The new Apple TV ($99) has hit the hands of consumers, including yours truly, and after a first look at the device once it arrived, it was time to put it to use.
Apple TV is a polarizing device, as the release of most Apple products seem to be, with Apple TV experiencing popularity on the day it was announced, but also showing to be a device some have been less than thrilled about. The reasoning behind the polarity of Apple TV can be attributed to what it lacks (more on that later), the pending arrival of Google TV and its features, and a general disdain for all things Apple by some.
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With that, we begin our look at Apple TV, its features, what we like, what we don’t like, culminating with our conclusion.
Compared to the original version of Apple TV, the new version is 80 percent smaller, weighs .6 pounds, is less than an inch in height, and measures less than 4 inches in width.
Apple TV features Apple’s A4 processor, the same processor used in iPhone 4 and the iPad, ports for HDMI, Optical audio and 10/100BASE-T Ethernet cables, a built-in 6-watt universal power supply, and WiFi capabilities (802.11a/b/g/n).
Other features of Apple TV include; instant HD movie rentals, Apple TV only supports 720p resolution rather than 1080p, (resolution is not a real issue when it comes to streaming video, so put aside the 720p concerns) instant HD TV rentals (except for those in Canada according to reports), Netflix, YouTube, MobileMe, and Flickr compatibility.
The device itself is small, silent, and easy to set up. Unless one needs to connect Apple TV directly to a router, the built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi requires entry of your network information, and once connected to an HDMI compatible TV, you are up and running. From that point on, the device is constantly in standby mode, featuring no On/Off function, resulting in the device using less than a watt of power.
The television I connected Apple TV to? A Philips 42-inch HD Integrated Flat Panel Plasma TV. Not top of the line, but a good TV none the less. Streaming 720p content through Apple TV was impressive with respect to quality, and there was no noticeable difference between using a PS3 to stream Netflix content and using Apple TV.
The sound quality Apple TV provides is also to be commended. Sound quality is excellent, standard stereo is rich, while 5.1 was as crisp as one can imagine.
One downside to the device is the use of infared technology in lieu of bluetooth, to connect Apple TV with the included remote, meaning control of the device is limited to line-of-sight connectivity. Use of bluetooth would allow one to control Apple TV without the need for line-of-sight connectivity. That said, including bluetooth in the device itself, compatible accompanying remote, would have made for a more expensive device and an easier to control device.
Despite lack of bluetooth and inclusion of infared, the new remote is compact, pleasing to the eye, easy to use (featuring only menu, return, and play/pause buttons, with navigation controls through a directional click wheel) and looks completely different from the previous version of the Apple TV remote.
Another method of controlling Apple TV for those with an iPhone, iPad, and/or iPod touch is the recently updated Remote app (the iPhone version of the Remote app pictured below) which allows one to control Apple TV through a touch surface and virtual buttons.
One can also connect multiple laptops and/or home computers on a home network to stream content to Apple TV, providing quick access to video, photos, and music stored on your Mac or PC. Once you the settings are configured for home sharing on both your computer and Apple TV, accessing content from your Mac or PC is dead simple.
It must be noted that to access one’s iTunes library through Apple TV requires the user’s Mac or PC connected via home sharing to be turned on for Apple TV to pull up your library of content.
Apple has shunned downloaded content in favor of streaming, rented content. Movies and individual TV episodes can be rented and streamed to Apple TV from iTunes. Movies can be streamed in 720p HD with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, and will run one $4.99 for new titles, $3.99 for older titles, or rented in standard definition at $3.99 for new titles and and $2.99 for older titles.
One thing early adopters of the device will notice at present is the dearth of TV episodes for rent. Currently only ABC, Disney, BBC, and FOX offer series for rent, so hopefully your favorite program(s) are on one of those networks. Episodes can be streamed in 720 HD, with 5.1 surround if applicable, or in standard definition for $0.99 per episode. New episodes of a series currently airing on cable or satellite can be rented for 24 hours after the original air date, again, for $0.99.
Another method of viewing content is through Netflix. With a $9-per-month subscription, one can can stream an unlimited amount of video content from Netflix to Apple TV. The user interface is pleasing to the eye, featuring access to your Instant Queue, the ability to search and browse categories like “New Arrivals,” “Movie Genres,” and more.
That said, while the addition of accessing Netflix content through Apple TV is nice, if one has a Wii, Playstation 3, select HDTVs and/or Blu-ray players, it’s not a mind-blowing feature.
Not to be forgotten, one can also access content from YouTube, MobileMe, and Flickr through Apple TV.
What I Liked:
- Price: Apple TV is only $99
- Ability to rent movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store
- Streaming Netflix support
- Incredibly small design
- Very nice user interface which can be controlled in a variety of ways
What I Didn’t Like:
- Limited selection of TV shows
- Odd lack of agreement between the Apple TV iTunes Store and that on one’s computer
- Current lack of support for Pandora, Last.fm and other media apps
- Lack of AirPlay. A feature which sounds neat, but is currently not available
The new version of Apple TV is priced very low, $99, making it a device with a price point that nearly anyone can afford, or easily save up for, in order to bring iTunes content, Netflix and more to one’s home TV. Compared to more expensive options like a Blu-ray player, Playstation 3, Wii, or one of the other aforementioned devices, Apple TV is affordable. Further, the device is so small that it fits anywhere and doesn’t require a massive home entertainment system renovation to accommodate it. For those seeking an inexpensive, easy-to-use, device with access to a fair amount of content, the new Apple TV is certainly worth your consideration.