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Got an Apple TV for Christmas? Here's how to set it up

Did you find a new Apple TV under the tree or in your Christmas stocking this morning? If you did, you're probably anxious to get it set up and running just as soon as you're done drinking more eggnog and eating those waffles. This is the perfect time to check out some instructions from us on how to set up your new device. Follow along, and we'll give you the info you need to get your Apple TV up and running in no time.

We're also taking questions all day on our tricks & tips Twitter account, Ask_TUAW. Pipe up if you need help!

1) Make sure your TV is going to work with the Apple TV. You need a TV with an available HDMI input that is capable of displaying 720p HDTV. If you don't, then now is the time to take a break and brave the after-Christmas sales to buy yourself a new TV. C'mon, you deserve it.

2) Get an HDMI cable. Guess what? Unless Santa also left you an HDMI cable to connect your TV to the Apple TV, you're going to have to wait to play with your new toy. Of course, you can always steal the cable that's currently connecting your Blu-Ray player to the HDTV, and replace it tomorrow when you go to the mall to return that hideous chartreuse and maroon sweater Aunt TUAW gave you for Christmas. But seriously, folks, you need an HDMI cable. Six feet is usually a good length.

3) Open the Apple TV box. There's not much in that little box. You'll see some paperwork, a nice little aluminum remote, a power cord, and the black box that is the Apple TV. Take 'em all out, but be sure to keep the box until you know everything works. By the way, there is a Setup Guide in the box. It has a black cover with TV printed on it. It'll tell you a lot of the same stuff I'm writing here, but if you threw it out with the wrapping paper, at least you have my instructions to follow.

4) Look at the back of the Apple TV. Grab that little black box and rip off any plastic covering it. With the Apple logo facing up, look at the back -- it's the side with all of the ports. On the left is where the power plugs in. Next is an HDMI port, with a Micro USB port beneath it (don't get excited; that Micro USB port is just for troubleshooting). To the right of that is an optical digital audio port, and finally, on the right side, is an Ethernet port. Now you're familiar with all of the possible places to plug things in.

5) Plug in the cables. OK, you have the cable and the proper TV, so now you are going to start hooking stuff up. Run the HDMI cable between the port on the back of the Apple TV and an open HDMI port on your TV. Be sure to remember which HDMI port you plugged into, as you'll need that information shortly. Note that if you're using a optical digital audio cable to run an audio signal to a home theater box (this is the situation I'm in), now is the time to connect that cable as well. Finally, if you want to connect the Apple TV to your wired (Ethernet) network, now's the time to grab a spare Ethernet cable, plug it into the Ethernet port on the back of the Apple TV, and plug the other end into your router or a network jack.

6) Plug in the power. Take the power cord and plug the plastic end into the back of the Apple TV, and plug the end with the metal plugs into a wall socket. Since you're probably going to put the Apple TV in its normal resting place at this point, make sure that you don't place anything on top of it. It's also a good idea not to place it on top of other electronic equipment, although I have mine sitting right on top of my AirPort Extreme Base Station. Do as I say, not as I do.

7) Turn on your TV. Chances are pretty good that you may see a blank, black screen at this point, or some TV commercial is going to be blasting away. If that's the case, you need to change the setting on your TV to make sure that it's getting a signal from the HDMI port that you plugged your Apple TV into. On my TV, there's a menu that lets me choose one of three HDMI ports. I have the Apple TV plugged into HDMI 2, so that's the input I need to set the TV to. Once you have the correct port configured on the TV, you should see the Apple TV main menu or an Apple logo (seen when the Apple TV is booting up).

8) Configure your Wi-Fi network. If you connected your Apple TV to Ethernet with a cable, skip this step. Your network is already configured. If not, your Apple TV will ask you to select a Wi-Fi network. You do know the name of your network and the password for it, don't you? If you've forgotten, go find 'em now. Using that shiny Apple remote, select the name of the network from the list that appears, or type in the name if it is hidden. You'll have to use the up / down / left / right and select buttons on the remote to pick letters from a list to spell the network name and enter that password. Hopefully you're using DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) to have your router hand out IP addresses to devices on your Wi-Fi network -- if you aren't, you get to enter in an IP address, subnet mask, router address, and DNS addresses as well. Continue to follow the instructions posted on the screen to finish the Wi-Fi connection and make sure that a connection to the internet is established.

9) Connect to iTunes. OK, drop everything and go to your Mac or PC now. You need to set up iTunes, since it's going to be your source for photos, music, and other media. (If you don't already have iTunes installed, don't worry -- we've got the basic steps covered right here.)

First, make sure that iTunes is at version 10.0.1 or later. You can check this through Software Update on a Mac, or on a PC by launching iTunes, then selecting Help > Check for updates. Once you're sure that you've got the latest version of iTunes, launch it and set up Home Sharing by selecting Advanced > Turn On Home Sharing. You'll need to type in your Apple ID and password, and then click that "Create Home Share" button. If you want to share media from other computers in your home, set them up the same way.

10) Set up Home Sharing on the Apple TV. Now, go back to your comfy chair in front of the TV and pick up that Apple Remote again. Use the remote to navigate to the Settings menu, and then select "Computers." Choose "Turn On Home Sharing" and make sure to enter the same Apple ID and password that you entered on the computer. You're ready to roll.

Now that you're having fun, there are a few more things you can do to make your Apple TV experience a pleasant one. For instance, consider installing the free Remote app from Apple on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to control the Apple TV from your device. Another great idea? Get Erica Sadun's free AirFlick app for Mac to stream video from your Mac to your AppleTV, or AirMedia Player for Windows by Apostolos Georgiadis to zap items from your Windows PC to the Apple TV. If you're a Netflix subscriber, be sure to log in from your Apple TV to access streaming movies and TV shows.

Also, be sure to take the time to acquaint yourself with the Settings menu on the Apple TV. You'll want to check for firmware updates on a regular basis, and there may be other options that might catch your attention. If you have any Apple TV tips you want to pass along to other TUAW readers, please leave a comment below.

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