Review: Apple TV (Third-Generation)
Pros: A modestly updated version of the award-winning second-generation Apple TV, now featuring 1080p video support and a new Apple A5 processor inside the 2010 model’s black plastic enclosure. Runs the latest, improved 5.0 version of Apple TV software, offering excellent video streaming and AirPlay mirroring options. Continues to include Apple’s aluminum Remote control, and support for iOS Wi-Fi Remote software. Previous versions received considerable post-release software updates to improve features.
Cons: The new model’s signature feature—1080p support—is not properly implemented on the iTunes Store side, obscuring 1080p options from customers, and offering relatively few movies to even U.S. customers; international 1080p options are considerably more limited. No communicated upcoming support for 1080p screen mirroring from iOS devices, though 1080p streaming is otherwise supported. Despite software-side improvements, remote control options and menus remain in need of additional fine-tuning and design enhancements.
In the final analysis, your perspective on the third-generation Apple TV will depend largely upon whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty sort of person: on one hand, this new model is unquestionably better than the second-generation version it replaces, still sells for an attractive $99 price, and includes the latest and greatest software Apple has come up with. There is absolutely no reason to prefer the old model to the new one unless you can find it at a substantial discount, as the third-generation Apple TV includes a faster processor, support for 1080p output, and the potential for software evolutions past its predecessor—all reasons that we’d recommend it today to most of our readers without much of a question. As an AirPlay receiver, a Netflix performer, and a standalone conduit for displaying iTunes Store or Mac/PC iTunes content on an HDTV, it is every bit as capable as the prior version, and therefore just as worthy of our high recommendation.
On the other hand, Apple’s addition of 1080p support for the new Apple TV is the device’s single distinguishing feature, and regardless of whatever changes have been made to the hardware—including the Apple A5 chip—the company’s current approach to 1080p content and fully utilizing the device’s 1080p capabilities need some serious work. Between the iTunes Store’s soft “HD” labels, the current 720p limitations of AirPlay Mirroring, and a variety of other small tweaks yet to be negotiated with Apple’s content partners, the third-generation Apple TV has a lot more potential than users will be able to enjoy.
While these 1080p-related issues are non-trivial, they’re also not fatal to a continued high recommendation and A- rating for the new Apple TV. If you’re an iPad, iPhone, or iPod owner and don’t yet have an Apple TV, it’s difficult to explain just how much fun you’re missing out on. Given the $99 asking price, it offers far greater value for the dollar than any other accessory Apple has created for its devices, and works so well as a standalone video, photo, and audio streaming device that we consider it an all but essential purchase for users of Apple’s iOS devices and iTunes software. Our hope is that Apple continues its pattern of improving this new model through software, as it has with both of the prior-generation Apple TVs; given the direction the interface is now taking, and the power the hardware now packs, it’s quite possible that Apple will finally hit the home run with this model that it’s missed before. It gets closer every time, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.