The Apple TV (2010) Review

by Anand Lal Shimpi on 10/4/2010 12:07 AM EST
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  • Hrel - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I think it's funny you listed "not being able to channel surf" as a fault. If anything it's good. That's a huge waste of time. Hopefully if we remove that ability from everyone everywhere people will get up and do something productive. Hell, even a bath is more relaxing than channel surfing. Or conquering the world in Civ. Or writing up little applets for the web. Hell, looking through youtube or wikipedia is better use of time. Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I disagree.

    1. if you have two channels either right next to eachother, or within a small distance, who wants to use the guide?
    2. you may not know the name of a show but are vaguely familiar when it came on
    3. you can find many new, interesting shows by channel surfing
    Reply
  • KineticHummus - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    "There’s simply no way to do away with cable TV and use a simple, IP based, autonomous box for all of your content without resorting to piracy of some sort."

    SO true...
    Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I couldn't agree more. Let's hope that Apple gets serious about this and that competitors will follow. More competition is good for customers! Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I dunno... is it "piracy" to torrent TV shows that aired the night before? They're already broadcast for free without DRM... Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    what if you don't pay for cable? Reply
  • Tros - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I think he means for stuff that comes off the air. Say, House MD broadcast over the air from Fox.

    And technically, somebody is losing because you're not watching advertisements. But that's a whole other level of morals.

    It'd be nice if this thing was x86, because then the jailbreak would likely have the HDTV-tuner (already exists in OS X) through USB 2.0. I want to believe that Apple's making a piece of hardware for the hackers/pirates to write software for, but GoogleTV/Amazon doesn't seem to have a problem with going with a rent-free model.
    Reply
  • archcommus - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Thought the same thing myself. Read these words and was glad someone finally wrote down what I had been thinking. Reply
  • Docchris - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    "Most bitrates played fine although at 70Mbps or above the video player would often either crash or the entire Apple TV would reboot."

    where did you get a 70mbps file from? that exceeds even blu-ray's maximum spec!
    Reply
  • Revdarian - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    On "The Apple TV as a Cable TV Replacement" scroll down to the 3rd paragraph, at the end of it here is the phrase "You have 30 days to being watching and 48 hours to watch the show (unlimited times) once you press play." the small mistake is that it should read "to begin watching..."
    Great article tho, had great fun reading it, and agree with it all.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the correction, fixed :) Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    And it will look like the Apple TV.

    What a simple concept, small box, very limited backplate. Lets think about it how about a box that had the following connectors

    1. Ethernet connection (but a bit faster)
    2. HDMI connection
    3. Audio out (personally would not bother and take through HDMI)
    4. USB
    5. Wifi (optional for me because house if wired)

    Add in 2 Gb of memory a small SSD for OS + limited applications

    Plays movies, TV, music. Can surf web and basically that is it.

    Would need some sort of wireless connection to allow remote control and to attach a keyboard (if only to type web addresses).

    Apple have got the size of the box about right. Even a mini-itx board has too many features that would not be needed for the ideal straming box.

    Apple has given me a glimpse of the future - it looks like Apple TV but it will be something else
    Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    Is that a typo, or can it really go that high? Apple's official specs list MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps and Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps. Reply
  • Docchris - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    he was specifically testing non-apple videos to ty and break it, so what apples specs state doesn't really matter.

    i was just curious where he got a video form which exceeds the blu-ray specification
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    http://www.networkedmediatank.com/showthread.php?t...

    I remuxed the files as .mov without re-encoding and sent them over to the Apple TV. Even if I re-encoded down to 10Mbps there was still some slight stuttering so there's something unusually stressful about these samples. At 70Mbps or above the Apple TV would start behaving very strange, the video player app would either crash or the unit would reboot before finishing playback.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • tech6 - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    While the cable and content oligopoly are terrified of IP based home entertainment, no legitimate solution will truly replace cable. Cable is simply too good of a revenue stream not to protect by these companies. Once they have "cabel-ized" the Internet through the defeat of net neutrality and can restrict and monitor users Internet activities then I'm sure we will see a lot more IP TV but at the expense of any freedom or anonymity that we may have ever had on the Internet. Reply
  • mfenn - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    Perfect response! XD Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    "You can argue that it’s for firmware updates but there’s also WiFi/Ethernet for that."

