Apple TV assessment

Apple TV reviewIn a day the place everybody (together with us) expects their devices to do every part, Apple once more bucks the development and releases a product that does a couple of issues, however tries to do them very properly. From day one the Apple TV wasn’t anticipated to be the fitting for everybody — particularly not most of the gadgetrati that patronize our superb publication. It does have a selected audience (specifically, these joyful to reside within the iTunes ecosystem), however will it’s the gateway system to deliver digital video to the lounge? What’s extra, will “the iTunes adapter” nonetheless move muster with the ever-scrutinizing CE fanatic crowd? Study all the things we expect you’d need to find out about this factor (besides learn how to improve the drive) our full-on Apple TV assessment.

The hardware

Sure, the unit appears like a smushed Mac mini — besides it obtained wider. In contrast to the mini and the brand new Airport Excessive (each of that are 6.5-inches sq.), it has a 7.7-inch footprint. It is virtually the identical thickness because the Airport Excessive, although, at 1.1-inches. Whereas the Apple TV’s design indubitably seems to be good in virtually any residence theater, we will not assist however want it was stackable with the remainder of Apple’s gear. The match and end lives as much as Apple’s status for strong hardware, and nothing feels tacky. It is received a daring metallic bezel and a really robust, sturdy-feeling chassis. You will not discover a energy button — simply plug it in. In comparison with a different media streamers and the Xbox 360, this factor is small and quiet. So quiet, actually, we might hardly hear it when indirectly subsequent to it.

Apple TV review The frontal LED and IR pickup is just like the mini, however it gave us some hassle since we used an IR distribution system (so we will stash our gear within the closet). The Apple TV simply refused to work with it. To ensure it was the Apple TV, we put our MacBook Professional within the closet and the identical IR blaster fantastic to regulate Entrance Row. Since these IR methods will not be the norm, we did all of our testing with the Apple TV on prime of our TV as an alternative. Ah nicely. (We pinged Apple, they usually stated previous to launch they examined with quite a lot of IR blasters, extenders, and so forth., and have not ever had any issues — so perhaps it was simply our rig.)

Necessities – When buying the Apple TV, the Apple staff have been very clear concerning the requirement for an HDTV. That and video cables — the ATV does not include any. Apple appears conscious of how that is going over with the general public and needs to set expectations earlier than individuals depart the shop, or they might simply be making an attempt to promote their very own cables. Both means, it is type of annoying, the identical approach it was annoying when the PS3 did not include an HDMI cable.

Apple TV reviewDistant – The distant could be very acquainted to anybody with a brand new Mac or iPod dock, it’s easy and works properly. Nonetheless, a pair extra buttons may make it somewhat simpler to make use of for easy issues like quantity management (which the Apple TV cannot do) or turning the unit off with out having to carry the pause button down for a short while. One fascinating bit concerning the distant is you could have the choice to pair it together with your Apple TV. Every Apple Distant has a singular ID that it sends out in IR earlier than its command (sure, that is learnable for sensible remotes). If in case you have a number of Apple Remotes, you’ll be able to ensure you do not by accident wake your pc when utilizing your ATV. Undoubtedly a pleasant contact.

Setup

Setup was as straightforward as anybody can ask for. Energy is inner, so you do not have to fuss with an influence brick, which helps hold the muddle down behind your rig. Plug in your unit, plug in your video cables, and also you’re off; one can use element or HDMI, however the check TV we used (not pictured) was older so we additionally tried out an HDMI to DVI cable. Though it labored simply in addition to element on our TV, the DVI is clearly simpler in setup, and the Apple TV was capable of routinely configure the utmost supported HD decision (one thing element connections cannot do). Regardless of Apple’s warnings, the Apple TV will work with any TV with element inputs and a widescreen mode. Do you have to plug in an HDMI cable, that connection takes precedence; the element output is seamlessly disabled and switches on the fly.

