There are two schools of thought on the new Apple TV, and rightfully so. On the one hand, you have the snarky, gadget blog trolling fanboys who will nitpick every little thing that it can’t or no longer does. And then there’s your Average Joe or your mom, who just wants to watch their Netflix queue. For all intents and purposes this review will attempt to cater to both. Why? How? It’s pretty simple, the Apple TV appeals to both demographics equally. For better or worse.
Let’s start with the Average Joe or the type of consumer that would look at something like the Boxee Box or Roku set-top box. Apple’s second generation Apple TV costs $99 and instantly streams Netflix. That alone is enough to attract your mom, dad, grandma, cousin, nephew and next-door neighbor. Sure, the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii do the same thing, but not everyone owns one of these consoles for the same basic reason that I don’t own a Life Alert. I don’t need nor do I want it.
It’s incredibly easy to setup. You literally plug the power cord and HDMI cable in and you’re basically good to go. The one caveat here is that you’ll have to purchase an adapter if your TV does not have an HDMI port. But the likelihood of someone purchasing an Apple TV and not having a HDTV is pretty slim. After all, the thing streams HD content, so why else would you buy it?
Back to my original point – the average consumer can just plug in the Apple TV, connect to their iTunes, Netflix, Flickr or YouTube account and they’re golden. One more caveat here, if you have a long password or e-mail address, the initial setup can seem like a chore but once you’re past that, it’s a cakewalk. It certainly helps if you have an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch because any of those devices will make searching for shows, movies or the initial setup a breeze with their respective virtual keyboards.
If you’re entrenched in the Apple eco-system, the Apple TV just makes sense. You can stream anything from your desktop iTunes account to your Apple TV, including photos, music and videos. When AirPlay launches in November with the iOS 4.2 update, you or your friends will be able to share content from an iOS 4.2 device to your Apple TV, so long as they’re on the same network. Apple will be opening it up to third party developers, so who knows what will be capable later on this year.
TV show rentals are 99 cents and you’re given 48 hours to watch once you’ve started playing an episode, which are added the day after they first air. Otherwise, you have a 30-day window to watch any rentals that haven’t already been started. Movies are given a 24-hour window once played and the same 30 days after the initial rental. Now, here’s where the fanboys will frantically tap away at their keyboards to jump on their virtual soapboxes. You can’t download or store any content on the new Apple TV. And anything you rent on the Apple TV cannot be finished on your desktop or iPhone. It works the other way around, so you’re better off renting everything from your desktop and then streaming to your Apple TV. The only folks who will complain about this are the ones who purchased an original Apple TV and won’t be privy to the new OS. Also, podcast subscriptions are independent of each other. You can subscribe to podcasts on your Apple TV but they won’t connect your iTunes library.
Content is king and, unfortunately, this is where the Apple TV falls short. Apple currently only has deals with the BBC, Fox and ABC, which includes Disney. This will eventually change but it’s something to think about. With that being said, I care more about the movie selection and the ability to tap into other means of content like Netflix and YouTube. Movies are available day and date with DVD/Blu-ray releases and I have something called a DVR, so I don’t mind that the TV show selection is scant. If you’re not a cable subscriber, I honestly don’t think you’d be missing out by owning just an Apple TV. If you’re really keen on watching something from a network that hasn’t signed on for rentals, you have the option of purchasing whatever you want that’s available through iTunes on your desktop and streaming it your Apple TV. So there’s really no reason to complain about not being able to store content on the device itself. I will say that the option to stream content off a thumb drive would be nice, but who carries around a thumb drive?
But I’d be remiss for not pointing out the fact that you can purchase HD shows for 99 cents from Amazon. Or the fact that it doesn’t offer other content providers like Hulu and Pandora. There’s no greater time to be shopping for set-top boxes like the Apple TV, Roku XDS or Boxee Box. It simply boils down to preference of features and add-ons.
What will differentiate the Apple TV from the competition will be AirPlay and the revamped Remote App. For instance, you can control your desktop music library from your iPad and stream it to your Apple TV simultaneously. I think you’ve got some competition, Sonos. You can play them independently or at the same time. The fact that you can have friends come over and share videos or photos from their iOS 4.2 device is killer.
The bottom line is that the new Apple TV is easy to use and incredibly convenient for disposable content consumption. Most movies are in HD (720p) with Dolby 5.1 surround and TV show rentals are just a bonus. At $99, you have very little reason not to purchase one. It’s tiny (0.9×3.9×3.9 inches), weighs 0.6 pounds and can easily be tucked away into your entertainment system. The A4 processor chip certainly helps, too. Load times were acceptable and navigating menus were a breeze. According to Apple it sucks very little energy – less than a nightlight, I’m told. It’s no longer a hobby and a must-have for your growing Apple eco-system.
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