Review: Apple TV Take 2 (40GB/160GB)
Pros: An iTunes format movie and music player for high-definition televisions, capable of acquiring content on its own from the Internet or accessing a computer’s iTunes library. Supports playback of high-resolution (720p) rented or user-created videos, as well as streamed or synchronized YouTube, music, photo, and podcast content, using a relatively straightforward interface and 802.11b/g/n wireless networking gear. Runs quiet, consumes little space, and includes Apple Remote; works with iTunes software to let you move certain purchased content back and forth from the device. Now functions as an AirTunes client to stream audio content wirelessly from an iTunes-equipped computer, even simultaneously with other AirTunes devices. Available in 40GB or 160GB versions, more reasonably priced than prior models.
Cons: You’ll have to create, convert, or buy compatible content, based on Apple-limited video format support; YouTube, iPod-formatted, and previously purchased iTunes Store videos can look downright bad on larger HDTVs. Does not include video or audio cables of any sort, and may not be compatible with certain TVs that it can physically connect to. Wireless hard disk synchronization can take a very long time to fill over standard wireless connection, such that 802.11n is strongly recommended. Doesn’t connect wirelessly to other Apple TVs or network storage devices, and integrated USB port does not allow connection of useful accessories such as a keyboard or additional storage. Music playback and photo features are acceptable but not mindblowing; could still benefit from simple tweaks. Small glitches and omissions in certain Store, video and audio features detract from overall experience.
Though many companies would be thrilled to sell even a B-level product, Apple Inc. has repeatedly acknowledged shortcomings in the original, $299 version of its HDTV-tethered movie, music, and photo player Apple TV, first downplaying the once-hyped product as a “hobby,” and later conceding that it wasn’t what people wanted. So Apple is trying again with Apple TV Take 2 ($229/40GB, $329/160GB), a revised version of the device with a lower price tag and enhanced software. While preserving the same form factor, hardware, pack-ins, and media playback features as its predecessor, the enhanced Apple TV now includes three key new features: computerless iTunes Store access, the ability to play high-definition movie rentals, and enhanced photo browsing capabilities.
The good news for Apple TV is that today’s version 2.0 offering is generally a substantial improvement over last year’s 1.0 and 1.1 versions; both its new feature set and its recently lowered price tag will enhance its appeal to serious fans of Apple’s iTunes software, as well as fans of Internet-based video- and photo-sharing services. However, the majority of Apple TV’s past issues—most notably, its inability to play non-iTunes videos, and its do-it-yourself approach to video conversion and cabling—still exist, and continue to hold the device back from more widespread appeal.
Rather than rehashing the entirety of last year’s review, which is still available here, our updated review of Apple TV takes a brief look at the device’s hardware and history before focusing on the new advantages of its version 2.0 software. Our comprehensive review, complete with numerous photographs and a walkthrough video, continues on the separate pages linked above and below. You can also see a six-minute walkthrough of the device’s new interface here, and a detailed comparison of Apple TV’s HD video rental quality versus DVD, Blu-Ray Disc, and HD on-demand cable, here.