    Isn't WiFi firmware update for anything considered bad practice? Or have people turned the other cheek on this?
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    Technically as long as the firmware package can download over WiFi and execute once completely downloaded it should be ok. I agree USB seems like the safer bet though, particularly if there's a firmware update that fixes a network issue.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • naho - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    "Unlike a smartphone it eats a good amount of power at idle - a whole 1.8W. I don’t think Apple even bothered to enable serious power management on the A4 in the Apple TV, it’s just not necessary."

    What would power management reducing idle power to 0.8 W have saved customers?

    Eg. if 5 million units are sold of this model x 22 hours idle per day x average product lifetime 4 years x 365 days/year x 0.12$/kWh (maybe less in US, more Europe) = 160.6 GWh x 0.12$/kWh = 19.27 million dollars in additional electricity bills.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    By your numbers each user would save about a dollar a year. Meaning that unplugging this thing might not even make the top 100 ways to save energy. Reply
  • naho - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    Yes, it is certainly not worth having 5 million people connecting and disconnecting their A TVs every day. Calculate what that would cost with a decent price for peoples time!

    The point is that that if Apple had spent half a million dollars (or probably far less) extra to put some proper power management on the device, they would have saved hundreds of times more for their customers.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Half a million is probably even overstating it quite a deal, as they already have the iPad/iPhone/Touch versions of the chip power optimized. It would just be a matter of taking those power settings and re-optimizing them for a video device. Reply
  • trip1ex - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I see the ATV as more of a wireless iPOD av cable/dock with a 10 ft GUI and Netflix etc.

    That made it an easy buy for me especially next to Apple's own over-priced iPOd av cables and dock.

    Netflix has search and you can see other movies actors/director are in by clicking the "more" icon under a movie listing unlike 360 (although 360 Netflix is getting search in the future.)

    Wish you could organize the new ATV GUI ala other iOS products because renting tv shows and movies are the last reason I bought the new ATV. Yet those 2 options take up half of the screen real estate in the main menu. Wish I could take over that real estate with the functions I most use.

    Remote sucks without volume. IT's sad that you need your big remote laying around in case of a volume emergency. And with the dynamic sound range in today's movies and with a family it's a must to frequently change the volume. Frustrating because the small basic remote makes your tv and even tivo remote seem rather large and clunky in comparison. (A power button and input button would be nice too, but I can at least deal with them given the low frequency need to use them.)

    Another complaint is the older interface used for content located on your computer in iTunes.

    It's basically Front Row. IT's alright.

    But would love to have the icon/cover art grid interface used in the movie and tv rental menus and also used in the Netflix and even in Internet/Podcast menu.

    I could see this coming down the road in an update. Hopefully that's the case.

    But the best thing is the hobby device finally got an un-hobby like price. AT $99 I recommend any iPOd owner to get one. Doubley-so for any netflix-loving ipod owner. Even someone that just wanted to see photos on their tv should think about one. After all it turns your big screen flat panel into a digital picture frame for less than most digital picture frames.
    Reply
  • hipnetic - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    I agree with most of your comments. I think most people are missing the fact that this is a great iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch accessory. If you don't already own one of those, then it's easy to find fault with the Apple TV, but if you do own one of those, the Apple TV is a great addition to the family. Once AirPlay hits and Apple starts advertising this on TV, every iOS device owner will want one of these (or one for every room in their house). Remember, they've sold over 120 million iOS devices, so even a fraction of that number will mean millions of Apple TV units sold.

    My one disagreement is that I actually prefer the older FrontRow UI, so I'm glad that my own content uses that mode. Less glad that I have to go through a couple of extra clicks to get to my own content. That said, I think it's a bit odd that they offer one (and only UI) for the content they're peddling, and a different one for your own content. I'd like to see them offer the flexibility (even if buried under Settings) to set the display mode to whichever you prefer. Me, I prefer to view all my movies in a list (or filtered by genre), rather than a tile view of coverart.

    The big problem for me right now is that there is a bug of some sort that results in dropped frames or stutter every few seconds, which appears to be *more* frequent/noticeable when the movie has fully loaded to the buffer (which seems counterintuitive). Not many have noticed this yet, but as more users (who plan on streaming their own content) get their hands on one, I expect to see the problem more widely reported.
    Reply
  • Ammohunt - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I ordered one of these the other day since the current full ATX HTPC i have is mainly used to stream itunes and netflix i couldn't warrant the $300 for a smaller form factor HTPC Setup at about $300(alot of the parts i already had) for the rare web surfing. My needs may change in the future for for $100 what do i have to lose? Reply
  • Mumrik - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I was very surprised to see that Anand didn't kick Apple's ass all over the place in the Final Words for selling a media box that can't show 1080P content. I guess I feel this is a far larger issue than Anand did in this review. Reply
  • B3an - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    Anand seems to be pretty bias with Apple's useless toys.
    Also the comments get deleted on here that dont put this review or Apple in a good light.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Like yours, right?

