AppleTV

by Goondaba in ,


Motivation

 I recently acquired one of the new AppleTVs, and was excited to see what one of these could do.  I have an 802.11n wireless network in the apartment, and I don’t have a media-centric game console or an existing streaming media box near my TV, so the AppleTV seemed like a great fit.

Un-boxing


 The packaging itself is something to behold; the AppleTV comes in one very diminutive box.  And once you tear into the small box, there’s an even smaller piece of hardware with the most tightly wrapped power cord you’ve even seen.

 

Initial Impressions

 Setup was a snap. You just plug in the power cable to the wall and the HDMI cable to your HDTV, and you’re good to go.  Once you start up the AppleTV, it’s just a matter of connecting it to your wireless network and putting in your Home Sharing information to get your device ready to play shared content on your local network.

So setup was easy, but I spent a while looking for some sort of volume control and couldn’t find it.  Apparently, there is no volume control, so you just have to adjust the volume of your TV or speakers.  Although, if you’re using the AppleTV as Airplay speakers, you can adjust the volume via iTunes on the host computer.

Main Features

This was my first experience with an AppleTV, so I didn’t have the previous generation of AppleTV to compare it to.  I was mostly comparing the AppleTV to using Front Row on a Mac, and the experience was, for the most part, very similar:

 

Movies: You’ve got movies; you can view trailers and rent movies in HD from the iTunes store.

TV Shows: You can rent shows in HD.

Internet: There’s a lot going on under the Internet tab.  You can view YouTube videos from the internet tab, which makes sharing videos with groups of people simpler.  Additionally, you are able to watch or listen to podcasts, access your Flickr pictures, and listen to the radio stations available in iTunes.  You can also access your Netflix account using the new Netflix interface and MobileMe stuff (I didn’t test these since I don’t have a Netflix or MobileMe account).

Computers: Here’s where you can access all the media available on the machines in your local network.  After entering your Home Sharing information in the AppleTV and enabling Home Sharing on your computers, you’re able to view all your iTunes content on your HDTV.

Settings: Where you get to configure everything from network settings to your favorite style of slide show.

Airplay

New in this version of the ATV is the Airplay option, which allows you to access any speakers hooked up to your ATV via iTunes on any other computer on the network.  This is pretty straightforward, and works very well.

Interface

The AppleTV comes with a handsome remote that is good for most functions, but there are some things which really need a keyboard for.  Having to thumb through an online keyboard using the included remote isn’t very speedy, for example.  But that’s not a problem if you also happen to have some iDevice nearby, like an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.

Using Apple’s Remote app, you can use your touchscreen device as a remote to your AppleTV.  For navigation, the Remote app uses gestures to make its way through the ATV interface, and when necessary pops up a keyboard, which makes typing text into search fields much easier.

External Media

My biggest concern with the ATV was wondering about whether it would stream content from stuff I had on external drives.  Movie files are big, so I don’t keep them on my computer’s main drive, I keep it all on an external drive.  So I was glad to find out that as long as it was in the iTunes library, the ATV could stream it.  All I had to do was option-drag my content from my external hard drive to my iTunes library to make iTunes aware of my external media (option-dragging makes iTunes aware of content without copying it to the iTunes folder).  Of course, this only works for stuff that iTunes will accept; meaning video files in Quicktime friendly formats.

Bugs

Though it’s tiny and shiny, it’s still a computer, and therefore is still susceptible to bugs.  I’ve only come across two in the time I’ve spent with the device.  Firstly, I’ve been able to crash the ATV by trying to play large files; I tried streaming a 1080p version of Big Buck Bunny and only got a few seconds of it before the ATV crashed - a simple unplugging-and-plugging was required.

Secondly, when waking the ATV from sleep and playing a song using the Remote app on the iPad, I’ve noticed that the first song I tap isn’t played immediately. Rather, I have to tap the song, then tap a second song.  Then, once the second song starts playing, I can go ahead and tap the song I originally wanted.  Weird.

Overall

I’m very pleased with how the AppleTV has performed, and think it’s a great addition to the living room.


Magic Mouse

by Goondaba in ,



 

The motivation: I recently moved to a new place and got a nice desk; a desk which I decided I'd like to keep free of as much clutter as possible.  So besides finding places out of view to store my USB hub and external hard drives, that left... the mouse.  

I had been using a Microsoft Comfort Optical Mouse 1000 (gdgt) for the past few years.  I loved it; it was comfortable in the hand and made navigating my screens a breeze.  But the cord hanging out the back seemed a little strange on the new desk, so I figured I'd find something wireless.

At first I assumed I'd just get a wireless Microsoft mouse; despite their track record in other fields, Microsoft seems to have nailed making a mouse that fits comfortably in your hand without having to put any thought into it.  But I also wanted a mouse that used Bluetooth, so I didn't have an RF dongle to worry about carrying around.  Though the Microsoft mouse I was looking at looked... fugly (gdgt).  I wasn't crazy about the design, so I thought about getting a different make of mouse.

I'd been curious about the Magic Mouse after reading reviews from those who either loved or hated it.  So I went ahead and got one to try out.

First of all, it took some getting used to.  You can't hold it the "lazy" way you would grasp a Microsoft mouse.  That is, you can't hold it by laying your wrist flat on the desk, with your palm resting on top.  The Magic Mouse is pretty thin, and holding it that way would become uncomfortable pretty quickly.  Rather, you have to operate it with your elbow resting on a surface so that your wrist can float above the desk and curve downwards.  Not only does this give the best angle for holding the mouse, it also makes it easier for your fingers to trigger the touch controls.

I haven't gone crazy with the touch controls yet, and I plan to go over that in a future post (once I've been able to play with some third party tools that enable additional features for the Magic Mouse), but the basics of clicking are similar to the Mighty Mouse (and I've been playing with those third party tools to fine-tune the clicks just the way I like them).  And the scrolling is pretty nifty; you can scroll through a large list in iTunes or a large page in Firefox in a snap.

Don't get me wrong... there were a few days when I was still getting used to the Magic Mouse when I would look over longingly at the box in which my old mouse now sat.  But after about a week, using the Magic Mouse has become second nature, and it's definitely helped in clearing out the clutter on my desk.  I'm not sure if it's magical, but it makes for a pretty good mouse.