What is the center of your digital home?  To the majority of the population, it’s not a question that’s asked or even remotely understood.  If we rephrased the question, you might be able to answer it a bit better.  Where do you keep all of your music, movies and photos?  An educated guess on our part would be that the average AnandTech reader keeps most of his digital content on his/her computer, thus making the PC the center of the digital home. 

Microsoft would be quite happy with that assessment but there’s one key distinction: PC does not have to mean Windows PC, it could very well mean a Mac.  Both Microsoft and Apple have made significant headway into fleshing out the digital home.  Microsoft’s attempts have been more pronounced; the initial release of Windows XP Media Center Edition was an obvious attempt at jump starting the era of the digital home.  Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and even Windows Vista are both clear attempts to give Microsoft a significant role in the digital home.  Microsoft wants you to keep your content on a Vista PC, whether it be music or movies or more, and then stream it to an Xbox 360 or copy it to a Zune to take it with you.

Apple’s approach, to date, has been far more subtle.  While the iPod paved a crystal clear way for you to take your content with you, Apple had not done much to let you move your content around your home.  If you have multiple computers running iTunes you can easily share libraries, but Apple didn’t apply its usual elegant simplicity to bridging the gap between your computer and your TV; Apple TV is the product that aims to change that.

Apple TV is nothing more than Apple’s attempt at a digital media extender, a box designed to take content from your computer and make it accessible on a TV.  As Microsoft discovered with Media Center, you need a drastically different user interface if you're going to be connected to a TV.  Thus the (expensive) idea of simply hooking your computer up to your TV died and was replaced with a much better alternative: keep your computer in place and just stream content from it to dumb terminals that will display it on a TV, hence the birth of the media extender.  Whole-house networking became more popular, and barriers were broken with the widespread use of wireless technologies, paving the way for networked media extenders to enter the home.

The problem is that most of these media extenders were simply useless devices.  They were either too expensive or too restrictive with what content you could play back on them.  Then there were the usual concerns about performance and UI, not to mention compatibility with various platforms. 

Microsoft has tried its hands at the media extender market, the latest attempt being the Xbox 360.  If you've got Vista or XP Media Center Edition, the Xbox 360 can act like a media extender for content stored on your PC.  With an installed user base of over 10 million, it's arguably the most pervasive PC media extender currently available.  But now it's Apple's try.

Skeptics are welcome, as conquering the media extender market is not as easy as delivering a simple UI.  If that's all it took we'd have a lot of confidence in Apple, but the  requirements for success are much higher here.  Believe it or not, but the iPod's success was largely due to the fact that you could play both legal and pirated content on it; the success of the iTunes Store came after the fact. 

The iPod didn't discriminate, if you had a MP3 it'd play it.  Media extenders aren't as forgiving, mostly because hardware makers are afraid of the ramifications of building a device that is used predominantly for pirated content.  Apple, obviously with close ties to content providers, isn't going to release something that is exceptionally flexible (although there is hope for the unit from within the mod community).  Apple TV will only play H.264 or MPEG-4 encoded video, with bit rate, resolution and frame rate restrictions (we'll get into the specifics later); there's no native support for DivX, XviD, MPEG-2 or WMV. 

Already lacking the the ability to play all of your content, is there any hope for Apple TV or will it go down in history as another Apple product that just never caught on?

Touch it, Bring it
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  • ninjit - Monday, March 26, 2007 - link

    I'm a little surprised at your comment about the apple remote and the Macbook pro - it doesn't sound like you've used them together much.

    There's an option under the Security section of System preferences, that lets you select whether to disable the remote access or not.

    The other (and much more reasonable) option, is to pair the remote that came with your Macbook to the computer - this is really what everyone should do.

    Once paired, only that remote will work with your macbook, and you won't run into the issue you are having with the Apple TV
    Reply
  • tuteja1986 - Monday, March 26, 2007 - link

    This device is good if you buy alot of itune stuff. It lacks in feature from being a true Home MCE box. Dual TV tunner , Xvid , DVIX , Ogg , MKV and other stuff that can have in a MCE box. Reply
  • Awax - Monday, March 26, 2007 - link

    How much is a MCE ?
    A MacMini can also play all this.

    I think you missed the point : this is basically a iPod with no screen, no battery, HD ouput and Wifi+Ethernet.
    Reply
  • feraltoad - Monday, March 26, 2007 - link

    I might have two video files on my PC I could extend with this. How can this be considered anything but crippled in regards to video? I think extenders would catch on but for the fact that all of them don't "Just Work" with your "digital home". Maybe Apple sees a "digital niche" for iTunes junkies? I certainly don't think they should use the word "TV" in it. TV=Mindless/Easy

    This looks like a trial run to me. Apple must be throwing this out there to get some ideas for their AppleTV 2 that will have decent file support and support HD.

    I don't think it could be put better than another poster in the AppleTV preview "Wow, Apple created a 2 yr old ultra mobile laptop."
    Reply
  • shady28 - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link

    I have both an XBox 360 and the iTV, and I'm a heavy iTunes user. The reality here is that the XBox 360 is nowhere near the ease of use and handiness of the iTV.

    In fact, I've put most of my DVD collection into iTunes at this point. Lots of programs are out there that can do this - I use Jodix Free Ipod video converter among others.

    This makes the iTV able to select any movie or show from my collection and play it in my living room. That's an incredibly convenient feature. Other 'generic' DVR type devices are limited by their drive capacities, whereas my collection can grow on my PC with no effect on my iTV.

    I'm not talking about pirated content here - I know a lot of people with large DVD collections that are messy and hard to manage. This makes it all a snap for the videos, plus I can listen to my iTunes music without having to hook up my ipod to my stereo - yes not a major problem, but one less thing to clutter up the living room.

    For me at least, this was one of my better purchases as far as home entertainment goes.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Monday, March 26, 2007 - link

    quote:

    I don't think it could be put better than another poster in the AppleTV preview "Wow, Apple created a 2 yr old ultra mobile laptop."


    How about: 'Yay, Apple created another heaping pile, of overpriced s**t' ? If it wasnt the same person, then it was another poster who also said something along the lines of: 'This is nothing you could not do for yourself using MiniITX hardware', etc. With which I whole -heartedly agree.

    Now that, that has been said, wake me when something truely innovative comes along ;)
    Reply
  • rjmasotta - Saturday, August 11, 2012 - link

    Question. I am looking to buy the Apple TV G3. I'm trying to solve an issue. I have a 1080p CEILING mounted projector (providing video only, no audio) which is currently wired with component video cables coming from a high-end receiver. The sound is produced from optical out of the reeiver to speakers. Current video inputs are from cable box and DVD. I have an iPad 2 and want to stream video from it( Hulu, Crackel, HBO) to the projector. I don't want to remove the 35' of component cables and replace with HDMI) What I'm thinking is to use the HDMI output from the Apple TV into a HDMI to Component converter device, then take the component output produced and push it through the component video cables which run up, into, and over the ceiling to the projector. I would also use the optical output from the Apple TV to the second optical port on the receiver for sound.

    Does this sound like it will work?
    Reply

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