Not so long from now, in a couple of years, streaming ‘proper’ broadcast content to your TV will be just as commonplace as changing the channel. Now, it’s for the tech-hardy who love the idea of being able to consolidate as much internet-ready moving image as possible into a complex system of downloading, transcoding and NAS-sharing.
All will change. It’s started to already. Web-connected TVs are here and the Googleplex is about to spew out its Google TV box. The big A is also having another stab at its Apple TV. But will the slimmed down, price-cut, supercharged iTunes streamer venture into the kind of sales figures that Apple was expecting first time around?
Possibly. At under £100, the Apple TV falls well into Christmas present territory. The lack of a hard disk also means the device is about a quarter of the size of its predecessor. In true Apple fashion, it really is a wow product. The black finish and rounded curves will look better than anything else in your AV rack.
Connect the HDMI, optical audio and the slimline power cable and you’re ready to roll. The longest process is typing in your iTunes account details for Home Sharing, using the redesigned slimline Apple TV remote.
However, download the Remote app for your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad and behold, full QWERTY typing for your fingertips. The Remote app also allows you to control the on-screen menu with finger swipes and taps. We love it.
Apple TV: Interface and movie rentals
The Apple TV menu system has had a slight refit, with Movies, Internet, Computers and Settings options appearing horizontally across the screen. From here you can watch movie trailers, rent HD movies, browse and stream YouTube clips and log into MobileMe and Flickr accounts for streaming photos. As of yet, the the UK isn’t privy to TV show rentals, but you can see how easy the rental process will be once the studios’ copyright rats get their act together.
The new-format movie browser is so slick, we had the urge to rent content even if we didn’t want it. Preview a movie trailer, add it to your wish list or click ‘more’ for extra film information and user comments. All from the ten foot experience. Film rentals start from £2.49 for SD and rise to £3.49 for HD. You have 30 days to watch your rented film and are permitted to watch it as many times as you like in 48 hours.
Apple TV: Performance
In our testing, movie streaming was very good. Slight juddering here and there on our 47in LG LX9900 TV and (supposed) 10Mbps broadband connection, but on the whole, very impressive. HD content buffers quickly and plays within a few seconds of selection. Skipping through streamed movies also updates quickly
While SD content is watchable, once you’ve experienced the HD (720p) content, you’ll find it hard to go back. Audio isn’t as good as what you’d hear on a Blu-ray movie, but still full and crispy through a dedicated 5.1 system. Due to the lack of moving parts, the Apple TV itself is dead silent.
Streaming content from our MacBook was a bit more fiddly that we’d expected. The theory is to start Home Sharing in iTunes, add your username and password to Apple TV and away you go – wirelessly firing bought films and TV shows to the Apple TV. It didn’t connect for a few attempts – continuing to ask that we turned on Home Sharing in iTunes. Yeah, we did that. And switched it on and off again. And then we twigged. You need iTunes 10.0.1. After downloading, success and content streamed perfectly. It really does free your media and, if you’ve got a big HD TV, films and images look great. The Apple TV could have given us poor tech hacks a helping hand, though.
At present, a lot of rentable Apple TV seems to be quite US-centric. Given the ‘In Theaters’ (sic) sub-category, we shouldn’t be surprised but we hope the UK is given its own channel. We’re also looking forward to the new AirPlay feature that will allow you to stream audio and video from your iPhone, Touch or iPad direct to the Apple TV.
Apple TV: Conclusion
There’s no doubt this is a quality piece of engineering and, if you’ve got a decent HD TV setup at home, Apple TV is appealing. Streaming quality is good, it’s fairly cheap and, like all Apple products, it just works.
The updated Apple TV isn’t that much of a departure from the original, so based on its success, we don’t think it’s going to fly off the shelves this Christmas. However, the most interesting element is that the Apple TV runs iOS. Yes, the same found on the iPortable range. How long before we see apps on Apple TV? We give it six months. Just imagine the possibilities; broadcasters creating catch-up app channels, TV friendly internet content, magazines on TV? The prospect is mouthwatering. Perhaps that will finally give people a reason to buy…
Apple TV is available for pre-order now, find out more from Apple
Posted by Luke Peters