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The Apple TV set-top box has had one of the most varied histories of any recent Apple product, having actually evolved through three fundamentally different designs from its humble beginnings back in 2007.
Many who weren’t on board with the concept back then have probably forgotten that the original Apple TV had a lot more in common with the Mac mini of the time than it did with the diminutive black set-top boxes that we’re all more familiar with today.
The resemblance wasn’t just superficial either. The first-generation Apple TV contained an internal hard drive — 40GB at first, with a later release offering a 160GB model for those who wanted more storage — and rather than streaming content from the cloud, it synced to a Mac or PC running iTunes much like the classic iPods of the day, with the only major distinction being that the Apple TV could do so over a network connection rather than a USB cable.
Still, while it may seem primitive compared to its modern fully app-capable and cloud-connected descendant, the first-gen Apple TV entered a world where Netflix was still in the business of renting out DVDs by mail.
However, what many may not have realized is that this first-gen model was also powered by an Intel CPU, since it came out in the days before Apple had fully embraced ARM devices. As a result, it was theoretically possible for it to run Mac OS X, and with that option on the table, you just know that there are people who took up the challenge.
To be clear, this wasn’t something that was approved by Apple in any way, shape, or form, and it wasn’t an easy process since even though the Apple TV had an Intel CPU in common with the Macs of the day, the rest of the hardware was more unique. Essentially it was like building a “Hackintosh” with the only difference is that people were actually doing it on Apple hardware.
A Blast from the Past
Now 9to5Mac has uncovered a new video by YouTube channel Computer Clan that shows exactly what this process was like, while also providing some unique insights into the first-gen Apple TV for those who may have never actually experienced the original device that started it all.
The original Apple TV wasn’t all that different from the later models in one very important area, and that’s the fact that it didn’t have a user interface that particularly lent itself to anything other than being connected to a TV. So as the video illustrates, the process isn’t a simple one by any stretch of the imagination, requiring that the hard drive to be removed from the Apple TV and inserted into a real Mac in order to get Mac OS X Tiger installed onto it.
Once installed, however, Mac OS X Tiger can be made to work, although arguably not very well, particularly in regard to graphics performance, since of course the Intel chipset in the Apple TV was optimized for straight H.264 video playback and not much else. So this definitely falls into the category of something that’s only worth doing simply because you can, but it’s a fun look at Apple’s technology from a bygone era, and if you happen to still have a 2007 Apple TV model kicking around it’s probably about the only thing you’ll be able to do with it, since Apple has otherwise discontinued all support for these older models to actually function as set-top boxes.