Apple TV reviewNetworking – After you’ve got the show related, you choose your language and instantly your Apple TV tries to attach by way of Ethernet, then WiFi. The Apple TV prefers the Ethernet connection so despite the fact that we initially configured WiFi, afterward once we related a community cable the Apple TV was fast to modify over. (It additionally lets you already know to unplug the Ethernet cable if you wish to change again to WiFi.) Wi-fi setup is semi-clever and makes it straightforward to hook up with networks with both WEP or WPA crypto. Lengthy WPA keys is usually a ache with the distant, however the Apple TV is no less than sensible sufficient to comprehend what characters are legitimate relying on the important thing sort, and solely shows these. Contemplating the shortage of buttons on the distant, although, it’s nonetheless fairly straightforward to enter strings. The one setup step that the majority will skip additionally occurs to be probably the most kludgey: configuring a static IP. Most individuals have DHCP enabled on their community, however for many who do not, you possibly can configure the Apple TV manually. The issue is that each one the fields are zeroed out. (It will have been a lot simpler if Apple intelligently configured defaults for the subnet masks, gateway and DNS settings based mostly on the IP handle we configured.)

Apple TV reviewConnecting with iTunes – The final step is connecting to your media. You’re introduced with a singular quantity, sort of like what you get when pairing a Bluetooth keyboard. Apple TV makes use of Bonjour to announce its presence in your community, and iTunes sees the unit and provides it beneath the units part, the place your iPod, and ultimately iPhone, stay. In iTunes you merely enter within the quantity from the Apple TV, then identify your system. That is just about it. As with the iPod, you’re introduced with various sync choices; you can begin streaming media instantly, even whereas it is syncing your content material within the background. You can too add different iTunes collections in your community in the identical style. In different phrases, it is fairly freaking straightforward.

Consumer interface

Apple TV reviewThe consumer interface is just like Entrance Row and the iPod. Apple did a superb job of optimizing the UI for widescreen shows by profiting from as a lot obtainable actual property as attainable. Identical to the iPod, you navigate although menus with the choose and menu buttons; whereas this works properly sufficient with the scroll wheel, the management ring on the Apple Distant simply does not lend itself to the identical management scheme, and we discover ourselves clicking left to return and proper to pick (which clearly does not work). However you actually could not ask for a greater wanting interface in a house theater system, and it’s virtually all the time snappy and responsive. Apple has achieved a great job of navigating via hundreds of things in an inventory (like albums or artists). Whereas scrolling, gadgets fly by with a shocking quantity of management. The interface is the place the Apple TV actually outshines different digital media adapters, just like the 360 or Netgear, um, gear.

The strangest navigation element is searching sources, the merchandise on the primary menu that permits you choose different media sources on the community (in addition to connecting to a brand new iTunes library). As soon as you’ve got chosen one other supply you’re dropped again to a brand new iteration of the primary menu with entry to the brand new media on that supply. In contrast to the opposite submenus, although, you’ll be able to’t return with the distant’s menu button. As an alternative, you need to return to the sources menu and change again to your default supply. Additionally complicated: when searching different sources there isn’t a solution to inform which supply you’re on on the time (besides by going again to the primary menu, the place it’s displayed on the prime proper).

Apple TV reviewDisplay saver – Certainly one of our favourite bits within the Apple TV is its display savers. Whereas it is unlikely you will need to depart your TV on prefer it’s your desktop show, it does present for some very nice eye sweet, particularly throughout, say, a celebration. You possibly can set the timeout from by no means to half-hour, and there are three to select from together with: emblem (blah, only a floating Apple emblem), albums (floating album artwork), and photographs (floating pictures). The pictures go up the display at totally different speeds and sizes, and each on occasion all of them twirl round. It is too dangerous they do not supply this as an choice for photograph slide exhibits.

