As you may know, I’m an Apple kind of guy. One product I had been remiss in adopting until recently is Apple TV, the set top component that allows your home entertainment system to play content purchased from Apple through their iTunes Store. Of course, there are a number of other features that Apple TV brings to the table, but the latest incarnation shared a release date with the new iPad, so I went ahead and pre-ordered one the same day I ordered my new iPad. You can read my hands-on review of the new iPad to catch up with my thoughts.
What sealed the deal for me with this new Apple TV is the addition of 1080p video resolution. Previously, the Apple TV only provided 720p support, which is fine, but true high definition is the 1080p standard. Powering this upgrade in video resolution is a new processor, the A5, which powers the iPad 2. The last version contained an A4, so there is a noticeable improvement in performance, aside from the better graphics.
Aside from these differences, everything the last Apple TV provides is here in the new one. Services like Netflix, NHL, NBA, MLB, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, WSJ Live, and Internet Radio are all here. The lack of Hulu Plus is still an issue, and for me, a big drawback is the absence of streaming video from other sources on a home network. Competitors like Roku provide this in their set top boxes, and with my extensive media library on my desktop computer, having the ability to watch content from these sources is a must. One way around this is a third-party firmware that typically accompanies an Apple TV release, though as of this writing, there is no solution (yet).
Another reason I opted to jump into an Apple TV is the ability to use AirPlay. This feature allows content from my iPad or iPhone to be viewed on my TV through the Apple TV via my wireless network. Without any cables, I can share my screen on my iOS device with the Apple TV, which is a pretty cool feature. Almost all apps work with this, a notable exception being HBO Go, which doesn’t allow for this functionality. I can also share content from my Mac computers, so that my entire iTunes music library and my iPhoto library can be accessed from my Apple TV, which is definitely a perk. There are rumors amiss that the new OS X 10.8, codenamed Mountain Lion, will bring screen sharing to the Apple TV as well, but this remains to be seen.
Of course, like all Apple devices, the Apple TV is a design phenomenon. The device is tiny, fitting easily in the palm of my hand. It measures 3.9” square and is 0.9” thick. It provides HDMI and optical audio outputs, and also includes a USB input. This USB input is a disappointment, as it only functions for service and diagnostics. Plugging in a USB keyboard, mouse, or hard drive does nothing.
Overall, I’m happy with my Apple TV. If you have a 2nd generation unit, the need to upgrade is minimal, unless 1080p is a must for you. The lack of streaming content from other networked devices might be a deal breaker for most, and for them, I’d recommend the Roku devices. Me, I’m confident that some enterprising programmer will have this functionality available soon, and until then, I’ll be using my Apple TV for music, pictures, and watching content from my iPad.