Posted by pete on 25th March 2007
Right after it was announced — and I mean right after – in January, I bought an Apple TV unit. I’ve been occasionally playing content from my MacBook Pro on the big screen, but it was awkward. There was no way I was showing Lis how to do it and she has stuff she’d like to display there and play on the home theatre sound system too.
After about a month’s delay, it finally arrived this past Thursday. The setup was dead simple. Plugged the component video and optical audio outputs into my receiver, where I linked the two together as one device. Turned on the TV, then powered up the unit. Not including the run out to Radio Shack for an optical cable and dinner at Friendly’s with G, the setup probably took five minutes at most. And, yes, it works fine on our seven-year-old HD (1080i) capable, 4:3 screen. (Side note: the initial boot on our 4:3 screen had the Apple logo a bit distorted as it was assuming the TV would be running in a 16:9 aspect ratio. After you go through the setup, though, the problem disappears.)
The Apple TV allows you to sync on iTunes to the device itself. Other (Windows or OS X) computers that want to display iTunes content on the screen will have to stream to the device. There’s a five streaming device limit. I have no idea why.
Our home network as two access points. One’s an open 802.11G AP. The other device is a closed Airport Extreme that does 802.11 (pre-)N. To avoid a performance hit on the pre-N network, we keep both devices running. Lisa’s first-gen MBP, without (pre-)N talks with the G AP and my second-gen, (pre-)N capable MBP talks with the Airport. The Apple TV also talks with the Airport as it’s also a (pre-)N device.
Since Lis will be the one most using our TV and is connecting over the slower of the two APs, I set her up as the sync source. I sync to the Apple TV. (Well, my MBP does. )
Overall, I like the Apple TV. Here are a few thoughts I have on it:
- I’m a bit concerned about the 40GB hard drive on the device. We’re only about 1/3 used now that all of Lisa’s content is synced over, but I can see this growing quickly. From what I’ve seen on the inter-tubes, though, this might be not-too-annoying to swap out.Â [Update: Well, hey-ho-howdy, here's one.]
- The interface feels a bit slow. It’s not terribly slow, but it is a bit.
- It crashed at least once on me. On the plus side (or worrisome — depending on your perspective), it has a watchdog timer that auto-rebooted it after it locked up. This is a 1.0 device, though, so I’ll give it some leeway, as long as it’s not very frequent.
- Entering a 50-character, random character string as the WPA2 key using their sluggish on-screen keyboard interface is a pain in the ass. Entering it a second time after you have a brain fart is even more of a PITA.
- I was surprised that the device doesn’t aggregate the iTunes sources that it’s configured for. You have to explicitly choose the source iTunes DB that you use.
- Apple’s remote-enabled devices (such as Lisa’s and my MBPs and the Apple TV) allow you to pair with a specific remote, which makes the device ignore all other Apple Remote signals. As far as I can tell, they will respond to any Apple Remote by default. This is really fun when you’re sitting back on the couch with two MBPs and you hit play on the remote; all three devices respond by playing different things. On the plus side, the Apple Remote has a very wide range of coverage.
- Speaking of the Apple Remote, it’s a very simple device. It’s got six buttons: up, down, left, right, play/pause, and menu. Using this remote to watch Lost on my laptop’s screen with Front Row was easy, but, for whatever reason, I’m having issues controlling playback with it on the Apple TV.
- Streaming is surprisingly smooth, from both of our MBPs. It thought it might get a but chunky with Lisa’s over the 802.11G network, but it’s not.
- Good Lord, I really don’t like that default Ken Burns effect in the slide show mode. I need to find out how to turn that off.
- I had some DRM (grrrr!) issues trying to get some TV shows from my MBP to stream to the Apple TV. Eventually, I read on the Apple forums that I had to de-authorize my MBP, then re-authorize. After this, there was no problem.
- I was also surprised that, while you get lots of previews of songs, movies, and TV shows from the Apple TV interface, you can’t directly purchase anything from that interface. How long do you think until that’s enabled? I can’t see Apple not making it easier for people to buy from their store.
Anyway, I like the Apple TV. It’s got a lot of potential, but it’s still got some rough edges. Still, it’s a good, useful device now. I think it’d give it a 4 out of 5.