Format help

The shortage of supported codecs is for sure the Apple TV’s largest limitation. Whereas Apple’s enterprise mannequin virtually undoubtedly influences these limitations, we nonetheless can not help however marvel why agnostic codecs like MPEG-2 can be neglected totally. The films and TV exhibits from the iTunes music retailer are solely VGA (not even DVD decision), and positively do not sport Dolby Digital 5.1. They could look good in your laptop computer, however up on an enormous display continues to be simply such a far cry from HD.

This on prime of the shortage of Divx, XviD, and WMV actually limits the usefulness of the Apple TV for anybody with a remotely disparate media library, and severely curtails its use as a web video streaming gadget. There are many individuals engaged on hack the Apple TV to broaden its performance (we’re amongst them), however we have but to see strong leads to the native interface. For now Apple TV house owners should be content material with H.264, (which maxes out at 1280 x 720) or MPEG-four (even worse at a most of 3Mbps and 720 x 432).

One other situation we bumped into is the 4GB file restrict and 5Mbps bitrate restrict for the media it does help. Not even Apple’s personal 720p HD trailers (8Mbps) have a low sufficient bitrate to play. Re-encoding is an choice, however in addition to the perpetual want to not have to try this, the outcomes are sometimes lower than stellar, particularly when this low bitrate video is blown up on a pleasant, massive, excessive decision HDTV. We sort of missed the purpose of watching films in HD for those who’ve acquired a display full dancing pixels and artifacts. Merely put, if anybody is considering shopping for this to observe HD films and movies: do not. That is not likely what it is for, a minimum of not proper now. The Xbox 360 is much better at HD, and though it additionally has very restricted codec help, at the very least MPEG-2 HD is supported (along with VC-1). Whereas some might not care concerning the lack of codecs and the compression artifacts, the remainder of us might have to attend for the “Apple HDTV”. Regardless of what Apple says about “skating to the place the puck shall be” by solely formally supporting HDTVs with HDMI and element inputs, this factor simply does not appear prepared for the true HD expertise.

All of our music that performs in iTunes performs fantastic on the Apple TV, together with AIF, WAV, MP3 (fixed and VBR), AAC, and Apple lossless. Little question some will miss OGG, WMA, and FLAC amongst others, however once more, no surprises right here. Identical to the Airport Categorical earlier than it, we’re positive that some audiophiles with a wide array of Apple Lossless music will use the Apple TV’s digital audio output related to a ridiculously costly DAC, however for these of us with music in additional obscure codecs, you are out of luck till somebody figures out a hack for that too.

Probably the most obvious omission within the audio help, nevertheless, is Audible audiobook help. Regardless of being approved and enjoying again in iTunes and on our iPod, your Audible information will not play again in your Apple TV. (Apple audiobooks, in fact, will.) It is truthful to ask: who needs to take heed to audio books of their residence theater, anyway? In all probability not too many individuals, however wouldn’t it actually have been so arduous to throw Audible in there?

Photograph help is nice, although. We had no issues viewing RAW pictures (which weren’t spec), in addition to all the formally supported codecs: JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF, and TIFF.

Enjoying media (music, pictures, video, podcasts)

Apple TV reviewAs we stated earlier than, anybody accustomed to an iPod ought to really feel at house with the interface of the ATV. Sadly, when listening to music your monitor stops whenever you return to the primary menu, which is usually a little jarring. The shortage of Cowl Circulate album searching is shocking, and though the duvet artwork is prominently displayed whereas enjoying and searching, it is simply not almost the identical as these good iTunes Cowl Stream visuals. Additionally lacking are graphic visualizations, which might be a greater than welcome addition.Apple TV reviewApart from the lack to stream pictures out of your host machine’s library (who needs to sync their entire photograph library to that minuscule 40GB drive?), the photographs menu is considerably restricted. Customers can view a slideshow of their whole library or particular iPhoto albums, however cannot watch a slideshow based mostly on date, or different metadata. (We might additionally actually like to have the ability to browse all of our photographs on a thumbnail grid, which additionally is not doable.) The Apple TV does can help you playback your configured iPhoto slideshows, in order that should suffice. When viewing photographs, you possibly can skip by way of utilizing the distant, however you’ll be able to’t change the music; hitting the play / pause button performs the anticipated motion, however when you by chance hit the menu button in the midst of a big slideshow, you’ll have to begin over from the start subsequent time — very annoying.

