Monday, November 8, 2010

Apple TV Review

The Apple TV is a great device for renting and buying movies, purchasing music and TV shows, browsing YouTube content, view photos and more. With great video and sound quality, an easy-to-navigate user interface (UI) and the iTunes Store, the Apple TV lands in first place on our list of home media servers.

The Apple TV is simple to set-up and use. Once the device is connected to a widescreen HDTV (this is vital as all content will only display properly on a widescreen HDTV), with an HDMI cable, or a set of component and 
composite/RCA cables (not included, 

unfortunately) and powered up, the Apple      TV     will begin its automated set-up.
Use the supplied Apple Remote to move through the menus. You’ll need to be connected to broadband internet via ethernet or Wi-Fi (the device has built-in Wi-Fi capabilities). It’s that easy, and you don’t necessarily need a Mac or Windows computer, though you’ll be able to sync up music, movies, TV shows and photos with iTunes, iPhoto and more.
Once you’re set up with the Apple TV and your iTunes Store account is ready to go, it’s time to watch some movies, TV shows or listen to some music or podcasts. Using the Apple TV is even easier; the UI and menus make navigation a cinch, with categories and subcategories that include:

  • Movies: My Movies (what’s on your Mac or PC), Top Movies, Genres, All HD, Search and Trailers (all of which can be found at the iTunes Store online).
  • TV Shows: My TV Shows, Top TV Shows, Genres, All HD, Networks and Search.
  • Music: My Music, Top Music, Music Videos, Genres and Search.
  • Podcasts: My Podcasts, Top Podcasts, Genres, Providers and Search.
  • Photos: My Photos (set it up with iTunes), MobileMe, Flickr and Settings (which includes ways to set up a nice slideshow including music options, time per slide, the Ken Burns effect, etc.).
  • Internet: YouTube and Radio (all the internet radio stations, of which there are thousands).
  • Settings: This is where you set everything up, including Audio and Video, Downloads, Computers, etc.
From there, it’s easy to view or listen to your own content, or rent or purchase from a wide variety of content. You can use the Apple TV without a computer to browse and make purchases, but you can also use your Mac or Windows PC and sync up to the Apple TV via iTunes, which is also very easy. The Apple TV shows up under devices in iTunes, and you can sync from there.
Video/Sound Quality:
Video and sound quality are terrific on Apple's home media server, however the maximum supported resolution is 1280 x 720p. We’re not going to say 720p is bad because it isn’t 1080i/p; all of the HD movies and TV shows (and even content we created with Final Cut Pro that’s HD) looked fantastic playing back on a Vizio 42-inch 1080p HDTV. We also won’t speculate, but we’re willing to bet the iTunes Store and Apple TV will provide and support for 1080i/p content soon.
Sound is also impressive, and it played well on the Vizio HDTV and also the Vizio SoundBar we used for this review, which includes the dual speakers in the SoundBar and a subwoofer.

Purchase/Rent Movies or TV Shows:
What would home media servers, such as the Apple TV, be without the ability to purchase or rent movies or TV shows, or browse and buy music from the biggest music retailer online? The iTunes Store is the key to the Apple TV’s strengths.
The iTunes Store paved the way for buying or renting movies and purchasing TV shows. You have a choice of HD or SD (standard definition, defined as 480i/p), and most films are available to buy or rent when the DVD is released.
Apple’s great relationship with Disney (who bought the Steve Jobs-owned Pixar) may have given it a big advantage over other online/movie-on-demand services. We saw more Disney content at the iTunes Store than competitors.
Some movies come with iTunes Extras, which is essentially like getting the DVD experience without the DVD. You get all the standard special features; Apple is among the first to offer this with downloadable movies (purchase only), and could help move consumers away from physical media like DVDs and Blu-ray Discs.
TV shows are usually available the day after they air (purchase only, no rentals), and you can buy a “season pass” and new episodes will download to your computer and Apple TV. Most often, however, buying a DVD set is more affordable, but if you love watching TV this way, the iTunes Store is one of the best. We’d love to see Apple and TV networks offer discounts on buying seasons of our favorite TV shows.
Just how important is the iTunes Store to TV? It’s been said that many TV shows depend on the iTunes Store as a way to measure ratings. Sure, there's Hulu, but in our opinion, the quality is better with the iTunes Store and the Apple TV.
Of course, you can also purchase music from the iTunes Store, which represents the majority of purchased music downloads, and a respectable percentage of overall music purchases (physical and download). There is plenty of fantastic music to be found at the iTunes Store, from indies to majors.
Browsing, downloading and listening to Podcasts is easy to do, as well. As stated before, you can either do this through the Apple TV or on your computer with iTunes, and then sync it up to listen through your TV and sound system. Same with iTunes U content.
The Apple TV is the only home media server able to purchase and playback protected media from the iTunes Store. Users can re-encode the media so it can playback on other devices.

