The latest version of Apple TV is making its way into living rooms across North America. Apple’s second generation set top box is making an impact with the unit flying off store shelves. But is the new Apple TV really worth purchasing (and what are the downsides of the Apple TV in Canada for now)?
At C$119 (US$99), Apple has made the Apple TV the affordable solution for those who want a connected high definition device that streams digital content to the living room. The new Apple TV will act as your lifestyle hub, gathering iTunes content (music, photos and video) from computers within your Home Sharing space.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Apple TV is its size. The new Apple TV is roughly one fourth the size of the original unit. The smaller size makes it easy to add the device to a crowded home theatre unit.
Out of the box, the new Apple TV is extremely easy to set up. Simply connect an HDMI cable (not included) to your device and plug the power cord (no bulky power supply this time around) and you’re almost ready to go. The most complicated part is keying in your home network security password. You’ll be in digital bliss in less than five minutes.
Even though the Apple TV contains a meager 8GB of storage, all the content accessible on the device is either streamed from iTunes (locally or on the internet), Netflix (paid subscription required), or YouTube. At this point it’s unclear what the 8GB of internal storage will be used for, but one can presume Apple may eventually unleash its App library to the masses.
Content wise, the device bolsters support for H.264, MPEG-4, and Motion JPEG (all up to 720p) video files. For audio, Apple TV supports AAC (protected and non-protected), MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV. In other words, if it works on your iPhone/iPad, it will be viewable on the Apple TV. It’s important to note that both iTunes LP and Extras are not supported on the latest Apple TV.
Another nice feature is the ability to access your Flickr library and Mobile Me galleries. Unfortunately, those are the only photo services accessible at the moment. You can always stream your photos directly from a PC on your network if you don’t use one of the supported services.
The standard iTunes store rental rules apply, you have 30 days to watch your content, and once the video is actioned you have 48 hours to complete your viewing. Apple currently charges $5.99 for new HD releases in Canada, which is a dollar more expensive than its American offering. Library content ranges from $1.99 to $4.99 for HD content, while you can rent standard definition movies for as low as $0.99.
Sadly, due to licensing issues, TV rentals are currently not available on the Canadian Apple TV (or in the iTunes Store for that matter). For me, the TV show rental component was the major selling point. I was pretty disappointed when I noticed the TV section was omitted from the rental interface. Hopefully, this is something that will be remedied soon in Canada.
The video rental process requires that you have a high-speed broadband connection in order to stream without issues. It’s unclear what the minimum bandwidth requirements are for rentals, but a speedy connection will definitely facilitate the streaming process.
I’ve encountered some buffering issues while watching the high definition stream of “Millénium 3” (a.k.a. “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”). The movie went into buffering twice during viewing, and in one instance, it took well over 20 minutes for the movie to resume. The content was streaming wirelessly over a 802.11g network on a 10Mbps connection.
I’ve realized that one way to avoid a similar scenario in the future is to download the rental on a computer and stream it from the PC once it’s completed. I haven’t encountered any buffering issues while using the Netflix movie streaming service.
The Apple TV comes bundled with a simple aluminum Apple Remote. The remote includes three buttons (Menu, Play/Pause and Center Confirmation) and a 4-way directional pad – a simple way for users to navigate through the on-screen menus.
For those who want more control, Apple has updated its free Remote app (available in the iTunes Store). The app allows you to navigate through the Apple TV menus using the touch surface of your favourite iOS device. The new app also lets you type search queries using your device’s on-screen keyboard.
One of the key features of the Apple TV will be AirPlay. AirPlay will enable any iOS 4.2-based iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to stream music, photos, and video from the device to the Apple TV. For example, you will be able to stream an HD video you shot on your iPhone 4 to the Apple TV without using a cable. The Apple TV will become the center of your digital lifestyle.
Since AirPlay requires iOS 4.2, you won’t be able to experience its usefulness until Apple releases the firmware in Nov. 2010.
The lack of app support is disappointing. Imagine being able to watch TV shows from the CityTV app, or playing Angry Birds on your high definition television set (using your iPhone or iPad as a controller). Apple is missing out on an important opportunity by not offering application support before its competitors (Google will be launching minimal app support on its Google TV boxes later this month). With over 250,000 third-party apps currently available in the iTunes Store, it would make perfect sense for Apple to offer cross-platform app support.
The biggest limitation to the Apple TV may be download caps used by internet service providers (ISP). Many users will be limited to the monthly usage allowance provided by their ISP, and it could end up being costly when this allotment is exceeded. Data usage monitoring will be a must for users with limited bandwidth consumption.
All in all, the second generation version of the Apple TV is a great addition to any home theater system. However it’s not a game changer and doesn’t threaten the current cable TV infrastructure, at least in its current form. Hopefully, Apple will let the Apple TV mature into more than just a hobby by allowing application support.
At C$119, it will be hard for consumers to find a better and cheaper way to watch streaming content on their TVs. The Apple TV is a device that not only lets your enjoy iTunes and Netflix content, but enables you to share your digital memories from various sources within your home network. If you live in the Apple ecosystem, do yourself a favor and buy the Apple TV – you won’t regret it!
Ed: I don’t have the new Apple TV yet but I’m just waiting for the iOS streaming update, I think . My old, hacked aTV Flash Apple TV will still have a place in my system, though, as it allows me to get at a lot of other content on external drives.
Thanks to decabled.com contributor Andre Barriault for the story! If you’re interested in contributing to decabled.com, please email…
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