Written on Wednesday, August 08, 2007 by Gemini
Whenever I think of the AppleTV, I squeeze my eyes shut, click my heels three times, and say, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
Where I go in my mind’s eye is the living room. I’m laying on the sofa watching television or a movie on a modest but impressive 42-inch plasma display. At the heart of my home theater, the device running the whole operation, is the AppleTV. I download from the Internet the TV shows or movies I buy, rent, or request on demand in high-definition. I record one show while watching another. I watch Internet TV programs on “stations” like Joost, YouTube, or MySpace.
Then I wake up. This is no Oz.
The elegantly designed, low-profile AppleTV sits unobtrusively next to my Samsung display. To the right of it is the incredibly ugly, obtrusive set-top box given to me by my service provider, Verizon. Right now, I need both devices — and the DVD player in the cabinet below.I wish I needed only one.
The reality — my Kansas — is that Generation One of the AppleTV falls short of meeting my needs and expectations and those of many other home entertainment enthusiasts. We still need all these devices in our living rooms, or we plunge down the rabbit hole of buying media servers or building our own. To me, the AppleTV is wonderfully simple to use but deliberately crippled, underperforms, and overall is a disappointment, all things considered.
And yet it drips with potential and promise. This is what interests me. I believe that Apple — the company that brought us the iPod, iTunes, the iTunes Music Store, and the iPhone, not the company that gave us Lisa or the Newton — has a plan and roadmap for AppleTV. What we are seeing here is Generation One, just like there was an initial release of the iPod, which led to the iPod and iTunes for Windows computers, to color displays, photographs, video, and some might argue the iPhone.
Where will AppleTV go next?But first, Generation One.Out of the BoxOne of the things that attracted me to the AppleTV was the promise of ease of setup, ease of use, and convenience. I had been researching Windows Media Center computers, buying an off-brand media center, or building my own by using an old laptop or a Mac Mini. Ultimately, I decided I just didn’t want to mess with the hassle of buying and setting up a Media Center computer or building my own. I just don’t have the time (or money).
Another consideration was important. I am not the only one who uses the home entertainment equipment in the living room. My wife and kid control the clicker, and unless the user experience for the DIY media center was butt simple they’d never use it or would complain until my ears bled.We already purchase TV shows from the iTMS that we missed recording on the DVR, and I previously had bought season passes for “Bones,” “Eureka”, and “Psych” when I got sucked into the whole video-on-the-iPod-thing. I’d transfer these to the iPod and hook it up to the TV to watch on the larger screen.
So it made sense to try the $299 AppleTV. As promised, the AppleTV was amazingly simple to hook up to my television and network. I provided the network security information as requested, fired up iTunes, and began transferring or streaming content within 15 minutes without reading the instructions. It does, however, take a while to move gigabytes of data over a wireless network (I use both an 802.11g and n network).
Do note as well that you will need the right kind of television — either an HDTV or a fairly-new standard television that uses Component video cables. Also, you will need to purchase, or have on hand, the needed cables to hook up the AppleTV to your set. (See Macworld’s AppleTV coverage for assistance.)
Months of Use
After months of use I am reasonably satisfied with what the AppleTV delivers, but I am probably more forgiving than most home entertainment aficionados. A few observations:
Ease of use: stunningly simple. The AppleTV’s main interface is clutter-free: You have a choice of Movies, TV Shows, YouTube (new to version 1.1), Music, Podcasts, Settings, and Sources. As I had hoped would happen, my wife and kid use the AppleTV without pestering me with questions and criticisms, although I am the one who manages the content.
Quality: for me, acceptable; for you, I’m not so sure. One of the biggest issues of the AppleTV is it’s capable of playing HD content, there’s just little of it on the iTMS. This is a deal-breaker for many who want to buy an AppleTV but won’t because the quality isn’t up to their HD standards.
Even so, I was surprised by the overall quality of the AppleTV. The shows I downloaded from the iTMS were a bit fuzzy, especially the ones encoded at 320 by 240 before Apple began encoding content at 640 by 480. But after spending years with a standard television I didn’t care that the show quality was not high-definition. I’ll watch HD on the HD channels and near HD quality on an up-converted DVD player. For now.