Apple TV

It has the word “TV” in it and it connects to your TV, but what exactly does the Apple TV do?

When you see a product with the name “TV” in it, your brain is likely to whir into action and assume that it relates to your TV. A TiVo, for instance, while not exactly a prize-winner on our side of the world is still a device that plugs into your TV and lets you record and watch happenings currently going on like every other PVR.

The Apple TV doesn’t let you watch TV, however. It doesn’t let you record TV or schedule TV and really, Apple TV only has one thing in common with a TV: it connects with one.

Rather, you need to think of the Apple TV is a MacMini with a streamlined interface to make it easier for you to watch movies. It is, in essence, a network enabled home theatre PC (or Mac if you will) that only lets you watch what’s either on an iTunes connected PC or downloaded from Apple’s store.

So for the moment, ignore the word “TV”. It doesn’t do a whole lot more other than indicate a device you’re connecting to.

The Apple TV is a slick device that looks a lot like a MacMini that’s gone on a diet. While all sides of the squircle shaped device are styled in a typical matte finish that looks like a piece of industrial art, the back features a two-prong multi-volt power socket, USB port, ethernet port, HDMI, component video, RCA audio, and an optical audio port if you’re thinking more of plugging the device into a home theatre amplifier. The front merely has an infrared port to go with the simple white remote that used to come with all iMacs which comes packaged here, and the logo sits on the top so there’s no mistaking exactly what this is.

But what is it exactly? If it’s not a digital video recorder, what is the Apple TV?

Instead of relying on formats like DVD and Blu-ray, Apple are predicting that people will want to use hard drive and streaming media as a means of watching videos. This means that using Apple TV in collaboration with the Apple store will get you DVD rentals that don’t require you to leave the home for.

Looking forward to renting a video in high definition but you think it’ll be all out at your local Blockbuster? That’s fine, because with Apple TV you can download a rental where you’ll have 30 days to start watching it and 48 hours to finish it (or watch it again & again).

There’s more to it than that because Apple TV allows you to connect up with an iTunes enabled account on your network and stream whatever you have right to your Apple TV. If you’ve already got a library of videos, music, or pictures you want to watch on your TV, this will let you do it.

The interface is simple & easy to control though it can take some getting used to finding that the design isn’t quite as natural as that of Apple’s click wheel technology found on their iPod range of devices. Even the video quality is great provided you’re watching it on HD. Sticking the format with Apple’s SD rate tends to yield a fair amount of pixelation that’s watchable but not brilliant. Even HD isn’t proper “high definition” or not in the same way that Blu-ray is. I would suggest watching the HD videos on Apple TV though over SD quite easily.

What might bug you about Apple TV is the lack of support among files. Yes, we’re still stuck on that whole format support issue that Apple & iTunes refuses to rectify. It probably wouldn’t be hard for them to say “here’s some Divx support” or “hey, we’re now letting you play FLAC” (a lossless audio format) but if you’re looking for Divx, XviD, WMV, WMA, OGG, or FLAC, best off to look elsewhere as they won’t work here.

Wireless connectivity means it’s an easy fit in for most tech savvy homes and if you’re looking for a means of playing theatrical trailers from Apple’s site on your big screen and watching movies without leaving your home, it’s not a bad option. It does look good and while I think the 40GB option isn’t worth the trouble, there is a 160GB model for a hundred bucks more that should make it a better choice for families interested in this idea.

Product: Apple TV

Vendor: Apple

RRP: From $329

Website: Apple TV