Idea for a new Mac application

April 3rd, 2007
Filed under: Apple, General, Mac OS X, Macintosh | Huibert @ 9:34 am

I still haven’t decided whether I will buy an Apple TV or not. The only thing that is holding me back is the fact that in order to stream video to that device, the files have to be added to an iTunes library. Since my main machine is a laptop, my HD is relatively small and I cannot afford to keep all my videos on it. Instead I have to rely on an external disk that is seldom connected to my MacBook Pro. Therefore, I do not feel that iTunes is the best tool to manage my video files. Obviously, another problem is the fact that many of these files are encoded in formats not compatible with the AppleTV, although they can be played fine using quicktime with additional codecs.

I know that I am not alone, many share this very same problem. Right now everyone seems to be either re-encoding all their video library or trying to solve the problem by hacking the Apple TV. One solution requires to open the device, extract the HD, mount it on a Mac and add additional quicktime codecs. Even though there are still some remaining problems with this solution, I am confident that, in time, it will work. However, no matter how clever the solution, it will still require users to open the AppleTV and void the warranty.

I think there is better way. Why not write an application that pretends to be iTunes (by advertising as such using Bonjour) in order to communicate with the AppleTV. This would allow to stream any video file to the AppleTV, since iTunes and the Apple TV most probably exchange video frames, no matter what format the file is encoded in on the remote Mac.

I know, this is not a trivial project, otherwise I would try to do it myself over a week-end. However, I am confident that it can be done. Airfoil did something similar for AirTunes by allowing any sound produced on the Mac to be streamed to an Airport Express, not just iTunes songs. The nice thing about such an application is that it would make it easy to play any file stored in a designated folder without requiring to hack the AppleTV. So, what do you think, is anyone up to the challenge? I pledge US$100 to the project. Is anyone else interested?

6 Responses to “Idea for a new Mac application”

  1. PabOu Says:

    Hi !

    $100 is a lot of money to give for an individual. But it’s not much, as an award, considering the time and resources one would spent on such a project.

    I am sure many more people are interested in a replacement and are ready to give some money too… So why not a donation system ? A higher number would be very much more attractive to the developers ;-)

  2. Huibert Says:

    I agree, this was the idea I was proposing but it seems that many misunderstood it. What I would like to do is create a fund, like the one that was created to reward the first person who could boot Windows on an Intel Mac. Getting to US$10,000 shouldn’t be that difficult and that would be an interesting price.

  3. Plop Says:

    What do you think about that: http://nanocrew.net/2007/04/05/apple-tv-hacks/ ?

  4. Huibert Says:

    Well, that is very nice but what Mac users really are looking for is a simple way to stream unsupported video formats to the AppleTV without having to hack their US$300 device and voiding the warranty.

  5. Jorge Says:

    Hola,

    “iTunes and the Apple TV most probably exchange video frames” Hmm, not so, I guess… :-(

    Because if you were to send video frames instead of a coded (= highly-compressed) video stream, the data flow would skyrocket way beyond the maximum bandwidth of the 802.11n link (between the Mac and the AppleTV). The typical data rate of the 801.11n seems to be (*) about between 10 and 21 MByte/s, and a stream of 8bpp uncompressed SD video spits out at 20MByte/s !, or, too much for the link’s (typical) bandwidth. Wouldn’t be a good idea, for obvious reasons, and, needless to say, uncompressed HD video bandwidth requirements (**) would be impossible to fullfill (46..165 MByte/s).

    OTOH, why would anybody want to get rid of these nice codecs (that has taken so long to develop) in the weaker piece of the chain (a *radio* link), where they are more needed ?

    Cuidate,
    Jorge Chamorro.

    (*)
    (**)

  6. Huibert Says:

    Jorge,

    You are absolutely right. I do not believe that full video frames are being streamed from iTunes to the Apple TV device. As you mention, there must be some time of compression. However, I believe that iTunes streams video in a single format and does not rely on the video codecs on the AppleTV to decode the incoming video feed. That would mean that no matter what kind of video you are streaming (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, etc.) it is sent in a single format. That is the way it works with AirTunes, all sound formats are converted to Apple’s Lossless format. This makes it easy to stream all kind of audio without requiring to update the airport express device. Of course, with video this could not be the case, but I have not seen anyone check the theory.

    It was nice talking with you back in January, Jorge.