Apple TV: The Review

With the Apple TV racing to break the one million in sales mark this week and my ownership of an Apple TV reaching the one month mark, I thought it would be appropriate to let you all know what I think of Steve’s latest hobby.  Released back in September, the 2nd generation of the Apple TV is a complete revamp from the first generation.  Redesigned to be small in size, about the size of a hockey puck if it were square, the new Apple TV is geared to allow you to stream content till your heart’s content and only boasts a $99 price tag.

Here is a quick rundown of the new features:

  • Streaming:  The new Apple TV is designed to stream content.  It is not designed to house content as it only yields 8GB of flash RAM to act as a buffer during streaming.  Movies, TV shows, music, photos and more are now able to be easily streamed to any Apple TV-connected TV with ease through an HDMI cable.  The new Apple TV also streamlines sharing from your home computers and laptops making getting content you own onto your TV incredibly easy through Home Sharing.
  • Instant Movie and TV Show Rentals:  Through iTunes, there are thousands of HD movies and commercial-free TV shows in HD starting at $3.99 for movies and $.99 for TV shows.
  • Netflix, YouTube, MobileMe and Flickr Enabled:  With a matter of a few clicks and input of your accounts, all of your Netflix, YouTube, MobileMe and Flickr’s streaming glory is now on your TV allowing you to ditch all the computer-to-TV adapters and access all your favorite Flickr and MobileMe galleries.
  • AirPlay: Through the free Remote app, you can control the Apple TV and stream content from your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch with AirPlay that allows you to push video and audio content wirelessly from your iOS devices with the tap of a button.

Before I start to really dig into the new features and whether the new Apple TV should be a staple in your entertainment center, let’s take a look at the hardware.   Incredibly tiny, the new Apple TV is just 3.9 inch square, stands just .9 inches off the table and weighs a measly .6 pounds in a black matte finish.  The new Apple TV is pretty sleek and can easily become invisible with your other components if that is what you are looking for.  On the back of the device, the Apple TV has an HDMI port that is capable of delivering audio and video through an HDMI cable to your TV, an optical audio hook-up for those looking for more authentic sound through a stereo system, Ethernet jack, micro USB jack for “service and support” supposedly, and a port for the power cable.  The guts of the Apple TV consist of an A4 processor which is the same as the chip that powers your iPhone 4, iPad and new iPod Touch, however I don’t believe that Apple has released the clock speed on the device.  I would suspect that it is comparable or slightly lower than the 1GHz version that is in the iPad.  The Apple TV is also equipped with a measly 256MB of RAM and features both wired internet and wireless (802.11a/b/g/n) capabilities.

Similar to most Apple interfaces, the software and UI of the Apple TV are pretty sharp, simple and elegant.  Either through the Remote app or the Apple TV remote, you can easily navigate through the iTunes content for rent, your already owned iTunes content and the internet services I mentioned before (Netflix, YouTube, etc).  One of the biggest drawbacks to the interface is the remote.  It’s a complete pain in the ass to put in your iTunes account and password information into the Apple TV through the actual remote, however it’s actually a breeze with the Remote app so I highly recommend going that route if you can.  The set up and update of the Apple TV is pretty straight forward as well.  Simply put in your iTunes account information, set up the networking, enable home sharing and you are off to the races.  Updates are installed over the network and automatically notify you when they are available.

From a HD standpoint, the Apple TV only streams 720p content even though it is capable of playing 1080p content.  Despite the 720p resolution, the clarity of the video is unreal.  Watching an episode of Lost, I practically felt like I should have ran out of my house from the smoke monster.  The output looks really good for 720p.  In case you didn’t read the post on the latest iOS, I have to admit that AirPlay is pretty sweet in that it allows you to stream music and video straight to your Apple TV wirelessly from any new iOS device.  This will definitely be a game changer for many new products.

So you may be thinking that the Apple TV has it all, but it actually doesn’t.  In terms of TV content, the Apple TV is limited to its current partners ABC, Disney, Fox, and the BBC and only plays the following formats; M4V, MP4, or MOV files so you are out of luck if your favorite content is AVI, DivX, MKV-based until there is a decent jailbreak solution that helps remedy that situation.  For a list of all the good hacks available on the Apple TV, check out Apple TV Hacks.  My other biggest gripe is that you cannot purchase content and leave it in the cloud for streaming later on.  The Apple TV is a completely rental-focused device.  Personally, I like to own my content so that I can watch it whenever I want so I have to go the route of downloading/converting content from one of my computers and then streaming it through home sharing.  Not a showstopper by any means, but it is an extra step that you will have to put up with.  Amazon has a better option with its Video On Demand feature in that you have a dedicated basket where you can access your purchased content from pretty much any device you want.  Also since Apple is advertising and aiming this device for the rental market, they need to drop the prices of what is available in iTunes.  The prices of Season Passes to TV shows are almost always higher than other options such as Amazon VOD and previous seasons are pretty expensive too.  For example, Modern Family is one of my favorite shows.  To get a Season Pass, it is $52.99 for the current season and $40 to catch up on the previous season.  In Amazon, Season 1 in HD costs $31.99.  Now you could possibly download this content through other means such as BitTorrent or UseNet but that’s just crazy talk.

Overall, the Apple TV is a pretty impressive device at a nice price.  At $99, it is priced to alleviate impulse buy remorse while delivering pretty solid audio and video.  AirPlay, NetFlix, Flickr, Home Sharing, the ability to showcase my photo galleries on my TV and the Remote app all make the user experience pretty seamless and enjoyable.  Even though a few shortcomings, the Apple TV can really be a standout in Apple’s line and if you are looking a dead simple device to stream your iTunes content and rent movies/TV shows, then the Apple TV is a no brainer.

[ad#336 x 280 Large Rectangle Picture]