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