Simple HTPC?



I’ve been here before, but thought I’d start over.

My brother’s (original) AppleTV (running Flash/NitroTV) is currently in a state of unknown recovery - my mother advises that when it is started, it just goes to “a screen with lots of words”. I’m guessing a kernel panic or similar? Any Gen1 gurus around? I suspect it needs a new hard drive, but given the age of the machine (circa 2009), I’m concerned if I start replacing things, other issues may arise… (Also not super keen on the amount of Terminal work required to replace the HDD.)

That leaves me having to consider either a 2 / 3 / or 4 - provided they can be customised to offer an incredibly simple interface. My brother has Down Syndrome, and if he ends up in the wrong place, he’ll just keep pressing buttons “til it works”. He’s wiped an external hard drive, and changed the language to Japanese in the past… and given he’s in Horsham with my non-tech-savvy parents, and I’m in Geelong - help is a long way away.

According to this link, I can hide unwanted apps on a 2/3, or delete them on the 4.

Whilst that sounds great, in reality - does anyone know how many apps Apple forces you to keep? Is it like iOS where you have to have certain apps?

Next issue with a modern machine - the media files being used are a mixture of mov, avi, etc - ie not all are iTunes friendly. Does Apple still force you to use specific codecs / file types? This will be a huge issue to redo all my files… not to mention - I assume you still can’t plug a hard drive into the AppleTV?? So I’ll also need to hook something up to my parent’s iMac (they have a moderately sized SSD).

Thanks for any advice you can offer…




Apps you cannot delete:

  • TV
  • App Store
  • Movies
  • TV Shows
  • Computers
  • Music
  • Podcasts
  • Search
  • Photos
  • Settings

However you can put them in a folder to help get them out if the way.

There’s also some parental restrictions that might be useful, but hiding apps isn’t part of that.

Yes, but the store has several third party apps to get around that. If your plan is to plug in a HDD to an iMac then Infuse or VLC would be options that can play many codecs that Apple don’t officially support, like MKV.

No you can’t plug a HDD into the Apple TV.

Plugging it into a router could be an option though if they have one. Saves the iMac from having to be woken up.

Apple TV 2 I believe is out for you, it doesn’t solve your codec issue. It doesn’t have an App Store either and either does gen 3.


Which may in fact be the solution to a brother who deletes things because he becomes frustrated with them. You get the apps Apple says you can ahve and nothing else. You can install an app on a computer which can then “hijack” one of the unused apps, so you can have Plex on board (atv3 probably best). I used to hijack iMovie because I knew I would never use it in its expected way. It cant be deleted on the ATV, only via the computer. If he doesnt have access to the computer, it should all be OK.

Look here: and follow the links to the install guides etc. Its been a while since I had to do it, but it might be worth it to you in the interests of keeping things simple. There is no app store, so no problems of deleted apps. You can hide the stuff you dont want him to access. BUT you will have to do all of it, so take your laptop with you for a visit when the time comes. Or do it all on the parental iMac, assuming he has no access to that. Which for Plex will then need to be left on all the time he wants to see stuff thats on that drive (because of the Plex server)


Thank-you for the suggestions @frankie & @kyte :slight_smile:

My parents resisted the idea of trying my brother out on an Apple TV (or similar) as they doubted he would be able to handle it, and yet by the end of 1 weekend with me there showing him, he was doing pretty well - navigating the simple list, playing what he wanted to watch - just from the simple NitoTV menu, with cover-art so he could see a pic for each item. Problem as noted though is when he for instance goes too far “back” and ends up in the main menu. Then it can become an issue.

My dad manages my brother’s finances very well, so fiscally a 4 is not an issue if it will do the job. The interface is the other big issues - I’ll try check out VLC and Plex to see how easily they can be navigated.


How about a Mac Mini and using Front row?
Do you still have your G4 1.5Ghz Mini?
Running 10.4 or 10.5?

Not sure how it will handle some of the HD content you may/may not have?
I can’t remember whether Front Row needs everything in m4v format though.
Seems there is a plugin that allows you to expand.

Early model Intel Mac Mini may also do your bidding. Could handle HD better as well.


