Editorial: The Second-Generation Apple TV, Two Months Later | iLounge Article

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Editorial: The Second-Generation Apple TV, Two Months Later

The original Apple TV was nearly a debacle for Apple—“nearly” only in that the hot-running and terminally buggy device laid the foundation for a cool-running and less finicky successor, late September’s second-generation Apple TV. After an initial flurry of hype, Apple quickly downplayed the original model as a mere “hobby,” so the expectations weren’t as high for the sequel. It lowered those expectations again by explaining that a key software feature, AirPlay media streaming from iOS devices, wouldn’t be available until a month or two after the device launched. So our review judged the new Apple TV for what it actually was when released, and we briefly updated it last month to reflect the improvements wrought by its confusingly-named 4.1 software update.

In short, AirPlay streaming support from iOS 4.2 devices to the Apple TV was off to a good start—even with its present limitations. There’s no doubt in our minds that Apple TV became markedly better with the addition of AirPlay, as videos that once took forever to sync to an Apple TV hard drive could start playing almost instantly from whatever device you happened to be carrying them on at the time, and the music and photos on your portable device could be played through the TV, too. That AirPlay allowed for multitasking on the currently streaming iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch was even better. Apple is being rewarded for the Apple TV 4.1/iOS 4.2 synergy: we’ve seen real evidence of improved interest and sales for the new model since AirPlay was added. Friends, family members, and readers who shrugged off the first model at any price have put the new version on their wish lists, and because of the $99 price, it’s much easier to buy and give as a gift than before. We’ve gifted several already, ourselves.

The interesting thing is that AirPlay and pricing are only half of the story as to why the new Apple TV is winning over consumers. Netflix is the other major part. Six months ago, Netflix’s steaming video offerings were third- or fourth-tier in quality, but they’ve continued to improve at an impressive rate. As of last month, the collection of TV shows, movies, and documentaries had actually become impressive enough to help some people (including one of iLounge’s editors) cut their cable TV subscriptions—a conceptual tipping point, we think—and Netflix’s streaming-only monthly rate has dropped a little lower in the United States, as well. Apple TV is far from the only device streaming Netflix content, but its Netflix interface is one of the best on a TV-tethered device, and its secondary library has overshadowed the primary catalog offered by Apple. Hulu Plus would just be gravy at this point. Other apps would be phenomenal.

Apple’s original Apple TV won over only one of our editors (Jesse) and mostly collected dust with everyone else. We universally respect and use the new model. At least one of us already has three new Apple TVs, which no longer seems as crazy as it would have been a year ago, and we’re actually excited to see what additional features Apple will add this year. This is a rare opportunity for Apple to resuscitate a damaged product line—hopefully it will make the most of the second chance it’s being given by everyone, rather than falling back to “hobby” status after the holiday rush. Our guess is that the sales numbers will justify Apple’s increased attention.

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Comments

1

3 Weeks after Apple TV 2 Purchase: Netflix is often slow and glitchy, spinning wheel to get to another menu many times. This with 802.11n and Oceanic Cable for Hawaii which is highly reliable 85% of time. After watching a wide variety of Netflix movies, TV shows, documentaries for approx total of 25 videos: about 20% of movies ran smoothly, 50% of documentaries halted/froze in mid-play, 2 videos halted every 1 minute and after 5 minutes of that I just had to cancel. Worst freezing is on Friday/Saturday - I suppose due to high volume, but I view that as NOT an excuse. Both Apple and Netflix should have been aware. Netflix options on AppleTV 2 are crude and limited, should be able to search by name, year, etc. - AW

Posted by Andy on December 11, 2010 at 1:28 PM (PDT)

2

Andy, the experience you describe sounds like a bandwidth problem rather than a router or ATV one. I saw similar symptoms from an ATV that worked (and works) perfectly elsewhere when it was on a hotel’s shared broadband package. Netflix frequently stalled or stopped there, even though it has been highly reliable elsewhere. Making sure your network isn’t simultaneously doing other bandwidth-eating tasks could have helped. It could also be the Netflix server location relative to Hawaii - have you tried Netflix from a computer?

