I recently bought myself a 2nd generation Apple TV for the front room. Now I have had it up and running for over a week I thought I should post a quick review of the device.
I have had a computer connected to my main TV for about 5 years now but it was slowly getting used less and less as the time it takes to power up was not very practical. I decided to look at what main uses I required and then set about finding a replacement with a quicker bootup process. As you can probably guess by now I ended up going with the Apple TV. I am not exactly an Apple fanboy but I do have an iPhone and love the simplicity of the interface so that helped make that choice.
So let’s get into what my requirements were and how the Apple TV stacks up…
I have used my media centre computer for a few different purposes over the years but lately there are only a few reasons that I power it up. They are to listen to music through the sound system connected to the TV or to play slideshows of photographs. There are plenty of other lesser uses like surfing the internet or watching TV programs that my wife of I missed or forgot to record for example using iPlayer or SeeSaw. This was very rare though as our Sky HD 1TB box has plenty of space to record all the HD content we could need.
So after a bit of thought I decided that most computer stuff should be done on my PC and I just needed something simple that would allow me to show off some of my best photos quickly and easily and give access to my digital music collection.
Why I Chose The Apple TV
To be perfectly honest the main reason was price!
I wasn’t really expecting to replace my media centre PC immediately I was just thinking about it after the frustration with the latest bout of updates that were required when I last turned it on. It seems that every time I turned on the PC every program on it required and update and when they were finished there would be a handful of Windows updates as well.
When you are trying to host a party or just entertain friends this can be very annoying.
As I mentioned earlier I love the interface of the iPhone so much so I have even been having thoughts about getting a Mac. Being a software developer by profession getting into iPhone development is very tempting even though I know very little about Macs. This does mean that I have a sort of trust of Apple so at that price I couldn’t resist trying it out…
OK so I’ve been playing with it for over a week now, what are my thoughts?
As with most Apple products the Apple TV is simply gorgeous. Simple, extremely compact and the controller looks and feels great. The menu system is easy to navigate and things load pretty quick even though everything is streamed over the network or even the internet.
There were a couple of teething problems connecting to my iTunes library when I first turned it on but after a bit of Googling this was fixed quite simply with a change to the firewall on my PC. This will likely be fixed in the next version of iTunes anyway.
One thing that I do miss is a graphical visualisation when listening to music. I love the G-Force visualisation for Windows Media Player. It is great to have a photo slideshow play continuously but you need to have a big library of photos to avoid seeing the same photos over and over…
There is also a big collection of radio stations available to stream from the internet. The few I’ve tried seem to work pretty seamlessly.
One huge benefit though is AirPlay. This allows you to play music from you iTunes account on your computer and play it through the Apple TV at the same time. You can control which speakers to play the music through with independent volume controls. This works great and can even be controlled directly from an iPhone of iPod touch. I can’t wait to hold a party and have the same music playing in different rooms…
Photo slideshows are simple to set up. You have to share the directories you want to see via iTunes on a computer and then these are available to view or use in slideshows. There is also the ability to connect to a Flickr account to view any photos you have uploaded to the internet. As I don’t currently have a Flickr account I just stuck with selected photos from my collection.
Another useful option allows you to set up a photo slideshow to be used as the screensaver so you can get random photos from your photo collection, or from the internet, while you listen to music or the radio.
One of the big selling points of the Apple TV is the film collection. Another little disappointment is that it is not full 1080p output as the device output 720p images, but this still produces a very crisp image. I had to rent a film, directly from the Apple TV, last night just to check it out so my wife and I settled in to watch Get Him To The Greek.
This cost £4.49 for a HD version of the film, which does seem a little steep but at the same time it is much cheaper than both of us going to the cinema! There are some films available at a lower price. As for watchability then the film started very quickly but after a few minutes it decided to pause as the download caught up. This was a one off though and after a short pause the rest of the video was seamless. When we first went in to start the film we were told it would start in 53 minutes. This was a bit surprising so I navigated back to the menu and when I returned to the film it started almost immediately. It is possible my actions forced the film start before it had buffered enough.
You can also buy films but to do this you have to use iTunes on you computer and then you can stream it to the Apple TV wirelessly or via your local network. You can also add some of your personal videos to your iTunes library and stream them to your TV which is great. There is one little caveat though as the video may need reformatting to be suitable for the Apple TV. I plan to write a future post about how to resample your videos when I have worked out the best way to do it…
As I understand it the US version can also connect to NetFlix for your movie access. This sounds interesting but the option is currently not available over her in the UK.
One last little bonus is the ability to watch YouTube videos and video podcasts directly from the internet. Even though I have had the ability to so this for a while using my media centre PC the whole process was a bit awkward so I never really bothered. The Apple TV makes the process a doddle and so I have noticed an increase on the amount of internet content we watch on the TV.
There is another omission from the UK version. There is no ability to stream TV programmes to the device. This is a bit of a disappointment and there is no access to services like iPlayer as with the PS3 and Wii.
So what is my overall opinion of the Apple TV?
I love it!
It is by no means perfect and there are a few omissions but the instant on and the simple interface are what you want from something that lives in the front room. I have had enough of the minutes of boot up time of a full blown PC just to listen to an album. The only downside is that to listen to your own music collection you do have to have a computer on somewhere. This is not much of a problem for me though as my computer is on most of the time anyway…
Image: Courtesy of Apple (© All rights reserved)