Searching movies is analogous, however sorting TV exhibits provides an choice to browse by date in addition to identify, which is good for catching up on a collection so as. The video controls are very slick; urgent left or proper throughout playback jumps you ahead and again a couple of minutes, however holding down kicks in quick-ahead or rewind (in fact, the longer you maintain the button, the quicker it goes). It advances in three speeds (like a TiVo); as soon as quick-forwarding is underway you do not have to carry the button.

Apple TV reviewGeneral, the scrubbing and on-display visuals work rather well. A pleasant contact is the choice to select up the place you left off when you have been watching your video in your iPod or in iTunes, and need to end watching it in your Apple TV if you get residence.

In contrast to different media, the podcast help is not that scorching. The primary difficulty is with advancing in packages: you possibly can’t simply hit the best and left buttons to skip a couple of minutes, as with different media. Additionally annoying: podcasts all the time begin the place they left off, no choice to start out from the start, as with different media. However the largest drawback is that you would be able to’t skip chapters in enhanced podcasts (which, as you may recall is an Apple-developed format), though the embedded footage do change on cue. We’re unsure how many individuals will need to take heed to podcasts with their house theater (in all probability about as many as will take heed to Audible books), however there’s loads of good vidcast content material on the market, and it doesn’t matter what the sort, it ought to all work uniformly properly.

Syncing

Apple TV reviewIf there was one function of the Apple TV that may be referred to as revolutionary, it will in all probability be the syncing. Identical to any new tackle a well-known know-how, some simply will not perceive the necessity. But when you consider it, syncing your content material to the Apple TV makes good sense, particularly when you think about how many individuals use laptops as their main computing gadget. Who needs to have half their content material library lacking as a result of their laptop computer is within the automotive, away for service, or simply is not turned on? Then once more, whereas it’s good to have content material on the Apple TV itself, 40GB of storage is simply downright irritating. When you’re so digital media-centric you’d throw down $300 for an Apple TV as an alternative of (or along with) a Xbox 360, does not it make sense that you simply’d in all probability have greater than 40GB of content material, between music, films, and pictures? So, identical to our TiVo Series3, we needed to improve the drive ourselves. However for many who do not need to improve, a minimum of there are many syncing choices, all configurable by way of iTunes.

Pictures and music syncing lets you sync all of your content material or simply particular playlists, albums, and so forth., in addition to music movies (that are synced like music slightly than like movies). Films, TV exhibits and podcasts all have the identical sync choices: all, all unplayed, or most up-to-date. It will assist individuals hold the one the newest episodes on their Apple TV for highest high quality random entry; customers can stream the remaining immediately from their pc (if it is able to serve content material, that’s). If allowed, iTunes will swap out media to maintain what’s cached on the ATV recent, because you’re probably to observe one thing you have not watched earlier than. Virtually all of the syncing choices are configured in iTunes. Actually the one syncing choices inside the Apple TV interface are its preliminary configuration, and to cease syncing. Whereas the Apple TV is syncing there’s a small icon in iTunes and within the Apple TV menus notifying the consumer that knowledge switch is in progress; you may also see the syncing standing from the sources display.

When media will not sync, iTunes will get a warning icon subsequent to the Apple TV emblem. That is high quality, however this occurs each single time it may’t sync — you’d assume it will study after the primary time and attempt to skip them till they’re out there. We have been those who lastly discovered, although, and gave up on making an attempt to resolve the warning icon. Media that’s playable in iTunes, like Apple personal HD films trailers, however playable by the Apple TV, is not synced in any respect which is sensible till you understand how straightforward it’s so as to add codec help. We additionally had a number of points with slideshows; first was which you could’t begin a sync whereas watching a slideshow; second is that you could’t sync an iPhoto album that can also be a photocast.

