Apple TV (2010)

Apple TV's AU$129 price makes it an easy impulse buy if you're already part of the iTunes ecosystem. If the bulk of your media comes from elsewhere, however, another media streamer would make more sense.


6.5
CNET Rating
6.2
User Rating

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In case you haven't noticed, there's a revolution going on in how people watch movies and TV. Traditional services are losing ground, as more people are streaming content directly from the internet — at least in the States. Way out in Australia, we're still waiting for all the deals to be done that allow us to watch services such as Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Vudu and Hulu (not to mention Pandora for music).

Here, we're still sorting licensing out. This has lead to disparate services with either limited libraries, limited experiences or requiring specific hardware boxes to be bought. This gives us BigPond, iView, FetchTV, Bravia Internet Video and CASPA, with iView being the only one that's really making a go of becoming an all pervasive presence.

In Australia, Apple TV has none of these services. You're stuck with renting from iTunes, and in Australia that means movies only, not TV shows. Lack of TV shows aside, the rental model makes sense for a unit with extremely limited storage.

Like the iPad, Apple TV allows access to HD rentals. If you want to buy content, you'll need to use a Mac, and in this case the HD option disappears altogether. Since you can only buy TV shows ... well, you see where this is going.

At AU$129 it will no doubt appeal to some, especially for those who already own compatible Apple products and want an easy way to get content to their living rooms. We hope that Apple adds more TV content and third-party services to the device over time, although we hold little hope for expanded codec support. Given that the Apple TV's primary role is that of an iTunes streaming box, codec support is limited. It will play other movies not bought or rented from iTunes, but unless your existing video collection already happens to be in the right format, you may be spending a lot of time with HandBrake.

Design

Apple TV size

The new Apple TV is tiny, courtesy of holding no hard drive. (Credit: CNET)

We knew the Apple TV was small, but we didn't realise just how tiny it was until we pulled it out of the box. It's a quarter of the size of the first-gen Apple TV and more impressively, it's even smaller than Roku's line of video streamers. Apple products are generally known as the ultimate for status-seeking gadgeteers, but the Apple TV's style is decidedly low-key. It's a small charcoal grey box, with a glossy finish around the perimeter and a matte finish on top, where the Apple logo resides. The bottom has a slight bevel and rubberised surface so it doesn't slip. There is a small white light on the front panel on the right-hand side, which unfortunately can't be turned off in the settings menu. Overall, the understated look is a winner for a home theatre, where it's much better to fit in than to stand out.

The Apple TV's connectivity is basic, but completely sufficient. It has built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi, so you won't need an Ethernet cord in your living room. The main connection on the back panel is the HDMI output, which can handle both high-def video and surround-sound audio. There's no component video output for older TVs, but every modern HDTV supports HDMI. If you have an older AV receiver without HDMI, the Apple TV also has an optical digital audio output, which is capable of surround sound as well. There's also an Ethernet port if you prefer the stability of a wired network connection. Rounding things out is a micro-USB port, but that's not for general use with Apple claiming it's "for service and support". Should the Apple TV become a hotbed of hacking, then that's when it will come in mighty handy.

The included remote is as minimalist as the box itself. It's the same super-slim clicker included with iMacs, consisting just of an aluminium casing with a directional pad, a menu button and a play/pause button. The Apple TV's interface is simple enough that it's all you need, as long as you're familiar with standard Apple navigation; use the menu button to jump back.

Though the included remote is perfectly fine for simple Apple TV operation, the device really takes off when using an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad as a controller, using the free Remote app. Using gesture-based controls, you can swipe and tap your way through menus, plus you have the ability to use the keyboard on your portable device to do text entry, which is much quicker than using the on-screen keyboard and standard remote. Even better is queuing up music from your iTunes library by browsing cover art. It's one of the best ways we've seen to browse your digital music library.

Set-up and user interface

Apple TV UI

It's no XBMC (Credit: CNET)

The initial set-up is as simple as it gets. Plug it in, connect an HDMI cable and fire up your HDTV to start the guided on-screen set-up. Then just pick a language, choose your router, enter your password and you can start to use the Apple TV. To access some of the more advanced functionality like Home Sharing you'll need to enter some additional info, but it's a cinch.

The user interface is largely unchanged from the original Apple TV, which isn't a bad thing. The main screen lists the basic content categories: Movies, Internet, Computers and Settings. If you select movies, a list of cover art for current top movie shows along the top, before you even jump into the main movies section.

For movies and TV shows, you can browse by top content, genres or directly through search. You also have the option to filter by networks with TV shows. Any non-Apple services are grouped together in the Internet category. Navigation feels very quick and the screens are laid out intuitively.

iTunes Store, and a few extras

The original Apple TV was centred on syncing with your iTunes account, but the new Apple TV is all about streaming off the web. We don't have Netflix in Australia, so for us, it's iTunes only.

