Immediately after Apple TV's launch, users began hacking, or altering, its hardware and software to give the device new capabilities. Whether you're looking simply to stretch Apple TV's features a little or give it the ability to play content in new formats, there's a plethora of ways to tweak this product to your liking. A major caveat here: Although Apple can't stop you from hacking your Apple TV, doing so may void your warranty. You should also note that updates from Apple remove any hacked features you may install, but you can usually re-hack your Apple TV without difficulty.
Initial hacks targeted the first Apple TVs' 40GB hard drives, which wouldn't let you store many iTunes movies (around 1.5GB each) or TV shows (about 500MB each), without replacing them with more spacious drives. This procedure wasn't terribly complicated for advanced users but the physical changes did alter the product's aesthetics. This was only the opening act for Apple TV hackers, spawning sites such as AppleTV Hacks, where visitors trade tips for modifying their products.
Software hacks are easier for average users to perform and don't require you to poke around sensitive components with a screwdriver. A so-called patchstick process lets you download free software from the Internet to a USB flash drive, plug the drive into your Apple TV and then restart the Apple TV so that it boots using the software on the USB drive. Depending on the patchstick version you choose, your Apple TV will have upgraded features, including new codecs that play .AVI, .WMV and other popular video formats, or new networking capabilities.
Some hacks let you access a broad array of online content using XBMC and Boxee. The XBMC and Boxee modifications are popular because they let you play content in formats that Apple TV's original software won't, such as .AVI and .WMV video clips. You need to register for an account to use Boxee's popular combination of social interaction and multimedia content power. Once you do, you can use the software's interface that lets you share opinions on content with other visitors, stream Netflix videos, and more.
The downside to these hacks, from the standpoints of Apple and producers of copyrighted material, is that users can play just about any content they want, including pirated videos and audio. This is a blow not only to Apple's carefully constructed Apple TV business model, but it also steals profits from the makers of the material who are behind the purpose of owning an entertainment system to begin with.
To learn more about Apple TV and its capabilities, take a look at the links on the next page.