Apple TV Review and Report

By Paul Riegler on 20 June 2011
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There’s a lot to like about the second-generation Apple TV.  It’s incredibly small, it has a superb user interface, it streams music and video from computers on the same network (with iTunes running), and it costs only $99.

Although I knew the Apple TV would be small, it wasn’t until I had unpacked it and placed it next to the original Apple TV box that I realized just how tiny it was.  It seemed even smaller when I placed it next to the Logitech Revue Google TV box (or was it that the Google TV box seemed huge by comparison?)

Setting up the Apple TV was reasonably straightforward.  After unpacking, I plugged in the power, plugged in the HDMI cable and… nothing.  At first, the remote (without which one cannot set up the Apple TV) did not want to work.  Removing the battery and putting it back did the trick although getting the battery cover back on was tricky.  The system asked me to select language and Wi-Fi network although the remote is ill-suited for entering long passphrases – it was just too easy to select the wrong character on screen.

The system asked for my Apple ID to create my Home Share and then it updated itself to the latest version before going any further.

Once this was all done (and the setup time was still under 20 minutes), I was off and running.

The Apple TV had no problem recognizing my iTunes music and film library and accessing content from my computer via the device’s sleek and elegant user interface was so simple an adult could do it.

The device’s chief shortcoming is content.  Compared to other devices such as Roku, which offers Amazon Instant Video with 90,000 movies and TV shows from every network and Hulu Plus, there simply isn’t that much with the exception of Netflix content, which the company says is in excess of 20,000 titles.  There are approximately 8,000 movies in the iTunes store.  Offerings consist of a limited number of shows from ABC, Disney, Fox, and the BBC.   An update this past March added live streaming of sports programming from MLB.TV and NBA League Pass.   Some Netflix movies will play with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio and AirPlay, which now allows compatible third-party applications to stream video to an Apple TV-connected device such as an iPad.

I was able to easily push music, photos, and videos from my iPad 2 to my flatscreen that was connected to Apple TV using AirPlay, Apple’s way of allowing users to stream such content from and iPhone or iPad to bigger (and presumably better) speakers and screens in your home.  Not all applications are compatible (sadly, Hulu and the broadcast networks are not) but I was able to start a show on the iPad and then switch it to the big screen when desired.  I could also control what I was watching with gestures on the iPad.

The included remote is fine for day-to-day use (although it was insufferable when I had to enter my passphrase during setup) but the Apple TV really shines when using an iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad as the controller (there’s an app for that, Remote).  With Remote, you can use gesture-based controls to swipe and tap to your heart’s desire and you can also use the device’s keyboard for text entry.  You can even browse through your iTunes library using cover art.   (N.b. it’s not possible, however, to use an iOS device for the initial setup.)

The Netflix interface on the Apple TV is far superior to its counterpart in Google TV in that it does not require the user to take the extra step of adding movies to the instant queue on a computer.  I watched a few trailers and decided to rent the sequel of Wall Street.  The movie began to play within seconds and video and audio quality was excellent.

The Apple TV and its ilk are part of a revolution, one that sees more and more people watching “television” from non-traditional sources, such as streaming content from Netflix, Amazon on Demand, and other Internet sources.  As of now, no one box will substitute for old-fashioned cable TV but each new device brings us one step closer to cutting the cable.



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