My AppleTV Jailbreak Experience
For a while now I've been trying to figure out a cheap way to get PLEX (www.plexapp.com) into my bedroom without having to buy another Mac Mini. I currently run a last gen model Mac Mini in my living room running PLEX in conjunction with the worst setup possible for media storage, but that's the next project. I don't want to get into the storage too much, but I'm currently running a 1.5tb external WD Elements drive hooked up to my iMac (not even the mini) and I run a copy of PLEX media server on the iMac which serves the files to the Mac Mini. That 1.5tb drive is also manually backed up onto a 2tb external whenever I remember... It's not the world's worst setup, but it's not good by any means. But that's not really what I want to talk about here (although suggestions for a better solution are welcome), I want to talk about my experience with jailbreaking the Apple TV 2G in order to run PLEX in my bedroom.
Obviously you knew what this post was about when you read the title so hopefully you got here because you're considering running the same setup, and I would highly recommend doing so. The Apple TV 2G seemed like a great solution considering that it costs $99 as opposed to a Mac Mini which, even used, could run you $300-400 depending on what you needed. Before the Apple TV 2G I thought I'd be fine with just buying a DVI-to-HDMI cable along with a 3mm to RCA cord for audio (bedroom doesn't really need digital surround)... Well, I got really sick of having to drag the laptop into the bedroom, hook up the cables, fire up the computer, fire up PLEX, close the laptop and pray that it didn't overheat when I fell asleep watching a movie. It worked fine, but there were a few times I woke up to a locked up computer which worried me a bit. So after doing a little research and seeing that someone had ported a version of PLEX to the Apple TV 2G I decided to give it a go.
First of all, just as an FYI, the Apple TV 2G does NOT include an HDMI cable in the box, nor does it include the microUSB cable you'll need in order to hook it up to the computer to jailbreak it. For some reason I thought Apple packaged an HDMI cable and a microUSB cable in the box, but I was wrong, and annoyed, when I got home that night and sat down to jailbreak it. I don't have a Blackberry or any other device that uses microUSB so I was shit out of luck. I really wanted to mess with it that night so I placed an order on monoprice.com for a microUSB cable for $3 after shipping and set off to Best Buy to pick up a temporary one ($15) which I would return after the cheap one arrived... this was my first mistake.
I found what I needed on the Best Buy website and made sure they had the one I saw in stock at the store near my house, so I made my way over. When I got there I didn't really know if the cords would be in the computer section of the cell phone section, so I asked for help and was lead to cell phones. The guy grabbed a Rocket Fish brand cable and handed it to me. It was a miniUSB to USB with a miniUSB to microUSB adapter... I didn't think anything of it and left... that's when the fun began.
Quick tip, when buying the microUSB cable do NOT buy one that is a miniUSB to microUSB adapter, it WILL NOT WORK. So I got home and fired up my laptop and downloaded seas0npass and found a great set of instructions (no need for me to recopy them since they worked perfectly). I followed the instructions and got to the point where I needed to put the Apple TV 2G into DFU mode so that the seas0npass software could reflash the firmware with the new jailbroken version. Sounds easy enough right? All you're supposed to do is plug the microUSB cable into the computer (not the power) and press and hold 2 buttons on the remote, play/pause and menu, for like 7 seconds (or until the lights start to flash a lot). For the life of me I couldn't get this to work, or so I thought. Turns out I had no problem getting the device into DFU mode, but the computer just wasn't seeing it at all. I even tried my iMac to see if the laptop was the issue, but still had no luck. I tried everything I could find on the internet. There was even a suggestion to use the power cable, which I tried with no luck, and someone also said to try holding the down button and menu for a few seconds to first restart the device, then hold menu and play/pause.... nothing worked and I gave up. After leaving it alone for an hour or so I decided to do some more reading and finally determined that the fact that I was using a microUSB adapter could be the issue.
The next day I returned that cable and bought a straight up Blackberry branded microUSB to USB cable, no adapters, just one long cable with two ends. I got home from work that night and prayed that it would work this time since I really didn't want to have to return everything and find another option... Within 5 minutes I was back at the DFU screen getting ready to hold down menu and play/pause.... and would you know, like magic the computer recognized it right away and started uploading the jailbroken software to it. Within 10 minutes I was completely done with the jailbreak and ready to install PLEX. One quick thing though, as long as you allowed the software to do so, once you put it into DFU mode and it starts opening iTunes and stuff, don't touch anything. Don't click off any windows, just let the whole script run until it tells you it's done. If you click off the window the script won't know what to do and you'll end up having to start over.
Once it's all done you'll have to do a tethered boot meaning that if the device ever loses power you'll have to plug it back into the computer and use seas0npass to boot it up, it won't just turn on on it's own. It kinda sucks, but as long as you have a laptop or a computer near where the Apple TV is going to be, you'll be fine. You can't unplug the power once it boots so make sure it's plugged in where you want it to stay.
Once I was up and running setting up PLEX was simple. Just follow the instructions on the PLEX website and that's it. Really the only problem I ran into was with that damn cable. So if you find yourself having problems getting into DFU mode I would highly suggest trying a different cable before you get frustrated, it really shouldn't be very hard to do.
PLEX itself runs pretty well on the Apple TV 2G, the only issues I've found is that some movies have a hard time resuming from where you left off. I've only tried it with 720p x.264 rips so it may just be an issue with those files, but I couldn't get any to resume properly.
Also, there is no fast forward or rewind which is kind of a bummer since the resume doesn't work properly. I'm sure these things will be worked out in the future, but if you just want to watch videos and stuff (from the beginning) it works perfectly fine. Every file type I've tried so far has played flawlessly so I have absolutely no complaints. This is by far the easiest, cheapest way to get PLEX running in other rooms.