As far as movies are concerned, iTunes is nothing to sneeze at, but at best estimate it only holds half the available US library. Rentals go from AU$3.99 to AU$5.99, with an extra dollar thrown on top if you want high definition (although iTunes currently runs a 99-cent rental of the week deal). While you have 30 days to start watching the movie, once you start playing you've only got 48 hours to finish it.

Making matters even more confusing is that much of the content that's missing from the Apple TV is available from the iTunes Store when accessed from a PC, although only to buy, not rent. That leads to the very un-Apple scenario of needing a PC to, say, buy the latest episode of The Office, wait for it to download (which can take more than a half hour, even on a fast connection), then stream it off your PC. That's far from the user experience promised by the Apple TV, where you choose shows from your couch and they start streaming immediately.

We're sure Apple will continue to negotiate with content providers to add more TV content that's directly accessible from Apple TV, but currently the streaming selection is very underwhelming.

In addition to videos purchased from the iTunes Store, you can stream any other PC- and Mac-based video, so long as you first convert it to an iTunes-friendly video format. There are plenty of freeware programs that do so, but it's a time-consuming transcoding process. In other words, don't expect Apple TV to offer instantaneous compatibility if you have a giant library of DivX, MKV, WMV files and the like. If that's a core concern for you, you'll have better luck with something like the WD TV Live or the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex TV — if not a PS3 or Xbox 360.

Apple TV has a few additional sources of content, including YouTube, Flickr, MobileMe, podcasts and internet radio. Flickr is particularly impressive, especially when using an iPhone to swipe through your gallery of photos.

AirPlay

With AirPlay, you can "push" music directly from your iPhone to an Apple TV. (Credit: CNET)

While it doesn't support DLNA or folder shares, Apple TV's alternative is potentially less messy, due to it being a closed ecosystem. The idea behind AirPlay is "pushing" content from an iOS device to your Apple TV, so you can watch on the big screen. It's designed to work with music, photos and videos, although the video functionality is limited for now. Included with iOS 4.2, AirPlay has come as part of the iOS 4.2 update for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. We've had some time to play with it, and though it doesn't fully deliver on its promise yet, it's on its way to being one of the best features of the Apple TV.

"Pushing" content to an Apple TV couldn't get much easier. You'll need an Apple TV with the latest software update and an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad running the new iOS 4.2 software, and they both need to be on the same home network.

Start playing back a media file, such as a song stored on your iPod, and next to the volume slider will be a "push" icon, which looks like a box and an arrow pointed up. You'll see another screen that let's you select your Apple TV and once you hit that, the content plays back on your TV.

That's it. There's a very slight lag before it starts playing on your Apple TV, but otherwise it works exactly how you'd expect.

Pretty much anything that plays back in the iPod app is AirPlay-compatible. That means any music or videos you have stored on your iOS device can be pushed to an Apple TV. Photos can also be pushed, although we were surprised that videos taken with our iPhone 4 couldn't be streamed to an Apple TV.

Although Rhapsody and Pandora work, these are sadly US-only services. Web-based video like Vimeo didn't work for us, and likewise there's no support for games or other kinds of non-media apps. YouTube worked fine, and despite the Apple TV having a built-in YouTube app already, it's definitely easier to use an iPhone to find YouTube videos than browsing on your TV.

Network performance

For content streaming off the internet, we didn't run into any issues with the Apple TV. Movies and TV shows began playing after only a few seconds, using the speedy connection in our corporate testing location. As always, the speed of your home broadband connection will affect streaming speeds.

The first time we tried to stream a downloaded, HD episode of The Office from our laptop, we got about 35 seconds in before the Apple TV had to re-buffer. The same happened when we loaded the most recent episode of Mad Men. Both the Apple TV and the laptop were connected wirelessly, which perhaps is a lot to ask of our home network; but we were only forced to use that scenario because the iTunes Store requires the workaround.

To be fair, buffering is still an unfortunate reality with any streaming-video solution, whether it's streaming directly from the internet or over a home network. We did appreciate that the Apple TV will continue to cache your video if you pause, which cuts down on buffering slowdowns.

Conclusion

Apple TV's AU$129 price makes it an easy impulse buy if you're already part of the iTunes ecosystem. If the bulk of your media comes from elsewhere, however, another media streamer would make more sense. We can only hope more content comes to Australia to make Apple TV a serious player — but for now, in this country at least, it remains a hobby.

Via CNET and CNET News

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Post comment as
LawrenceS Facebook
8
Rating
 

"Has made streaming things to the TV an absolute breeze."

