The Apple TV Review

Apple TVI’ve had my Apple TV for two weeks now, and it has changed what I watch on TV.

For starters, I watch less broadcast or cable television shows. The shows I’d watch as filler have gone away. I won’t bother skipping around channels anymore to see if there’s anything interesting on. If it’s not already on the DVR or on the Apple TV, I’m ignoring it.

Second, I’m watching more video podcasts. Much more. What were once novelties of the web and YouTube are now viable television show replacements. Sure, they often look cheap or amateurish, but that’s all part of the charm. The content is king. The set dressing is secondary. And with Photoshop User TV airing late nights on the FOX Business Channel, there’s a certain merging of the two forms happening, anyway. In both directions.

But I find myself watching Mahalo Daily while doing the ironing, or a photography tutorial from TWIP while eating a snack, or an iFanboy video podcast while waiting for some show to be on network television that I want to see. Or Cranky Geeks while cleaning around the house. My TV is all content, all of the time. No commercials need be seen, aside from GoDaddy’s at the beginning of a few video podcasts.

There’s no better way to watch Pixel Perfect with Bert Monroy than in an HD video feed on an HDTV. The screen grab looks crystal clear on the television screen. Gone is the slight muddiness or the text that’s too small to make out. On the HDTV, it looks like my laptop screen, only much larger. (40 inches versus 15 or whatever the MacBook uses.) It’s beautiful to behold.

Also very nice, though not free: The Luminous Landscape Video Journal. I downloaded the most recent one, including an hour-long tour of Jay Maisal’s NYC studio, and an hour long video of a recent Antarctic photo trip.  Fascinating, very cool, and very nice in HD.  Not exactly PLANET EARTH-level video quality, but very nice.

Though I’ve long held that I’d never do a video podcast, myself, being able to so easily watch video podcasts on my TV is slowly changing my mind. Now, it’s only the lack of proper equipment (an HD camcorder) and time to do proper editing/scripting/staging that keeps me from doing one. I’m not morally opposed to it, just lazy.

Third, I’m watching movie trailers again. I know I’ll likely never get out to see the movies, but having the option to preview what’s at the movie theater now in high definition at home on my 40 inch TV screen is huge. The WALL-E trailer from PIXAR is beautiful. The SD trailers aren’t bad, but it’s the HD ones that shine. I compared HD versus SD for a couple of movies that offer both options and you CAN tell the difference. It’s there.

Fourth, the photo slideshows turned out to be a huge hit with my two year old niece. She likes to see herself on the TV now.

The only negative thing I can say about the Apple TV is the finer points of control. Fast forwarding and rewinding is annoying. You can press the FF or RW button once to jump a minute (30 seconds? Minute and a half? I can’t tell.) in either direction, but you have to press and hold down on the buttons to straight-up fast forward or rewind something, and those controls aren’t very fine. It’s like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. I can’t ff through to a certain spot. It’s awkward and clumsy. I let the commercials play, just because it’ll take less time than attempting to fast forward and rewind all over the place.

Installation was a breeze. I just hooked up an HDMI cable, plugged in a code to my iTunes, and away I went. I don’t have a surround sound system at this time, so I can’t vouch for how well that works. Nor have I rented a movie yet. Given how nice the trailers look, though, I have high hopes. I need to download TRANSFORMERS one of these days.

I’ve chosen to watch most video podcasts synched up from the iTunes account on my laptop. That’s just so I can easily keep track of the specific shows I like to watch. I have, however, streamed some shots through the Apple TV to sample them first. The delay to start watching them, like with the movie trailers, is miniscule. My Wi Fi connection is only 802.11g, too, not 11n.

In fact, my habits are starting to change now. This weekend, I labeled my favorite video podcasts as “Favorite” so that they’re kept in a separate sub-menu on the Apple TV. I can check an episode list and download a show direct to the Apple TV through there now. I’ve deleted gigabytes’ of video files from my laptop, which is always a good thing. As a bonus, I don’t have to go back and delete podcasts I’ve already watched from iTunes later on.

My Harmony Remote 880 accepts the Apple TV as a DVR, more or less. The buttons map out as you’d expect them to on the Harmony, but I honestly don’t use it. I use the small remote that comes with the Apple TV to control it. It doesn’t feel right, otherwise. I can use the Harmony, but I choose not to. I don’t need a remote with dozens of buttons to control a device whose native remote used six.

In the end, the Apple TV is a glorified podcast viewer for me right now, but I do take advantage of the other bits to a lesser extent. The YouTube interface is easy to work, but I don’t use it. Most videos look blocky and low-fi on my computer screen. On my HDTV, they look positively awful. When YouTube goes HD, perhaps then I’ll start using it more. Right now, it’s a minor bullet point on the list of features for this box.

I’ve also successfully transferred files over to the Apple TV from the movies directory of iTunes. (These were not commercial files. They were HD podcasts that are too new to be on iTunes yet.) I think they’re MP4 files. They look great and start up quickly.

Right now, the Apple TV is my video podcast machine. I have some movie files that I play on there, but I haven’t yet worked with the rental feature, or even the Buy From iTunes feature. That’ll make it something that could be more useful for my wife, say. And when we miss a show and the DVRs fail to record it, I look forward to downloading a show straight from iTunes to watch it on the Apple TV. We’ll start with small steps here.

And, yes, it is a very hot box.

One thought on “The Apple TV Review

  1. I’ve had my AppleTV just about the same length of time and I agree with you on every point except for the remote. I love the combination of the 880 with the AppleTV. But my Harmony has to control several devices for the ATV. I have a receiver that I push the sound through and an HDMI switch that has to be switched to the ATV input.

    PixelPerfect is awesome in HD for sure.

    You should check out some of the other HD ones out there. Hubblecast, Nasa cast, the JPL has a HD cast, and the new REV3 popSiren is a cool show.

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