Black Apple TV - first impressions

by Volker Weber

appletv2

If you owned an original Apple TV, the size of the new device is quite a shocker. It's easily pulled off your shelf by the weight of the HDMI cable. There isn't much inside, for instance no hard disk. Everything that happens on your screen is pulled from the network.

So it's lighter, much smaller, cheaper, and most importantly it does not pull a lot of power. I always took the old one completely offline by pulling the power cord. Even in standby it used to draw way too much power. Which was very counterintuitive since you needed it to sync data from your PC or Mac. In the end it wasn't used much.

The new Apple TV has more simplifications. It's HDMI only, no more component video, no analog audio. You only get four connectors: power, ethernnet, HDMI, digital audio out (optical). Since I am not connecting the Apple TV to an analog stereo, that's OK for me. Music is handled through Sonos at vowe's magic flying circus. I know, that's a surprise. ;-)

The other limitation is that Apple TV only sends out 720p video. Your Full HD screen is capable of displaying 1920x1080, so it has to scale up from 1280x720 to its full resolution. Same as the original Apple TV, btw. It's a limitation I can live with.

Another notable limitation is that Apple TV only plays content in supported iTunes formats. Forget about those videos you download from Internet sharing sites. No .mkv, no .avi. If you are looking for a player for those Xvid and DivX files, look elsewhere unless you want to transcode to iTunes formats.

So, what can you actually do with Apple TV? First, you connect it to your Mac(s) with "Home Sharing". Those are your "authorized" computers that use the same Apple ID. iTunes allows you to authorize up to five of them with one account. You then tell iTunes which photos it is allowed to share from your iPhoto library. And finally, you have to keep your Mac running while using Apple TV. It will pull data from your iTunes and iPhoto library and stream it to your TV. Without the Mac it obviously cannot access that content.

Other players, including the Sonos sound system, can just access files on a shared network drive. Or they can use a uPnP or "iTunes" server on your NAS. Not possible with Apple TV.

The second use case is to directly stream from iTunes or iPhone/iPod/iPad through AirPlay. There are very few applications who have this feature, but you redirect a video playing on your iPhone to Apple TV and thus the big screen. Same for your photos. It won't let you stream HD videos you recorded with your iPhone before first pulling them in with your Mac and syncing them out again, but I believe that limitation will be rectified.

Your third use case might be to rent movies or TV series through the iTunes store. I have no intention to do that, so please look elsewhere for advice. For German readers there is a serious limitation: you cannot buy a video or TV episode with Apple TV. You can only do that with your Mac and then stream from there to Apple TV. Finally, the really good stuff is not available here: Netflix.

As is stands, Apple TV is a lot less useful here in Germany than it is in the US. For me, it works great as a target for displaying my own content on the big screen. And once in a while I might use it to watch content from the Internet: movie trailers and the occasional YouTube video.

Comments

Bought one today. I think for my own content it will be very useful.

Dirk Bartkowiak, 2010-11-26

I tried to stream a DivX to the Apple TV :) After 30 minutes I stopped trying to get the file into iTunes. Pretty frustrating and definitely a show stopper for me.

Christian Buerger, 2010-11-26

Look for EVOM.

Volker Weber, 2010-11-26

Latest version of Handbrake has a setting for the new Apple TV that worked great on a 4.5 GB 720p .mkv file, turning it into a x264 .mp4. Played beautifully from a Drobo on an iMac. I do have it all wired with gigabit.

Kevan Emmott, 2010-11-27

my biggest question with this gadget: How can I play a full playlist at once? Right now I can only play one song.

marco foellmer, 2010-11-27

Select playlist, hit the play button.

Volker Weber, 2010-11-27

Geht bei mir nicht auf der Remote app auf iPad bzw iPhone, muss immer manuell weitermachen. Ganz schraeg.

marco foellmer, 2010-11-28

Geht bei mir nicht auf der Remote app auf iPad bzw iPhone, muss immer manuell weitermachen. Ganz schraeg.

marco foellmer, 2010-11-28

Sicher geht das. Der Play-Button ist rechts unten in der Ecke.

Volker Weber, 2010-11-28

At least in New Zealand, this device fails miserably at living up to its promise. Indeed no other technology in recent memory has frustrated my wife and I as much as this. No TV rentals. Weak movie selection (and far too expensive for the older stuff). Downloads super slow (clearly no local CDN). Completed downloads sometimes get overwritten just by playing a preview from another movie. It crashes weekly and consistently requiring fiddly disconnecting of the power cord. Frame drops on HD content. Recommendation? buy if you must but there are far better ways to spend $99USD.

Colin Williams, 2010-11-29

For the Apple centric family, I think it is a good buy. I bought it primarily for AirPlay audio. The video part is just a bonus for me.

I found that most apps works fine with AirPlay if you set the target with a native app first (usually iPod). Spotify and Pandora works fine for instance and so do most media players i have installed on my iPhones and iPad. Even games work. Playing Angry Birds with sound through the media center speakers is a very interesting experience.

I see ATV2 as a work in progress and hopefully we will see some improvements in due time. Streaming video shouldn't be too far off.

Erik Ferrari, 2010-11-29

Same for me similar to Erik. As my circus is more fixed and I do not have a sonos system, I use it for audio and enjoyed it a lot. Surfing through my mp3 library from my sofa with the ipad and picking songs
was new to me. And as I already had a pc running for multiple purposes all day it is a small, sonos-like, cheap system to me.
A new apple experience…

Markus Wolff, 2010-11-29

To me, the Apple TV 2 is the real magical device. I just recently upgraded from a six year old 17" "TV"/LCD fed by a digital tuner via component input to a 40" LCD with a built-in ATSC tuner and HDMI inputs. I don't subscribe to cable so with permanent fiddling with the antenna direction I get between two and 10 channels, of which all of them except OPB/PBS are crap.

At the same time, I also got the Apple TV. Let me tell you this: If you live in a country with Netflix, it's beyond awesome! I caught up on three seasons of Battlestar Galactica within a week, watched Fawlty Towers, Top Gear and a lot of other good stuff. It's really fun to use and has given me grief only once, complaining about error 212 accessing Netflix. Once I rebooted the system, no further issues.

The picture quality is really good. I don't mind it being only 720p, it sure looks good to me.

The main drawback certainly is the lack of divx format, or for that matter anything other than the format iTunes supports. That's a big deal to me since I use http://save.tv to download my "Tatort" which I then need to handbrake over to mpeg4. That is annoying, but I am certain the supported formats will be worked on. I am hopeful that the ATV will evolve over time and will become even better.

The remote to the ATV is awesome and feels like a gem. It's a unibody piece of solid aluminium. Because of the form factor, it requires a CR V 2032 battery, which is another drawback - not rechargeable. The green in me shudders.

I don't rent or buy movies/TV series on iTunes, so that functionality is not important to me. I'd rather pay for Hulu+ and have access to the most recent stuff. Hoping that Hulu+ is coming soon. So far, Netflix satisfies my appetite.

Sascha Siekmann, 2010-11-29

The WD Live TV Plus can do Netflix, too. Giganews accounts (some of them) have the VPN tunnel with them. Gotta try, and be it to make my mkv files work and have get real 1080p.
For me the TV stuff counts most, others have different uses and I see those indeed also.

Alexander Koch, 2010-11-29

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