The most important syncing limitation, nevertheless, is which you can’t sync photographs with multiple pc. We acknowledge the challenges of multi-grasp synchronization, however not everybody retains all their media on one machine, and with the shortage of photograph streaming one is pressured to maneuver their iPhoto library from machine to machine, relying on which is designated the Apple TV’s grasp. iPods, as an example, do not have this drawback and can permit you to sync photographs from one pc, and music from one other.

Streaming content material

There’s truly fairly a little bit of web content material that may be streamed on to the Apple TV. Sadly you possibly can’t purchase and stream iTunes Music Retailer media (that needs to be carried out out of your pc), however you are able to do trailers and clips. The trailers look fairly good, whereas the highest iTunes Music retailer gadgets are fairly pointless — we’re unsure who needs to take a seat there and take heed to or watch 30 second music / video samples, nevertheless it’s not us. We suspect this can be a prelude to ultimately with the ability to purchase content material instantly from the Apple TV (very similar to you should purchase and obtain content material immediately from and to your Xbox 360), however we should wait and see.

Apple TV reviewWe skilled some fairly tough delays connecting to the iTunes Retailer throughout our testing; fortunately you possibly can bail out by hitting the menu button everytime you need. We are likely to want the best way Entrance Row browses film trailers (with the complete measurement film posters), however on the Apple TV you navigate an inventory with the film posters on the aspect. Streaming music and movies from iTunes labored very properly, although. That low bitrate limitation meant streaming content material to the Apple TV seemed and sounded nearly each bit nearly as good as having it synced. Truly, the streaming expertise is so seamless, one can simply lose monitor of the video supply, be it inner or streamed.

Hackability

Apple TV reviewThe Apple TV runs nothing greater than a stripped down model of OS X, which suggests it is fairly apparent that we will see plenty of hacks. Whereas upgrading the drive looks like the primary and most blatant, enabling SSH, new entrance-ends, USB booting, and others are in progress or already full. In fact this can in all probability be a two approach road — some will allow new options on the Apple TV, others will get Again Row, (the identify of the UI) operating on their very own computer systems instead of Entrance Row. However for us, further codec help might be an important potential function, in addition to enabling the USB port for exterior drive enlargement. For some, we think about the hackability of the Apple TV might be a much more tempting enterprise than its meant use.

Conclusion

The Apple TV is nice at every part it was constructed to do — function a plug and play answer to work together together with your iTunes media. However it is not referred to as the Apple HDTV for a cause. Positive, it technically helps 720p, however not in any significant means. Anybody who cares about top quality video won’t be completely satisfied — the 5Mbps restrict is simply too low. The opposite massive misses right here (like no photocasting, photograph streaming, insufficient enhanced podcast help, and never with the ability to sync with a number of machines) are all hopefully issues that may and can be fastened with future software program updates. However the easy reality is, this can be a mass market gadget meant to have mass market attraction, and whereas some will balk on the restricted codec help and walled-backyard strategy, individuals who reside in iTunes will benefit from the simplicity of simply plugging it in and by no means having to fuss with something. It is exhausting to disclaim the truth that the interface is slick and easy sufficient that anybody — and we do imply anybody — ought to have the ability to use it with ease.

For customers who do not need to concern themselves with media library administration, disparate house media serving and libraries, and the extra complicated bits about digital media in your house theater, there merely is not a neater, extra pleasurable solution to get content material out of your pc to your HDTV. For everybody else (learn: tons and plenty of Engadget readers), till bigger-scope points are addressed, that is more likely to be relegated solely to novelty set-prime field and weekend hack undertaking.

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