Play Digital Media Content:
It’s easy to wirelessly sync up the Apple TV to an iTunes account on a Mac or PC to start playing some music from your music library. Imagine listening to those songs and albums on a home theater sound system! Plus, the iTunes LP feature is really cool on the Apple TV (or your Mac or Windows PC); it’s essentially a virtual and interactive version of the album. Play music, watch videos, animation and more, on select albums that have the iTunes LP feature.
One of the coolest things about owning a Mac is how many software apps can help you create content. iMovie lets you edit and share home movies or your own little short films, TV shows and video skits, whether on DVD, online, the iPhone, iPod, iPad or even the Apple TV.
In iMovie, once you’re done editing, go to Share, Export Using QuickTime, then select Export and choose Movie to Apple TV. You can save a video file up to 1280 x 720p HD. This is a great way to watch your video creations.
In iPhoto, you can organize, edit and share your photos; create a slideshow to playback on the Apple TV. They’re organized also by Events or Faces, thus giving you a nice photo browsing experience. You can also access your photos from the Apple TV without having to use iPhoto.

Internet Content:
The Apple TV will playback videos from YouTube and music from a large assortment of online radio stations that cover pretty much every music genre, talk radio, etc. Listen also to podcasts, which were popularized on iTunes and view photos on Flickr and MobileMe.
However, you can’t use the Apple TV to view other videos online, such as those from websites including Vimeo. Pandora and similar internet music streaming sites aren’t supported, either. While some users may not be happy with this, there are still others who won’t mind not being able to use these internet sites.
YouTube is pretty much the biggest on the web for videos, and streaming music from your iTunes library, plus the internet radio stations, more than make up for it. Keep in mind that videos optimized for small computer screens may appear fuzzy on a bigger TV screen, when accessing YouTube. But most of the content we viewed looked and sounded great. Users can also access videos uploaded to their MobileMe accounts.
The Apple TV is supported on both Apple computers running Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) and under, and Windows PCs running Vista and XP, plus the latest version of iTunes. Keep in mind that a computer isn’t required to set-up and operate the Apple TV, but you can sync your iTunes Store purchases, play movies and music, photos and more.
Apple’s award-winning technical support is by far one of the best in the business, and it definitely shines here with the Apple TV. There is 90 days of complimentary phone support, but after that it will cost around $49 to call Apple again for help. However, for that same price, AppleCare for the Apple TV can be purchased, giving full phone support for two years from the purchase date. We called in and got someone on the phone within a couple of minutes.
If you’re having any issues with the Apple TV and your computer’s iTunes (syncing or backing up), the AppleCare plan will provide support for that, too.
Other types of support include Apple’s extensive FAQs and Knowledge Base found on their website, along with email, a user's manual and user forums.
With all the great features, including iTunes Store content, playback of photos, music and videos from your computer and much more, the Apple TV is a fantastic device amongst similar home media servers. It’s easy to use and navigate to find content to watch or listen to.
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