Ghetto Apple TV for Under US$70

About: In my free time, I like building and repairing almost anything especially with found or recycled materials.

An Apple TV is basically a media player with a nice GUI, a hard disk, network capability, and costs over US$200.

My Ghetto Apple TV is a media player, well, it's a DVD player that plays AVIs through USB port (US$50), with a not so nice GUI, a hard disk (from an old PC), and a NetDisk enclosure (US$19.95).

This is part of a bigger instructable outlining a media network that records off satellite TV and streams media around the house, but I figured some people might just want to watch their AVIs on a TV or through a projector.  Hopefully you might already have some (or all) of these components already lying around the house!

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Step 1: Find a Media Player With a USB Port

First, you need something to play your media using a USB port.  Most modern DVD players will play AVI files and some of them will play AVI files via build-in USB ports.  If you aren't sure, just carry a USB flash drive with a test video with you the next time you visit the electronics shop.  Often the generic brands can do it even if they don't officially support it.  I bought a DSE model G3026.  Inside it has a SUNPLUS SPHE828 chipset, which is about as basic as you can get.  I've opened dozens of DVD players and lots of them have SUNPLUS chipsets of various flavours.  Some have USB, some USB & SD, others don't have either on the outside but support it on the circuit.

I've always been more comfortable with a soldering iron than a credit card, but you may be the opposite....

Step 2: Now Find a Hard Drive That You Can Connect to Your Media Player

Now that you've found a player that works with your favorite video/audio formats over USB, you need somewhere to store it.  If you are happy with sneakernet (you don't need the hard drive networked), just find a USB hard drive that the media player will recognise.  Some will see most hard drives but the less you pay, the more finicky the player is likely to be.

If your player plays off the USB drive but doesn't recognise your hard drive, try these tricks:
1) Use a hard drive that is 128GB or smaller
2) If bigger than 128gb, try a 128GB partition
3) Format the drive using FAT32
4) Wrap electrical tape around the outside of the USB connector (either side).  Sometimes the players think it is a flash drive if it doesn't share an earth (ground) (pic 1)
5) Use a hard drive that has it's own power adapter

So if you could use a spare external hard drive you might have lying around (pic 2).
You might have a drive from an old PC or laptop and you could buy a external enclosure for it (pic 3)
Or if you are really cheap, you skip the external case and just buy the USB to PATA/SATA connector (pic 3) and power it up with an old PC power supply.

Step 3: Now Network Your Media Storage.

 Hopefully if you are reading this, your media player plays what you want off the hard disk.  You need to find a external drive or enclosure that has a USB connection and can be recognised on your home network.  I did this with a Ximeta NetDisk enclosure (pic 1).  You connect the hard drive to your media player via USB and to your home network via RJ45 cable.  For the NetDisk, the USB has priority over the RJ45 port so if the player is on, it acts like a external USB hard disk, but if the player is off, it acts like a network drive.  I've got two media players on our network; KLR (Kids Living Room) and MBR (Master Bedroom) (pic 4).

So now you copy all your media over to your networked hard drive, turn on the media player and start enjoying it on your TV or projector.

I hope that everyone will try different players and through your comments, we can set up a database of the working media player solutions!

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    14 Discussions

    My Sony BD Player has USB port on the back, and plays all my AVI files (and other video files). They are selling in the $100. range with Blu Ray Live... connects to internet.


    9 years ago on Introduction

     This is pretty awesome, another alternative is softmodding an old xbox you can pick up off craigslist. You get a super cheap media player with network capabilities and a GUI better than the apple TV.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    What model Xbox is recommended?

    As a games console, all such machines are banned from this household, as a DVR it's well worth the consideration.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     Thanks for the comment.  We've had two of them running without problems for a couple of years now. There are definitely limitations:

    1. The GUI doesn't like long file names (only the old MS-DOS 12345678.123 format) and the names it "shortens" to aren't that useful.

    2. You have to format the hard drive to FAT32 which has size limitations.

    3. The old Netdisks only support PATA drives which are getting harder to find.  They might work with an adapter....


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     I had a mate coming out to NZ so I had the NetDisks shipped to their US address. The USPS has some pretty good shipping rates.  Their small flat-rate priority box for US$13.45 is up to 4 pounds.  If the power adapter is 110v only, tell the seller to take it out because you don't want it anyway (Your local recycling centre will have bins of 240v ones to adapt or use).  Hope this helps...


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     Very old school with the vcr :).  So what is the vertical silver thing next to the xbox? 


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    its an rca switch from when i didn't have a vcr that i could plug stuff into now i just keep it because i have more stuff than will plug into the vcr