Apple TV: Media Game Changer

We got an Apple TV for Christmas and I installed it this morning. I want to be careful with the hyperbole, but this device has the potential to change the visual media landscape in the same way that iPods changed the way we listen to music and iPhones changed the way we communicate with one another. That's a pretty amazing claim for a 4" x 4" x 1" box that costs $99.

Apple TVIf you're not familiar with the Apple TV, it's easy to describe: it sits between your internet connection and your high definition TV and allows you to grab media from the web or from your computer and view it on that TV. If you have a WiFi network, it will connect to it; if your network is wired, you can connect via an Ethernet cable. And, like all Apple products, it just works.

Installation and configuration took less than 20 minutes from unboxing to viewing a streaming movie via Netflix. I connected the device to our home theater receiver via an HDMI cable, and then connected to our WiFi network. If you don't have a receiver, you can connect it directly to your TV, but again, you'll need an HDMI  connection (i.e. a high-def TV).

Once you power up the Apple TV (by plugging it into a power outlet) and have it connected to your receiver or TV, it will walk you through the initial setup. This allows you to log into your WiFi network if it's password protected (and it should be). You can also log into your Netflix and MobileMe accounts to access their content, and if you have Home Sharing activated on any of the computers in your network, you can stream music, videos, and photos from those computers. You can also stream YouTube videos and photos via Flickr. And don't forget the hundreds of internet radio stations offering just about every conceivable genre of music.

The video quality is very good (although it obviously varies with the source of the content; low res YouTube videos look, well, crummy, just like they do on your computer). Apple TV can output 720p high definition video, so it's not the highest available quality (which would be 1080p), but according to this report, if your TV can't display 720p then you may have some problems.

Navigating the Apple TV's menus couldn't be easier. The hierarchy of options is obvious and simple, and the small Apple 3-button remote control does the job well. The biggest gripe I had with the setup was the awkwardness of entering usernames and passwords for the various services using the remote to select characters, but I'm at a loss to suggest how it might be done more easily. Plus, this needs to be done only once, as the device will store the data for subsequent use.

Streaming movies from Netflix is undeniably cool, but the real fun begins when you find you can stream slide shows of your own photos from your MobileMe account or music playlists from your computer's iTunes installation. You're no longer tied to your computer's monitor or sound system for such content.

Oh, and did I mention it costs only $99? (You will have to spring for an HDMI cable if you don't have a spare one laying around.)

Update: I did forget to mention that the Apple TV supports surround sound audio.

4 Comments

That little box is just too cute, huh?

About the tedious entry of text using the remote...
Is there not "an app for that"? The Tivo iPhone app works well for such and I can't imagine something similar is not available for use with Apple TV. Although it's a one-time deal for entering network/account passwords, entry of movie titles, subjects, etc. would benefit, no?

Will it work if you don't have a HD TV? There's no cable out here on the farm and Satellite isn't in the budget so would be nice to get more than the 3 (and on rare occasions 4 when PBS comes in) stations we receive with rabbit ears. We do have nice internet connection and occasionally watch stuff on our Mac, which has better picture than our old TV

By the way, I've got inside knowledge that an Apple store will open in the area next year. Can't say more than that publicly right now, but thought you'd like to know.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on December 27, 2010 9:15 PM.

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