LawrenceS posted a review   

The Good:Airplay, Mirroring, Relatively fast, Option to rent movies

The Bad:Restrictive in it's unjailbroken mode, runs, hot, does not come with hdmi cable even though it needs one

I should note that I jailbroke this almost straight away, and have XBMC installed, which means I can play any media held on my desktop computer.

dirtwall
9
Rating
 

"Your Quote: "There is a small white light on the front panel on the right-hand side, which unfortunately can't be turned off in the settings menu.""

dirtwall posted a review   
Australia

You can turn it off in the settings menu by pressing 'Sleep Now"

Woodend_Pete
7
Rating
 

"Great Hardware...Just"

Woodend_Pete posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Ease of streaming to Apple TV, Therefore on the big screen

The Bad:Limited by apple's nonsensical codec hold

I would like to make it clear..I am a big apple supporter, however sometimes, its the things that make you go Hmmmmm. If Apple opened the codecs to allow DivX and AVI,
I think the sales would be similar to the ..well Iphone. The home sharing and video streaming is nothing short of fantastic....but why limit to MP4
I have no problem in converting but many do, many have no idea. Is that what Apples target market is, making things amazing for those who have "no Idea" Steve you need to go to the drawing board with this one.

Why hold this amazing technology back. I use the Ipad for business with email, Bento, Numbers, pages, I use it for play with the local newspapers, music, the odd movie on the train as a secondary navigator in the car, some amateur radio apps
and some fun things too

Roll on the Ipad 3 but have a look around for third party initative, open the ability and not concentrate on the mighty dollar

I am an Apple Aussie Shareholder, go outside the square, innovation is what makes apple great !

Rgs

Woodend_Pete

 

That Guy posted a comment   

The Good:Share with other macs

The Bad:78 hours to load movies, can't watch movies

I bought an Apple TV not that long ago and set it up accordingly. Much to my dissapointment, it spends at least 78 hours loading films, and when finally done, doesn't play them and then needs another 78 hours to load. So I spend money on something I can't see. Brilliant. My wifi and internet have no problems, and it says the connectivity is fine, so I am dissapointed.

Tsd
2
Rating
 

Tsd posted a review   

The Good:Nice Interface, easy set up

The Bad:Drops itunes sharing

At first I was super excited when I hooked it up, then realised why this piece of junk has been drastically reduced in price. The home sharing via i-tunes continuously drops the connection. This is a very common problem (there are pages and pages of complaints in the apple support forums) no fix in sight or even on the cards. Give this thing a massive miss. Thoroughly disappointed. Promised so much ..in the end just wasted countless hours of my life trying to find solutions that don't exist.

 

db posted a comment   

I live in the US and may be moving to Australia. I have a good bit of video content for my kids stored on my Apple computer in iTunes. If I buy an Apple TV here in the US, will I be able to use it in Australia to share the video to the TV (given the pal/ntsc differences)?

Marco
2
Rating
 

Marco posted a review   

The Good:Small

The Bad:Wont load itunes library

Had high expectations but it will load my library which it just doesn't want to do pin wheel keeps spinning for hours saying loading library, but it just doesn't. Tried everything but cannot get it to work. Its the first piece of Apple equipment that I have purchased that gets a bad review from me.

 

cynmar posted a comment   

The Good:Apple have now changed their Aussie Web page

The Bad:Wish I had of known before I bought lol

Just a quick update.. should have checked, Apple have now removed TV Series as one of their services for Australia.....

 

cynmar posted a comment   

The Good:Easy to set up and get going

The Bad:Rip off with list of movies so called hits are a joke

I think Apple has done us the customer in Australia a disservice by releasing this wonderful invention with such a pathetic list of movies.. Please do something about this especially the NO ACCESS to Tv Series which is a total LIE on their Australian web site, I was told to purchase series and then watch them!! HELLO thats why we got Apple tv so we didn't have to keep buying just RENT !!

 

Ozz1 posted a comment   

The Good:All works great. Simple to use.

The Bad:Nothing yet.

Have had this a couple of weeks, I transcode anything I want to watch into iTunes, eg. Vuze has built in capacity to transcode directly into iTunes during torrent download so no time lost. Doing this means you can watch anything you like, listen to anything you like, but you do have to use iTunes.

The only problem I have run into was trying to play something from the store that had HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection), there was no warning and it just refused to play and gave no real reason. Once I removed my HDMI cable from the receiver and plugged directly into the TV there was no problem, I then used the optical out from the TV to get sound through my surround system but it was a bugger that there was no indication what the problem was nor a suggestion for a workaround.

You can use itunes to play music via the your sound system without the TV on by selecting the airplay option, which is great.

Probably the cheapest and easiest bit of tech I have purchased, slick... if there was more internet TV in Australia and this could play it then it would be close to perfect.


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User Reviews / Comments  Apple TV (2010)

  • LawrenceS

    LawrenceS

    Rating8

    "I should note that I jailbroke this almost straight away, and have XBMC installed, which means I can play any media held on my desktop computer."

  • dirtwall

    dirtwall

    Rating9

    "You can turn it off in the settings menu by pressing 'Sleep Now""

  • Woodend_Pete

    Woodend_Pete

    Rating7

    "I would like to make it clear..I am a big apple supporter, however sometimes, its the things that make you go Hmmmmm. If Apple opened the codecs to allow DivX and AVI,
    I think the sales woul..."

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