If you can slim an ATV4 down enough it’s probably a good choice.

App wise I’d consider two alternatives. Plex can be pretty simple as can MrMC (Kodi port for ATV4). Plex is probably a little simpler to use once it’s configured since there isn’t too much that can go wrong on the front end. You also can’t really break it from the ATV itself.

The downside is that Plex will need some sort of always-on PC to run Plex Server… which leads to the next part of the problem. Plex really does need nice file naming conventions or it won’t pick things up as it should when adding them to its library (this was probably the primary reason I didn’t go down this path myself for so long). Once it’s done though, it’s pretty good. Next up the server does need to have some amount of power since its going to have to transcode stuff on the fly. You can flick a switch to make it “pre-transcode” everything which is nice and handy and beats doing it manually.

MrMC, on the other hand, does everything on board. No server needed so as long as you can access a network share from somewhere (even a UDB HDD plugged into a router somewhere) it can play back pretty much everything… It’s also possible to just view a list of files. Two of the reasons I stuck with XBMC/Kodi/MrMC for so long. Mind you, with all the configuration in the front end it’s probably not the best thing to be able to randomly click on.

Failing that, maybe an old WDTV? They were pretty simple, although not nearly as pretty and they were a bit clunky and slow.


Hey @leon :slight_smile:

I do still have both the G4, and Intel Mac minis - the G4 isn’t any good as it wont work with the remote control, but the Intel Mini may be a goer. It has a 120GB hdd, so a bit less than the ATV1, but if it works out, I could replace it…

I am pretty sure that Front Row plays anything that Quicktime does - so with Perian etc, it’s pretty broad in what it can handle - certainly enough for what I need. The main issue I’m facing however - cover art doesn’t seem to be working. Reading online, I see it was a common complaint from about version 2.0 onwards… (I could always try devolve to an older version)

Apparently iTunes downloads had artwork embedded, and Quicktime Pro could apparently set the “poster image” which would work as the cover art image, but otherwise the only workaround is to put the cover art image (with same name as the movie file) inside the same folder as the movie file. This does make cover art work, however you then have both the movie and image files showing up in Front Row - which would confuse my brother. If I have to go through a few hundred files to add the image in Quicktime Pro, then I will… if I find a key laying around…

Next issue - I tried a new user with “Simple Finder”, which is pretty good as you can set it to only allow access to specific apps - ie just Front Row - But it seems you can’t ALSO set it to auto-start an app - ie Front Row. I could auto-start the app on the admin account only. So I may just have to go with the main account, auto-start FrontRow, and then do my best to hide away everything…

Does anyone know - on a Mac with a remote synced - does pressing PLAY (or any other key) open Front Row if Front Row is on the computer? Or - is there a way to set it so it does?

G’day @The_Hawk

I’ve just about sorted all of my files for Plex actually - so the hard part is done already. As noted, I’d have to have a look at the interface on the AppleTV to see if my brother could handle it - be it Plex or MrMC… etc… My other brother has a ATV4, so I might run it passed him and see what he thinks, as he can at least check it out easily.

Thanks for all the feedback everyone. As I said above, I know I’ve been here before - thought I’d have to find an alternative to the ATV1 about a year ago, but managed to resurrect it. But I really think it’s time to move forward - even if it’s only little steps.


Plex is easiest once you get it set up. I tried MrMc Lite last night and could not even work out where my files were. Does your intel Mini have enough grunt to run Plex?

An alternative may be Infuse if you require a NAS, or drive plugged into a router, and your computer off. INfuse does not need a server. Have a read at There are also a couple of options for the original AppleTV if you can resurrect it. They do cost $$$ though, Plex is cheaper, and its server is free.

There is absolutely NO foolproof way to get it set up so your brother cannot do anything to it, as far as I know.


Given your requirements I think I’d probably look into running Kodi and locking down a simple skin like Amber - remove as much functionality as possible so it basically just gives a list of media.

If you don’t have a suitable box for running Kodi on, consider LibreELEC on a cheapy AMLogix S905X or S912 based box.

Some excellent advice in this thread on WP