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Apple TV review

Well hello everyone, Hanna Silver here. I’ve been asked to do a review of the Apple TV (which isn’t actually a TV, it’s just a little black box you connect to your TV). I feel I’m a good candidate to write this review, as I have a love/hate relationship with Apple. I grew up on PCs (we had a 386 when I was little), but now I’m on my 2nd iPhone, and I have a MacBook Pro (it’s perfect for recording music on). Clearly, I like Apple products, but I hate the company because they put out new versions of old products saying, “look, now you can do this!” like it’s this totally amazing new thing, when other companies were offering those capabilities 5 years ago. Gimme a break!

But, enough about me.

Firstly, if you want to know what the Apple TV actually does, take a look at the official page: http://www.apple.com/au/appletv/ . Then I can tell you what I like and dislike.

When you get an Apple TV, it’s like, “Yay! Woo! …Ok so now what do I do with it?” It’s perfect if you don’t already have a smart TV and you like watching TV a lot. I have a Samsung smart TV, so to begin with, I was comparing the two’s capabilities. I’ll start by listing the good things.

So, one of the coolest things that Apple TV (hereafter called ATV) does is Airplay and Airplay mirroring (i.e. screen sharing). What that means is, if you have an iPhone, iPad or a Mac computer from mid 2011 or newer, you can send any picture or sound onto your tv. (It was only after I got the ATV that I disappointingly discovered that my mid-2010 MacBook Pro is incapable of mirroring; http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5404. The older Macs can only Airplay sound. i.e. I can play music on iTunes on my computer, and have the sound come out of the TV). I’m not certain, but airplay on iphones and ipad may require iOS7 – connect to the same WiFi the ATV is on, and then the option to Airplay automatically appears in the menu when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen. The airplay works quite well, the picture streaming is smooth. This way you can, for example, on your TV watch ABC iView, or SBS, by doing mirroring with your iPhone or iPad. Also, it’s a great party trick, if you like your parties to be about the television.

If your computer is on, the ATV can access all your music and movie files from your computer (whatever you have in your iTunes library) wirelessly. Also, you can buy or rent movies, TV shows or buy music right from your TV. When you set up the ATV, you put in your apple ID, so purchases just go through that account, which is pretty easy. There’s also YouTube, Vimeo and Vevo for free content.

Of course, one of Apple’s strong points is always how things look. The ATV has a screen saver, which looks great.

The ATV comes with its own remote control (which, annoyingly, doesn’t control the volume), but you can also download an app on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, called ‘Remote’ and you can use your iPhone screen like a mouse touch pad. It’s pretty cool.

Next, I’ll talk about things I don’t like. Firstly, I don’t like that you can’t download apps onto the ATV, as I am accustomed to doing on my iPhone, Mac and Samsung smart TV. Basically, you’re stuck with what apps they give you…unless you use a VPN. (A VPN blocks your location so that you can access content that is normally restricted. Eg. In Australia, we are not offered Netflix or Hulu (which cost $8USD per month for unlimited streaming). In Settings – iTunes Store, you can change what country you are in. So if you change it to USA, you’ll see the apps available to US citizens, or UK, or any other country.

I feel like the apps available to Australian citizens are pretty limited. Like I said at the start of this review, “Great, I have an ATV…now what?” Just being able to watch YouTube videos or listen or watch anything from my iTunes library on the TV isn’t so exciting to me. I don’t torrent movies and I don’t want to spend $6.99 just to rent one movie off iTunes, or $3.49 to buy one TV episode. I am a self-confessed schnorrer (if I can get something for free, I am very happy). I’ll pay for stuff, but not that much.

If only the ATV had a browser, then we could easily access ABC iView, SBS and the new TenPlay. (Samsung smart TV has a browser on it.) But, computer says no. Apple love controlling what we can and can’t do. No. Extra. Apps.

So using a VPN (which is fairly easy to set up) and getting stuck into Netflix or Hulu for their small fees may be something you’d like to do to get the most out of your ATV. Using a VPN such as unotelly.com or unblock-us.com costs around $5 a month, or there are free browser extensions like Hola Unblocker for Firefox and Chrome. For the legalities on using a VPN, read this article http://nic.suzor.net/2013/07/22/using-a-vpn-to-access-netflix-is-it-legal/ .

Even if you use a VPN though, there are still some US apps you may not be able to use. Like iTunes Radio, which requires a US Apple ID, or the Disney and HBO apps, which want to know who your US tv provider is, and you have to put in a special code. Other apps available to Australia as well as US, like NBA, require a paid subscription to access.

Ok, now onto the problems that I encountered. Firstly, the most annoying thing that happened was my MacBook was responding to every touch of the ATV’s remote control. I tried pairing the remote with the ATV, but that didn’t help. I ended up turning off my MacBook’s infrared sensor. Problem solved. Info on that: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4513

The other big disappointment was one I mentioned before; that I discovered only after I got the ATV that my mid-2010 MacBook doesn’t do Airplay mirroring. (I was hoping to be able to use the tv as a 2nd monitor, wirelessly.) For info on which computers are capable of airplay mirroring, check this article: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5404 . There is software you can download for screen mirroring, eg. Air Parrot, but I found the stream to be jumpy, not smooth at all. And when I tried to use the tv as a 2nd monitor, rather than just screen share, it said it had to install a driver that had a known problem with my model computer, so I decided against it.

So, final verdict: The Apple TV works well, it’s easy to use and it looks good. It’s up to you whether you think you need one. If you don’t have any other Apple devices, I’m not sure how convenient it would be to use. I hope my little writeup might help you make a decision on whether to get one or not. Leave a comment if you’d like to add to the discussion or ask a question.

– Hanna

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