by Brian Booher
So what can I say about the new Apple TV that hasn’t been said already? It has been out for a couple months since I wrote this article, but I figured I would write my own review. Yeah you can go read the reviews from famous writers like Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, David Pougue of the New York Times, or various tech review companies like CNET, Revision3, PC World, etc. Do realize that many of these people who write the reviews get the devices from Apple in advance before it goes on sale, so they tend to be biased in Apple’s favor. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but if there is a flaw in the device, they don’t want to shine much light on it since they’re trying to help Apple sell them. Fortunately for me, I am not bound to any contract with any company when it comes to reviewing the Apple TV. This should be to your advantage as a consumer because I am giving my good, bad, and ugly, or G.B.U., review of the Apple TV 2012 edition. I bought the device with my own money.
It’s made by Apple, so we know it works and works very well, so all you Apple fans can get up and cheer hysterically now.
The Apple TV is very easy to set up. All you have to do is plug in the power cord, HDMI cable, and ethernet cable if you don’t want or have a home wireless network. It does have an optical audio port if you want to connect to a sound system using fiber optics. There is also a micro-USB port that is said to be mainly used for servicing the device.
As for the power cord, the Apple TV does not really use a proprietary kind of plug or power system. I am currently powering my Apple TV using the power cord that came with my old Sony PSP and it fits and works. Since there is no external power adapter to have to connect to, I don’t see any problems.
The Apple TV is about the size of a standard hockey puck. It is square shaped with rounded corners. Each side measures about 4 inches long. It’s about 1 inch tall. All of the ports or on the back side. It is all black color. The Apple logos are on the top and bottom of the device and are shiny as well as the sides.
Each Apple TV comes with a remote that is about 5 inches long and made from aluminum. The buttons on it are black with white lettering. It has a Menu, Play/Pause, directional pad, and selection buttons on it. It does have a battery in it. The battery is a CR2032 3-volt disc battery. Remember the model of battery when you have to replace it sometime in the future.
The software is based on iOS like on the iPhone and iPad, only customized to work with the remote. When you turn it on for the first time, you will have to do the basic setup like language, network connectivity, location, and logging in. After that, it’s much like using iTunes on the PC.
The Apple TV is a great device when it comes to connecting on a network. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you can use the Apple Remote app to control the Apple TV rather than using the original remote. Believe me, it is better with app because you then won’t have to pick and choose letters to spell stuff, you just type it out.
When you activate Home Sharing on iTunes on your PC or Mac, you can stream all your content to the Apple TV.
Airplay allows you to connect your iOS device to the Apple TV and watch movies, pictures, or play music that exists on the iOS device.
The coolest feature I have found is Airplay mirroring, where you can share your screen on your iOS device to the Apple TV and see it on the TV. This is especially great on the iPad. Some apps will give extra features on the iPad when you mirror it to the TV. One idea is turning the iPad into a driving wheel for racing games. Angry Birds will just do mirroring, but it can be fun to show off your pig bashing skills.
You can rent movies and TV shows and stream online radio and music from the device. It does have Netflix access as well as MLB TV, NBA Network, and NHL TV for those who have subscriptions. You can stream podcasts, both video and audio from iTunes. I could go on, but it’s better that you find out yourself.
The Apple TV is priced at $99. Depending on where you buy it, you might have to pay sales tax too. I don’t know what else to say about the price point. For an Apple product, this is a great thing to get.
Now that we have gone through the good parts of the Apple TV, it’s time to go into the bad parts. I won’t categorize the parts, but mainly just list them off with explanations.
The Apple TV can ONLY be connected using HDMI. Long gone were the days of the analog component cables that the old versions of Apple TV once had. You might be able to get converter from digital to analog, but with the amount of copy protection Apple uses on the movies and TV shows, that may not work.
I guess in order to save costs and maybe try to push people to buy more Apple products, the instructions for the Apple TV are very basic out of the box. You have to go to the Apple website to get more info on how to do certain functions. As much as a computer geek as I am, I had to search the website just to find out how to use Airplay and mirroring.
The remote for the Apple TV still uses the infrared (IR) signal like most other remotes, meaning that it is a line of sight device. One competitor of the Apple TV, the Boxee Box, uses a radio frequency (RF) remote, so you don’t have to point at the device to operate it. But to counter this issue, Apple released the Apple Remote for iOS that can turn your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch into a more functional remote. It is also a pain to have to use the directional pad on the remote to spell out stuff for like addresses or passwords. I suggest using the app instead.
Now that we have gone to through the bad parts of the Apple TV, let’s go through the ugly. This part is more focused on what could be improved on the Apple TV to make it a truly superior product.
Apple TV is basically nothing more than a $100 version of iTunes. Whatever iTunes on your PC or Mac will play, Apple TV will play too. If iTunes does not play a certain video or audio format, Apple TV will not either. Any home networking of video or audio has to be done through iTunes. Whereas the Boxee Box can detect external hard drives used for streaming, the Apple TV only focuses on Apple products.
I will say right here that for those of you who have Macs and did not upgrade to Lion yet, “Front Row” is much more functional than Apple TV. It will play formats that Apple TV will not. Apple took “Front Row” out of Lion, though with some searching on Google, you can get that capability back on Lion.
For all the amazing things that Apple does for their products, I was fairly disappointed in the limited capabilities that the Apple TV can do. I did some research and found that the Apple TV can be jailbroken, though the newest version has not been yet. I am hoping that when I do get to jailbreak this device that it will open up capabilities and make it much more functional than before.
Although I wasn’t blown away by this device, for $100, you really can’t go wrong. I like the ability to use Airplay and stream the content of the iPad on my TV, giving me a bigger picture.
The Apple TV is a great extension for those people who are locked into the Apple ecosystem, where all their music and videos come from iTunes. This is not a universal media player. If you want a media player that is more universal with video and audio formats, go get a Boxee Box for $180. I have one and it’s awesome. I like having the best of both worlds, so I will use both devices when I want to. I do not like limiting myself to one spot.
Please do not look at this review as a purely positive or negative point of view. I am merely stating my experience with it. I will keep this device and hope to have lots of use out of it. I hope that jailbreaking it in time will make it work even better. For $100, it’s a good media center choice, if you don’t mind the “walled garden” experience.
Have fun and geek out!
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