Just got my AppleTV yesterday and I'm now up and running with Boxee and XBMC. However, it wasn't easy, largely because I had to search all over these forums for answers to my questions when I encountered problems. So I was hoping to collect what I learned into a single forum post. I realize that this will probably become outdated and I can't promise to maintain it. But it should be good for AppleTV 2.3 and ATV UBS Creator 1.0.b10 at least. I apologize for the length. (Just found this video review - nice info if you're on the fence about doing this, check it out.)
I tried to separate this into two parts: the instructions, and then the comments.
There are lots of simple how-to lists, but they gloss over a lot of details that I found important and if you hit a problem, then you're in trouble. I found the step by step list at Wired most helpful. My biggest complaint is that there isn't a single wiki-like page that is a) up to date and b) tells you how to recognize when things go wrong and finally c) how to handle common problems. There's a ton of info spread all over these forums. We need a single place to gather all the latest info and wisdom in ONE PLACE.
The high level steps are:
A) Get an Apple TV, set it up and update it
B) Make a patchstick
C) Install the stuff and update it
STEP A: set up AppleTV
Obviously you need an Apple TV. But I haven't seen anyone mention tips on setting it up for optimal patching. I would:
* Use HDMI, not component.
* Keep the resolution set to default (480) till you're done.
See next post for more info, but basically this should help you read the patcher logs, which turns out to be important.
Once installed and running, you should update it to the latest firmware (2.3). If it's higher than that, then this post is probably out of date.
STEP B: create patchstick
Download the ATV USB Creator utility here. Again, these comments are for 1.0.b10.
You don't need to download the Boxee/XBMC image. Don't click "Choose a DMG" even. It's not obvious, but you don't need to do anything with this - it will download what it needs. All the other default settings are fine, just leave them alone. All you need to do is plug in a USB drive (and unplug ALL OTHERS), format it with Disk Utility and hit "Create using". This video helps a lot (though it's already out of date):
I've seen different size requirements, but I was able to use a 512GB stick. Well, the creator app said it worked, anyway, though this drive didn't work on the actual patching.
STEP C: install patches
Now... even though the USB Creator says that it succeeded, that doesn't mean that it'll work. I had to go through 3 drives before one worked, even though the creator thing said they were all successfully completed and the files on the drive all looked right. Worse yet, I couldn't even tell that they failed. I followed the patcher instructions, rebooted, saw the penguin, saw logs, rebooted again.... but there was no change to my AppleTV menus (despite some multiple Apple logo flashes and longer boot-up). The key here was seeing the very last patcher log giving you the SSH login credentials ("frontrow" for both user ID and password). If you don't see that, then it wasn't successful. This video helps give you some idea how to do all this and what it looks like, but again, mine looked just like this and failed.
Note that the only log I saw indicating failure was "patchstick failed", somewhere in the middle of my patching logs. This was on my first USB drive (SanDisk Cruzer min 512MB). The second drive (Kingston 4GB) wasn't even recognized. The third one (SanDisk Cruzer Micro 2GB) worked.
When you reboot and see the new menus, then you know it worked for sure. Now you can set your AppleTV screen resolution to 720 or 1080 if you want.
I think the first thing you're supposed to do at this point is go to the "update" submenu on the Boxee/XBMC menu and update everything. Someone below said that you should update the launcher first. After that, I'm not sure.
It's not obvious from what I've read, but my understanding is that XBMC and Boxee are largely redundant. Boxee is based on XBMC. They do many of the same things. My guess is that you'll find one you like and not use the other. If you choose XBMC, search LifeHacker for some interesting tips on XBMC (latest called "Altantis"), including installing other skins. I've been using XBMC for a long time now, so it's what I'm used to. But my guess is that I'll end up using Boxee, once I learn my way around - it has some really cool features that I'm anxious to try.
Finally, another tidbit: I had to tweak a lot of the video settings in XBMC for it to look right. It doesn't seem to be able to figure out my screen's resolution, so "auto" mode didn't work. And I had to scale the default skin by 4% I think to make it fit okay, and I'm still seeing some weird distortion on some screens - no clue why.
So. That was my experience. Hope yours goes more smoothly.
See the next post for some things I'd like to see improved, and some specific issues I had to deal with.