Create a digital Yule log with your Apple TV
As far as holiday traditions go, it’s hard to beat the Yule log for stirring up those feelings of coziness and warmth that come in handy this time of year. Just grab a Bunyanesque chunk of lumber, set it on fire, and bask in its warming glow for the better part of the day while carols play, chestnuts are roasted, and Jack Frost is prohibited from nipping at your nose or any other body part. Yes, the Yule log is just about the perfect holiday tradition—unless you don’t have a fireplace. Or you’re a civic-minded person living in an area that places restrictions on when you can and can’t have a wood-burning fire. Or if the very idea of putting you together with open flame is fraught with peril. In which case, you are boned.
Or boned you would be, were it not for the vision of Fred M. Thrower. Mr. Thrower, who is still awaiting his call from the Nobel committee, was the president and CEO of WPIX-TV in New York in 1966 when he hit upon a wonderful idea—broadcast a couple hours of a Yule log burning on his TV channel for the benefit of fireplace-bereft New Yorkers. The idea turned out to be a smash and quickly spread to other TV stations in other cities across the country.
But even if you can’t find a TV station in your area with its own televised Yule log offering, that doesn’t mean you can’t nudge Fred M. Thrower’s great leap forward into the Digital Age. With just an Apple TV and—if you prefer—an iOS device, you can have a 21st Century Yule log roaring away on your TV screen any time you want.
The YouTube option
The easiest way to get a holiday fire roaring via your Apple TV is to use that device’s built-in YouTube channel. Navigate down to the YouTube icon on the Apple TV’s main screen, user your remote (be it the included Apple Remote or the Remote app on your iOS device) to select that channel, and use the search menu to track down one of the multitude of Yule log videos available on the Google-owned video-streaming service.
But which video to select? To save you the time and trouble of fumbling through your own YouTube searches, here are the most promising Yule log videos we’ve come across, listed by title to help speed up your Apple TV-based searching.
- Beautiful Wood-burning Fireplace Yule Log Video: Beautiful it is, and the crackling sound effects add a nice touch. But at 20 minutes long, it’s among the shortest Yule log videos on our list.
- The Best Fireplace Video: Best? Maybe, maybe not. But at 3 hours, 9 minutes, and 7 seconds, it’s certainly long enough to outlast any of your holiday celebrations.
- 2 Hour Logs Burning in Fireplace!: Yeah, more like 1 hour and 49 minutes, pal.
- WPIX The Original Yule Log: It’s only 10 minutes long, but this is likely the YouTube video Fred M. Thrower would have wanted you to watch.
- Christmas Candles Burning!: From the makers of 1 Hour Christmas Fireplace (in HD), it’s a video that eschews the normal crackling Yule log fire for three candles burning for a little more than 120 minutes.
The problem with these videos: The virtual fire may go out long before you’re ready to stop celebrating the holiday, and there’s no way way to loop YouTube video on your Apple TV. (You have to restart the video manually, which will reduce your holiday cheer factor by at least 10 percent.) And you only can stream from a single source on your Apple TV, meaning that you can’t play music on the device if it’s already streaming a YouTube video. (There’s more than one way to fill your home with holiday music, however.)
The solution to a too-short Yule log video? Take a page out of my colleague Christopher Breen’s book and download the YouTube video using Safari or Firefox; from there, you could import the movie into iTunes and then loop it—so long as you’re playing it from your Mac. (The Videos app on your iOS device doesn’t support looping.)
Apps and AirPlay
If relying on the vagaries of YouTube doesn’t sound like a great plan for spreading holiday cheer, you can always turn to a third-party app that delivers a crackling fire to your iOS device. Through the magic of AirPlay—the streaming technology that lets you wirelessly stream audio and video from your iOS device to your high-definition TV—you can deliver that fire, Prometheus-like, to the big screen.
The iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, fifth-generation iPod touch, and any iPad other than the original version all support AirPlay Mirroring, meaning you can use your TV to show exactly what’s on your iOS device. (Note that third-party app makers can disable this feature.) But other apps support using AirPlay to send video and/or audio content to an external speaker or Apple TV, as long as you’re using any device running iOS 4.3 or later.
Of the dozen or so fireplace simulators in the iOS App Store, I’m going to concentrate on the ones that specifically support AirPlay. And of that bunch, I’d recommend A Very Cozy Fireplace HD. While it seemingly only supports an hour’s worth of fire, it also gives you the option to have musical accompaniment, including Playlists from your device’s Music library. (Though not these songs. Not ever.) Compatible with either the iPhone or the iPad, the $1 Cozy Fireplace HD includes a nice sleep timer for those of you who want to fall asleep to the sounds of a crackling fireplace without the dangers of unattended flame.
Another AirPlay-friendly app option is Fireplace HD+, also $1 and also compatibile with both the iPhone and iPad. The app offers four themes, though two of them veer toward the cheesy. And the videos here are just 30 minutes long. You do get a sleep timer as well as a choice of seasonal audio and a selection of radio channels.
A Very She & Him Christmas: Yule Log was released in support of a year-old holiday album. But fans of Zooey Deschanel may appreciate an app that combines a Yule log with her musical efforts. (Your correspondent confesses that he finds Ms. Deschanel’s appeal elusive.) The app is free, though it comes with only one track from Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward; if you want the whole album, you’ll have to buy it from within the app. But if the music appeals to you, you’re able to stream the whole thing along with a festive fiery Yule log via AirPlay.