Koolio

Thoughts & news on technology…well, mostly

Review: Apple TV


apple-tv-menu.jpg I got my Apple TV this past Thursday and have been using it the past two nights. Everything about it is Apple-esque: the user interface is gorgeous, setup was extremely easy, integration with iTunes was perfect, synchronizing and streaming content performed flawlessly, and watching shows, film trailers, iTunes previews, etc. worked perfectly.

Overall, it rocks! But, as with anything, there is always some room for improvement. Here are the details:

Pros:

  • After connecting it to my home theater, it took 3 minutes to configure and pair it with my PowerBook
  • I was able to watch TV shows within 15 minutes after it started syncing
  • Syncing via 802.11g is surprisingly fast
  • Synchronization pauses when you watch shows
  • Shows can be synced even when the Apple TV is in sleep mode
  • A throbber is displayed next to the category that is being synchronized (Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, etc.) – a very nice touch
  • Watching streaming movie trailers and iTunes movie previews were pretty much flawless – there was a couple of hiccups with one movie trailer
  • Surprisingly, the trailers and previews start playing very quickly – usually, within 1 minute. A couple of times, it took around 2-3 minutes
  • The video quality iTunes-purchased content isn’t as bad as I thought they would be. I was prepared to be disappointed with the video quality but they’re pretty good (I’d say they’re a little worse than a DVD). That being said, it still leaves me craving for HD content.
  • Streaming music from my girlfriend’s Dell laptop was flawless – no hiccups, stutters, pauses, etc. (I didn’t test streaming video since she doesn’t have any videos)

Cons:

  • Of the 40GB, only 33GB is usable
  • The 40GB hard drive is way too small (even for my meager video content) – I’ve already used 30% of the hard drive space (that’s 9.9GB for the mathematically challenged 😉 )
  • No HD content on iTunes (yet)
  • You can’t manage content via the Apple TV – it all has to be done via iTunes on my PowerBook
  • It integrates with the iTunes Store by displaying the top 10 movies, TV shows, music, and music videos but you can’t buy them via the Apple TV (you can only watch a preview)
  • Photos can’t be streamed to Apple TV (supposedly, this will be changed in the near future)
  • iPhoto 4.0 is required to sync your digital pics
  • iTunes shows only come in stereo mode (i.e., 2-channels). I don’t mind this too much since my Denon AVR-2807 can simulate 5.1 channels via Dolby ProLogic IIx so it’s not too bad. I’m not sure if movies are 2-channels since I haven’t purchased one.
  • No HDMI or component cables are included (I recommend buying one from Blue Jeans Cable – high quality cables at non-ripoff prices. My 9 foot HDMI cable cost $28, incl. shipping)
  • Now that I have the Apple TV, I’ve been bit by the bug to buy TV shows. Before, the only shows I bought were the ones my DVR didn’t record. I’m sure a lot of Apple TV owners will be bit by this bug and Apple will see an increase in iTunes Store sales…just like they planned/hoped.

Room for Improvement:

  • Add HD content to the iTunes Store
  • Add the ability to purchase the top 10 movies, TV shows, etc. from the iTunes Store via the Apple TV
  • Larger internal hard drive (at least 120GB)
  • Add DVR functionality

Apple TV vs. Xbox 360:

As other reviewers (PC Mag, NY Times) have said, the closest competitor to Apple TV is the Xbox 360 paired with Vista Ultimate or WinXP Media Center Edition and I agree. Since I have an Xbox 360 & Vista Ultimate, the ONLY plus the Xbox 360 has over Apple TV is HD content. iTunes has more content than the Xbox Live Marketplace. Apple TV works flawlessly – it isn’t sluggish nor does it freeze like the Xbox 360/Vista Ultimate solution. In all fairness, the Xbox 360 doesn’t freeze when playing content purchased from the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Is the Apple TV worth buying if you already have an Xbox 360 and Vista Ultimate/WinXP Media Center Edition? It depends on how much content you’ve purchased (or plan to purchase) from iTunes.

In my case, iTunes has the content that I want to watch whereas the Xbox Live Marketplace doesn’t. Also, the execution and design of the Apple TV is much more elegant, which, combined with the large selection of iTunes content, makes it a better overall solution. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Microsoft is doing with the Xbox 360 and the Xbox Live Marketplace but Apple’s solution is better (minus the lack of HD content).

Conclusion:

When users start to fill-up the meager 33GB hard drive, managing that content via iTunes will become a chore. At this point, the invisible barrier between computer and living room is resurrected…and that’s not a good thing. People want to purchase their content and have it accessible in their living rooms without thinking but the small hard drive makes that impossible.

Apple added some nice synchronization options to iTunes (unwatched, all, last 5 unwatched, etc.) but when that had drive fills-up, you’ll have to choose and decide what content to have synced to the Apple TV. Speaking of synchronization, it works flawlessly. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that syncs still occur even when the Apple TV is in sleep mode.

Apple TV is a great first version of a media center extender but there’s some room for improvement (as is with pretty much any consumer electronic product) and it’s not the answer for everybody – especially, if you don’t want to be a part of Apple’s iTunes ecosystem.

HD-DVDs and DVDs will still be my primary source for watching movies. After all, nothing beats an HD-DVD for picture & sound quality but the Apple TV is perfect for those times when my DVR screws up and doesn’t record 24, 30 Rock, Lost, Heroes, etc. Now, back to watching shows on my Apple TV! 🙂

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Filed under: AppleTV, Digital Movies, iTunes, Reviews, Video

3 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Whoa! Congrats on the new Apple TV, what a masterpiece.

    Do you mind telling us the size of the TV?

  2. koolio says:

    Thanks!

    My TV: Panasonic 50″ plasma (TH-50PX60U). I have the Apple TV sending a 720p signal (I also tried 1080i but preferred 720p).

    I’m sure the older iTunes videos (320×240) would look terrible on a 50″ screen. The “new” videos (640×480) are the ones that I’ve watched.

    It’d be nice if iTunes allowed a way to see what video resolution each TV show/movie was before purchasing…

  3. […] If you’re thinking about buying one, I recommend reading their review…and mine.  […]

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