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June 20, 2009

Review: AppleTV

by Dan

I’ve been using an TV (also known as AppleTV for those who lack Shift-Option-K goodness) for about a year now. It’s a great little device with a couple of really annoying flaws.

The Good

I like that It’s small, about an inch tall and eight inches on each side. It has an HDMI video output, and both optical and analog sound outputs. It can play almost anything in my iTunes library.

The best thing is probably the screensaver where pictures from your iPhoto library float up the screen. We hardly ever look through our “digital albums” on the computer, and it’s nice to have an easy way to see all those pictures.

The Bad

In order to play properly on the TV, movies have to be below a certain quality. iTunes will play high-quality movies that the TV ignores. The TV handles most mainstream movie formats, including H.264. But it is not upgradable unless you’re willing to tinker a bit. I’d like to see support for Netflix, Hulu and others built-in.

The parental controls option prevents purchases, but does not hide anything nor prevent previews. I assume the only reason to include that feature is for kids, so why not just hide filtered content completely? If I want to watch something else, I’d be happy to put in my passcode to see the filtered content. Since the filtered content is not hidden, the whole feature seems nearly useless for me.

The Ugly

The TV never sleeps. Which means it always seems hot enough to roast an egg. I would really like an option to “sleep after so many minutes.” Or at least have it turn off the hard drive. It’s hard on the drive and wastes energy. Unlike the TV, I do sleep at night.

The worst thing is how slow the navigation feels on occasion. Even with the most recent software update, there is way too much stuttering and jumping. I suspect this occurs because I am streaming content from my iTunes library on another computer.

I could avoid streaming if the hard drive in the device was bigger. Or if it was semi-easy to put in a new one. Or if it supported external drives connected via the USB port. It doesn’t happen all the time, but waiting even 3 seconds for it to respond is really annoying.


Overall, I like my TV. It’s really easy to setup, and gives me a simple way to watch or listen to media stored on my computer. A Mac mini would work too, but is more expensive. It also lacks an HDMI output. And I worry that my kids would be confused if it ever dropped out of Front Row, the TV-like software that comes with Macs.

On the other hand, a mini is a computer which makes it easy to customize. It would allow me to watch streamed movies and rented DVDs (the TV lacks a DVD player). I wonder why Apple doesn’t allow the TV to play DVDs that are in another computer sort of like they do with the Macbook Air.

If I had my purchase to do over again, I’d certainly get an TV or a mini. Just not sure which one. What I’d like is a mini with an HDMI port.

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