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on December 11, 2010 at 1:56 PM (PDT)

3

Thank you for your comments, Jeremy. Yes I should have mentioned my Apple TV 2 experience comments are relative to prior use of Netflix by plugging in my iPad to my HDTV via Component Cable: and that has proven very reliable for almost any movie I have wanted to watch over the past 6 months!    So I still think the Netflix streaming over ATV2 is somehow limited by ATV2 memory or video components or software of this new device or perhaps even how Netflix treats ATV2 as a source (do they/can they differentiate?) - or else recent Oceanic “net bandwidth” has shrunk just due to the “weight” of Hawaii/Oahu users leaping onto the bandwidth bandwagon of streaming video, espec on weekends. AW

Posted by Andy on December 12, 2010 at 9:50 AM (PDT)

4

Sorry, Andy. I haven’t had any of those issues. Sometimes it takes a little while for the video to load, but hardly ever have problems during playback. Hope you get it figured out.

Posted by SD on December 13, 2010 at 8:30 AM (PDT)

5

Andy described my experiences to the tee.  Netflix starts and stops so many times that I gave up.  I also tried watching a movie rental, and it said it was downloading and I had 13 hours to wait.  I tried again the next day and it started downloading all over again with the same ridiculous message.  So I have given up on that too. 

I am using a1year old Airpor Extreme Base Station and Charter high speed Internet.

When I stream anything from my laptop, it seems to work fine.

Posted by Steve on December 15, 2010 at 8:22 PM (PDT)

6

Until 1080p output and Internet TV (e.g. Hulu) are added, it is still an overly limited device, greatly overshadowed by a bare-bones Mac Mini.

Posted by Farnsworth on December 16, 2010 at 9:56 AM (PDT)

7

#6: Let me know where a $99 Mac Mini with 1080p HDMI output can be had, and I’ll order five of them!

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on December 16, 2010 at 1:24 PM (PDT)

8

On Netflix we watched all 5 seasons of Weeds (it’s very addictive, heh heh) and had zero video problems with our ATV2. This is over a wireless G network connected to Charter cable that gets about 5MB/s. The Netflix UI is excellent, a far better implementation than the Sony Bravia in the family room.

AirPlay works fine, just wish there were RCA audio outputs.

My only complaints thus far are with the remote: (a) It seems you have to point directly at the ATV to get it to work consistently, (b) Entering text is a pain, wish I could use my Touch for that task, and (c) The remote is soooo thin it often manages to hide itself quite well between the sofa’s cushions wink

Posted by rockmyplimsoul on December 16, 2010 at 6:17 PM (PDT)

9

#8: Regarding your comment “(b) Entering text is a pain, wish I could use my Touch for that task”

Unless I am mistaken, you can. Download and install the free Remote app on your iPod Touch, and connect to your Apple TV over wi-fi. In the app it should appear as one of the libraries alongside your iTunes library (back out to “Settings” or hit “Change Library” during intial connection in order to select your Apple TV). Once connected you can use this instead of the remote for all functions (up, down, skip, pause) and the keyboard will pop up for text entry. Also, you can point it wherever you like! :o)
Hope this helps!

Posted by Scottie Pippen on January 12, 2011 at 7:00 AM (PDT)

10

Netflix streaming is - at present - about 90% of a great experience. When it works - its fantastic. But like others, I’ve occasionally run into the lagging and pausing problems.

From my (somewhat unscientific) observations it seems to be that you are most likely to run into a problem running an “obscure” title during peak (7-11 pm central) time. Newer release movies and popular TV shows seem to start and run almost flawlessly.

With others, I think that Netflix streaming is probably the key to making Apple TV2 a breakout success in the US. But some of the other Apps are worthwhile too: I keep a fairly large Flickr stream (so I can give impromptu slideshows on my tv, without having to hook up cables.) YouTube works pretty well too.

For me, however, the “hidden gem” of Apple TV2 is using it to play my entire iTunes collection over my living room home theater sound system - and using an iPad with Apple’s “Remote” app as the biggest, baddest remote control ever. A truly magical experience for someone who has a big, diverse music collection, and enjoys exploring it. The kicker, of course, is that the Apple TV displays artist information and coverart on the TV screen.

Posted by vrDrew on January 23, 2011 at 2:12 AM (PDT)

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