I want to be able to film HD home movies and play them on my HDTV right off my server, a Buffalo Terastation, without the use of the camcorder for playback.  The technology that would allow this live local network streaming to happen is UPnP.  Many devices are just now starting to have this technology built-in, but you can typically hack older devices to become a UPnP compliant server or client.

About a month ago, I hacked my Terastation and installed Twonkyvision software that allows you to stream media (movies, photos, and music) to a UPnP enabled client.  The only UPnP client I have is my Xbox 360, which only plays Windows media files and has an awful interface for accessing photos and music.  Since I don’t plan to hack the Xbox 360, I immediately started researching the possibility of using something else as UPnP client that would play all streamed video formats with ease.  Enter Apple TV.

Last week I picked a used 40GB Apple TV on Ebay for $150 plus shipping to see if I could hack it and have it become the new UPnP client on my home network for playback of movies stored on my Terastation.  While I still haven’t hacked the Apple TV to be a UPnP client for the Terastation, I am very impressed with the default out of the box functionality.

First off, Apple updated the Apple TV’s software (they call it Take 2) so that you no longer need a computer running iTunes to download content to the Apple TV.  You simply enter your iTunes information on the Apple TV and you can download movies, podcasts, music videos, TV shows, and music as you see fit from the iTunes Store using the remote.  I can’t believe that this is not the way it worked from the beginning!

Mama and I started watching the entire first season of Burn Notice a couple of nights ago and think it’s awesome to be able to catch up with a full season of a show virtually on demand.  You can start watching the first episode after about 1 minute of download time and the rest of the episodes download in the background.  The best thing about getting the episodes through iTunes is the lack of commercials.  I found myself instinctually reaching for the remote to fast forward through commercials, but there was no need.  It’s the TiVo that needs that jazz.

Other cool features that are part of the Take 2 software are the ability to connect to Flickr and see public photos from *anyone* and the ability to login to YouTube and see your own favorite videos as well as browse YouTube’s featured, most viewed, most recent, and top rated videos.  You can even search through YouTube using keywords.

The Flickr feature is what I believe will make family albums obsolete.  I can see my own public photos as well as the public photos of my friends right on my HDTV in the living room!  The most awesome thing is that you can see much more detail than on a 4" x 6" photograph, a 5" x 7" photograph, or even your own computer screen.  There’s nothing like a 36" diagonal or even larger HDTV to view digital photos in all of their detail and splendor.  Last night I found myself looking at photos that I had seen 100 times before just to look at the incredible color and detail in the backgrounds.  I also had a great time seeing the photos from my friend Larry’s Tuscon to SF roadtrip.

The YouTube feature is crazy cool too!  I spent a couple of hours browsing videos and saving my favorites for watching again later.  Watching this proof of concept video by Neill Blomkamp, the director of the new on-again-off-again live action Halo movie, blew me away.  I certainly hope that the film gets made after watching this.

Ultimately, the Apple TV is awesome for getting content from the iTunes Store and the Internet.  And it will be even better once it’s hacked!  After that it will also be able to play all of the media stored on the local network server.  If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

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