    And which review were you reading? The one I'm looking at wasn't very happy with the Apple TV. I do agree that not showing 1080p is an issue, but on most televisions it really is going to be like splitting hairs. With HD video content and animation, the difference between 720p and 1080p is often a pretty mild one.

    That said, even though 1080p playback would basically be a checkbox feature instead of a serious benefit, the lack of it (among other things) is enough to turn me off of the Apple TV, and even Anand said to wait for the newer Roku boxes and the Boxee Box.
    Reply
  • Spazweasel - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    I bought one of these beasties a few days ago, and I'm impressed.

    I primarily use it for NetFlix streaming. That alone makes it worthwhile for me. Compared to even the cheapest HTPC it's much cheaper, and from a power consumption point of view it's an even better deal (it uses only 10% of the power of even the most lightweight Atom-based HTPC). Picture quality is quite good, easily as good as or better than cable (cleanly-compressed 720p looks better than overcompressed 1080p any day), and the user interface is excellent.

    Complaints about the Apple TV seem to be more about the content than the device itself. "I can't watch blahblah" has nothing to do with what you are trying to play it on; that's a matter for Apple's business development effort, not the engineers. Is your favorite TV show not available? Point the finger at the show's provider, not Apple. Plenty of content providers are making plenty of money through Apple, it's not like it's a losing proposition.

    Could Apple TV replace a cable set-top box? Absolutely. Will it? Ask AT&T, Comcast, Warner Cable, etc. I'm sure Apple would be very happy to include that functionality. The reason it doesn't is strictly because cable providers like to rent cable decoder boxes for exorbitant rates (really, Comcast, ten dollars a box per month plus another 7 for "HD technology fee" for something that costs maybe 100 dollars to make?). Cable companies aren't charities, that's a big revenue stream, okay fine. But they don't get to point fingers at anyone but themselves about it.

    As for being able to play torrents downloaded from pirate sites... yeah, go right ahead. I have no interest in that kind of behavior, and Apple has no interest in explicitly supporting pirated content either. If someone is dead set on viewing pirated movies, they should grab a copy of ffmpeg (for free... that's why they're a pirate, because they think they're entitled to free stuff that others have to pay for, right?). It does a bang-up job of converting formats and rescaling, including creating movie files which iTunes (also free) can play well, hence can be played through the Apple TV. Problem solved.

    I like my Apple TV, for good, objective, nonfanboyish reasons. It works well, it's inexpensive to buy and feed, it's small and unobtrusive, it has a good user interface, and was up and running in under 5 minutes from the moment the box was opened. What's to not like?
    Reply
  • Osamede - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Apple has no interest in explicitly supporting pirated content either"?

    Wow, have you look at the reported statisics on how many songs the average ipod owner buys, versus how many they have in their Itunes library? I assure you the difference is not entirely made up of music ripped from their own CD's!

    So spare us the sanctimony please. Apple wants to get in the game of selling video content at a very healthy markup, otherwise this device would have better support for playing whatever files people have. That would make it a real media player.

    As it is it is obviously designed to be a new age cable box ie a box that delivers content sold to you from within a walled garden. Or put differently, it is a very stylishly paved-over cowpath.
    Reply
  • bernstein - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    well my guess is, that apple is proceeding as with the iphone: introduce the device, see if it catches on and then beef it up and open it up for apps...

    app support actually is both very simple and very hard :

    * because of resolution similarities, basically all ipad / iphone4 ready apps will look good with only minor tweaking.
    * however all apps assume a touch based input, yet without standing in front of a touchscreen tv, user interaction with the appletv is quite different than on any other iOS device. this completely negates the app store advantage... which i believe is a HUGE reason apple forgo making the appletv app capable - just yet

    as the appletv at this point is nearly useless without itunes and an ios device apple should go the extra mile and leverage it's iOS devices in the following ways :

    * enabling any iOS device simply to stream it's screen content in realtime over airplay, while still using the device as input device (essentially using the tv as a cloned wireless display). this would allow you to use all apps while others could easily follow you on the big screen! and it would even allow you to use the tv as screen for all motion & touch based inputs excluding all touches not applicable to the whole screen. (well buttons in corners would work as well, but how about selecting a word in a text... nope.)

    obviously especially for games latency would be an issue, but given that both devices out of practicability need to be in close proximity to one another, a direct wifi link might suffice...

    however even worse is the fact that none of the iOS devices have a 16:9 display, so all display cloning will invoke black bars. which ultimately is not up to apple's quality level. *ugh* didn't see this one coming apple?

