Apple TV (2012)
The new Apple TV streams 1080p HD movies, TV shows and music
- Excellent interface
- Huge content library
- High rental prices
- No persistent storage
If you're invested in the Apple ecosystem, the Apple TV is a good product: it's the easiest way to get movies and TV shows from iTunes onto the big screen. Music is a more complex proposition, requiring iTunes Match or a networked iTunes library. Using the Apple TV is a cinch through the included remote or the iOS app, too. We don't like the high price of using the iTunes Store, and we wish an always-on Internet connection wasn't mandatory.
Price$ 109.00 (AUD)
Apple TV (2012): iTunes Store access and performance
Let’s get one thing straight: the Apple TV is not a product with an especially wide range of features. It’s not the jack of all trades that the WD TV Live is, for example: it can’t play any files from a USB drive, and it doesn’t bother with networked DLNA libraries (beyond iTunes ones, that is).
The main feature of the Apple TV is its streaming content from the Australian iTunes Store. The iTunes Store has a huge range of content — new release movies and currently-airing TV shows are the most appealing videos on offer, but there’s a very large back catalogue. Of the more than two dozen movies and TV series we looked for, old and new, we were only unable to find a single one.
Streaming happens very quickly on a good Internet connection. With both HD and standard-definition movies and TV shows, we were able to watch the video within 15 seconds of purchasing it. About half the time is taken up ‘authorising’ the playback — checking that your rental period hasn’t expired on a movie, for example.
On our garden-variety ADSL2+ Internet connection, there was always more than enough video buffered for us to skip forward a scene in a TV show without any delay. Apple’s iTunes Store servers have always been impressive examples of bandwidth — they’re the best place on the Internet to watch movie trailers in Full HD, for example — and the movie- or TV-watching experience on the Apple TV is smooth because of this.
Video quality is generally good, but not excellent. Standard definition TV shows and movies look clean and don’t have any noticeable compression artifacting, and we’d put the detail level slightly below a good ol’ fashioned spinning-disc DVD.
The recently announced 1080p Full HD option looks a lot better — especially when it’s only 50 cents more an episode or a dollar for a movie — but it’s still obvious that it’s streaming video rather than an uncompressed movie. The HD moniker does not mean Blu-ray-rivalling video, that’s for sure.
That aside, what the Apple TV does, it does well. You’d better be happy to part with a few pennies, though. Apple’s Australian iTunes Store lists TV shows and movies in various qualities for various prices, but all are higher than we’d be prepared to pay. Here’s a rough guide to what the costs are:
• Movie rental — $5.99
• Movie rental (HD) — $6.99
• TV show, season — $34.99
• TV show, season (HD) — $39.99
• TV show, episode — $2.99
• TV show, episode (HD) — $3.49
Prices vary for some shows and movies, especially TV season passes. We’ve seen prices as low as $28.99 for some older shows, and as much as $71.99 — for the currently-airing Revenge in HD.
We think it’s worth paying a little more for HD quality, but when a proper Full HD Blu-ray of a show (Game Of Thrones Series 1, for example, which strangely isn’t on the Store in HD) is only slightly more expensive at a physical store, we’re not convinced of the appeal. We think the iTunes Store for movies and TV shows would be more appealing if prices were at least 20 per cent lower.
You can’t buy movies in Australia on an Apple TV, and you can’t use the Apple TV to watch movies you’ve previously bought on the iTunes Store on a PC. There’s no hard drive or flash memory in the Apple TV for persistent storage — you can’t download a movie to the box and watch it later at a friend’s house without Internet access, for example. This is only a minor issue — while we don’t foresee many people being inconvenienced by this, it would have been a nice user-friendly feature.
Apple TV (2012): AirPlay and other features
The new Apple TV also debuts some AirPlay features for compatible iPhones and iPads. You can throw video, music and photo content from your mobile device to the big screen over Wi-Fi, but more potentially useful is the ability to mirror your iPhone 4S or iPad’s screen on your TV — with uses as diverse as presentations, slideshows, or big-screen gameplay. We think this is a novelty that won’t be used by many buyers, but its inclusion can only be a good thing.
Alongside the vast iTunes Store libraries, a small range of video on demand and Web features are built into the Apple TV. YouTube, Vimeo, and Flickr account for the most popular video- and photo-sharing sites on the ‘net, and although navigation isn’t great with the bundled remote it gets easier with a Wi-Fi sync’ed iPhone to handle text input.
Major League Baseball and NHL match replay apps are a niche inclusion, but some die-hard sports fans or ex-pats could be won over by their inclusion. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal Live feed isn’t a patch on reading the news on a computer or smartphone, but as a video wrap-up of major news events it serves acceptably.
Apple TV (2012): Conclusion
The latest update of the Apple TV brings HD movies and TV shows, a faster processor and a lower price tag of $109. We don’t like the high price of iTunes TV shows and movies compared to physical DVDs and Blu-rays, but if you’ve got money to burn the Apple TV is the best way to watch them.
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