of timing, Turbo explains, “If I hold down menu and – from poweron until the first screen flash, I believe that it does the equivalent of cmd-opt-p-r. I only got it to boot from USB by releasing it at that point, then hitting it again just before the screen flashes on the second reset.”

He went on to explain that after the initial boot in this fashion; the Apple TV now boots from his USB drive by default if it is attached.

Obviously, we expect to see a whole host of softmods crop up, allowing people to tinker with their Apple TV’s without having to void the warranty by cracking it open.

Update: Turbo has posted detailed instructions on this on his site

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  • bubba

    So is this using the full, out of the box version, of OS X without a modified kernel or does something need to be modified on the drive in order for it to boot on the ATV? I though vanilla OS X would not boot on a Pentium M without a kernel mod.

  • Steve K.

    This is the greates website!! I was 100% against the AppleTV before. Too expensive for very little functionality. You guys with your hacks have completely changed my view on the AppleTV.

    Now I am very interested in one with many of the hacks. Has anyone been able to add a USB DVD drive (either regular DVD or HD-DVD) to the AppleTV yet? A nice compact one working with AppleTV running full OS X is what I’m interested in now. Also, will a bluetooth USB dongle allow you to use the Apple BT keyboard and mouse?

    Keep up the great reporting of all the AppleTv hacks!

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  • Nobod

    This isn’t true – it doesn’t work yet. Much of the solution hasn’t been developed. Don’t reblog this yet!

  • Maak

    If this is possible, why is it not possible to run the apple tv OS image from an external hdd? And of course get it to work more properly than Ozy has figured out…?

  • Maak3

    If this is possible, why is it not possible to run the apple tv OS image from an external hdd? And of course get it to work more properly than Ozy has figured out?

  • I have a question. I’m interested in using the Apple TV for a carputer install and we’re trying to work out all the details needed for this over on http://www.mp3car.com

    The main problem we’re struggling with is the lack of multiple USB posrts on the ATV. Has anyone been able to use multiple USB devices off of a hub? And if so, how many?

    The main usb devices we’d want to use are
    1. Touch Screen control
    2. GPS receiver
    3. Bluetooth

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  • Jason Keirstead

    Something I have a hard time finding info on. The Apple TV has a 1 GHz Dolthan GPUa dn an NVidia 7300 Go card right… would this unit be able to, with those specs, decode 1080i HD MPEG2 video?

    I ask because I would like to use it as a mythfrontend. My back-end grabs MPEG2 HD off of my cable box via Firewire. I am unsure if the box could code this though, even with the hardware decoding support of the GeForce chip.

  • peehskcalba

    Wait, pardon my unknowingness, but what do they mean by full OS X install?

    I assume that you mean you can use a clean image os OS X 10.4.8, mod the kernel and appropriate kext files, blast the modded image to a portable USB hard drive, and boot from that?

    And then the ATV will boot straight from that?

    I’m sorry I’m not too savvy with this stuff…

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  • Macinjosh

    You guys are great, but I think you need to be a bit more detailed about how EXACTLY to pull this stuff off & stop linking to all these different sites, referring to past articles, etc. Not all of us are familiar with kernels & such.

  • atvnoob

    Someone create a minimal linux image which fits on an usb stick, and does enable ssh on the atv automagically, please!! =)

  • Elgato eyeTV 250 will work with OS X for Full DVR recording ability.

    If Apple gets SMART, and supports OS X 10.5 on the little AppleTV, it will sell for many uses,
    not just for TV boxes.

    What kind of Graphics chips are in the AppleTV
    could it support playing UNREAL and other video games?

  • Ian G

    Anyone tried this? I’m not able to make it boot from the usb drive. I’m not sure of what he means by “screen flashes”

  • moduz

    Is there a hack to enable the use of an external USB HDD without using it booting from it?

    Essentially someone could add 300+GB of space to their AppleTV for around $100 if you could simply hook an external HDD to the USB port and have the AppleTV recognize the HDD as part of the primary media storage space. Not to mention you could significantly speed up the amount of time that it takes to transfer large amounts of information to AppleTV (especially if you are downloading something and syncing something else at the same time) if you could hook a Firewire cable to the external HDD and transfer the information straight from your computer without using a LAN.

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  • bubba

    someone needs to get TED working on AppleTV. Automatically download all your TV torrents:


  • Has anyone got this working?

    I’ve been following the instructions on AppleTV Hack (http://0xfeedbeef.com/appletv/usbboot) and Awkward TV (http://wiki.awkwardtv.org/wiki/Enable_SSH_Without_Opening_the_Apple_TV) but it just keeps hanging before it boots with a no-entry sign on the screen.

  • Sweeps

    Thats cool- now I wanna see someone take the xbox 360 guitar hero controller, hook it up to the usb, and get frets on fire workin :0

  • gobar

    whilst appleTV has an usb maintanance port, couldn’t some genius make it possible to just access the box by connecting it via usb cable to the mac and “all” problems are solved.

  • applatrick

    i guys, do you have any idea how to watch multiregion dvd’s on the apple tv witouht breaking tyhe case? thanks

  • jlr

    Anyone have a link to the AppleTV boot.efi ?

  • Yes, is there another source for the ‘boot.efi’ other than opening the case so I can
    “Hack the Apple TV without opening the case” ? 😉

  • jk

    Maybe someone could post a md4sum of important files like “boot.efi”, so I can verify I copied the right file(s) from my appletv’s hard drive…

  • Apparently on Apple’s own website: http://mesu.apple.com/

    this is a huge 179.4 megabyte download (all the source and documentation?)
    Why they have it available now and not earlier; and if it will stay up is subject to speculation. I get 403 forbidden error for the rest of the site. So who knows?

  • Well, it worked for me! Great!

    But the problem; once it’s booted and logged in it says the drive isn’t good (because it has the different partition type).

    What to do about this?

  • miquel

    What about OS X 10.4.10 AppleTV 2.2, please.

  • raj

    The boot.efi file is in Apple’s firmware image. Here is how to get the boot.efi :

  • I’m buying one off ebay right now!!!! soo sweet!

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