    * on the other hand, actually enabling the appletv to store and run apps while using any other iOS device as input controller (working similar to using an magic mouse / touchpad on osx (probably without the pointer) - thinking of it: those might work perfectly as controllers too!!) might be a more reliable and even simpler option.

    but ultimately apple could bundle a controller case for ipod/iphones (just adding the ergonomics and the buttons that come on a move/wii controller, maybe even something analog as on a playstation/xbox controller) Basically this would be nearly as cheap to manufacture as the current bundled remote but offer the input capabilites of a high end console... while maintaining the current price point.
    Reply
  • hipnetic - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    Anand, excellent article. You seem to come at things from a similar perspective as I do. I do think that AirPlay has the potential to be a killer feature. You talk about playing games and needing a controller, but I suspect that Apple may be envisioning users using their iPhones as the controllers.

    I personally am not seeing much to get excited about with Google TV. The price is too high, there doesn't appear to be any streaming of your own content, and a keyboard-focused input/search method for the TV? I don't think so.

    One problem I'm having with my new Apple TV: I've got some HD movies I've downconverted to 720p using Handbrake. The movies play perfectly on my iPhone 4, but there are occasional stutters on the Apple TV. There are a few others (so far) reporting the same thing and one thing a couple of us think we've discovered is that it's more frequent after the movie has been fully loaded to the Apple TV's 8GB on-board storage buffer. That seems counterintuitive, but there you go. See this thread on Apple's support forums:
    http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=...

    I think it would be great if you did some more testing of video playback using Handbrake-encoded movies and looked super-close at the playback to spot similar issues. Because these videos seem to play fine on my iPhone 4, I'm cautiously optimistic that the problems are firmware related and can be fixed. Hopefully soon.
    Reply
  • Fanfoot - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Anand, perhaps you have some insight but I'm not expecting it to work the way you suggest. I think the video that was streaming to your iPhone/iPad might in fact go directly to your Apple TV rather than being relayed over your WiFi network twice. Even if it does go over the WiFi twice I'm not convinced the A4 has the horsepower to encode the stuff it has showing on its screen into an efficient form for transmission over the air. I think its FAR more likely that Apple is simply forwarding the incoming video stream to the Apple TV.

    If this is true all your speculation about projecting gameplay from your iOS device to an Apple TV will be for naught. In fact it may not even be possible to play back all video that you can display our your iOS device onto an Apple TV. Sure anything in h.264 or mp4 format that is wrapped in FairPlay DRM should work, but what about say the Sling Player app? Does it use h.264? I doubt it. As such I suspect it won't be possible to forward your Sling Player video to an Apple TV. Even something like ABC's app might not work if the DRM is being handled by the app, even if the video is actually in h.264 already.

    I suspect the potential for AirPlay is lower than you're thinking. I'm still excited by it, but I don't think its going to have all the potential something like WiDi would.
    Reply
  • Shiitaki - Wednesday, October 06, 2010 - link

    I used an Apple TV for over a year to save on cable, and I saved enough to pay for it several times over. I only watch a handful of shows that happened to be available in Itunes. Not having to worry about missing a show live, recording, or enduring 20 minutes of commercials for a one hour program was very nice.

    It's really a great way to cut down on couch tatering, not spending hours rotating through 300 channels of nothing redeming is a plus.
    Reply
  • bownse - Friday, April 15, 2011 - link

    It's so crippled with media constraints that it's nearly useless. Even though I own an iMac 27, an iPod Touch, and an iPhone, I'm not fanboi enough to get this. My WD Live TV Plus simply works and works simply out of the box; the list of supported media types is gargantuan compared to any of the others and the long-awaited Boxee Box seems like a candidate for the short bus given the list of tasks it can't do. Reply

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