Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
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)
The Apple TV has always been a complementary product in the company’s line-up. It’s never had the top-line billing of the iPhone, or iPad, or the ever-increasing Mac range. The latest update doesn’t change that — the little black box works at its best when used in harmony with a family of iOS devices and iTunes-equipped computers.
Apple TV (2012): Design, specifications and setup
The 2012 iteration of the Apple TV, despite some internal changes, looks identical to the previous model. A simple, well constructed glossy-and-matte black plastic shell hides the Apple TV’s innards.
Top-down, the Apple TV is a square with rounded corners, like an iOS app icon brought to life. But if we’re honest, it doesn’t look as impressive as the rest of Apple’s product range.
If Apple was interested in pushing the Apple TV to more customers, this update would have been a good time to produce a case that mimicked the iPhone or MacBook Pro. Because it’s retained the same simple, cheap black plastic that has been around for years, we take this as another tiny hint that Apple will release a big-screen TV with the features of the Apple TV box built-in.
Where the previous Apple TV used an A4 system-on-a-chip processor, the updated Apple TV unit uses an updated A5 chip: better than the A5 in the original release of the iPad 2, it’s a dual-core processor that’s extraordinarily efficient and light on power usage.
The new chip also has the extra power needed to decode and play 1080p Full HD video. It might not handle true Blu-ray quality 1080p, but it definitely doesn’t struggle with the reduced bit-rate streaming HD of iTunes Store content.
The Apple TV has a small range of connectors at its rear. With only HDMI and optical digital audio output, it’s not designed to support older TVs or home theatre systems. A micro-USB port is for ‘service and support’ (not for connecting an external hard drive or flash drive), and there’s wired Ethernet and a power plug — these two are mandatory, unless you’re using Wi-Fi (the Apple TV supports 802.11n).
The Apple TV comes bundled with Apple’s excellent slim-line remote control. With only two buttons and a five-way directional pad, it’s easy to get the hang of, and the interface is designed in such a way that these controls are all you need. If you’re a power user, you can download the Remote app for iOS (iPhones, iPads are all compatible) and use that to control the Apple TV over Wi-Fi.
Setting up the Apple TV is a breeze, as easy as any media streamer we’ve ever used. A series of on-screen menus guide you through the initial setup, including entering your Apple ID and connecting the device to a wireless network. Once you’ve done that, you’re left at the main menu.
Said menu has four content choices — Movies, TV Shows, Music, Computers — and a Settings section. Each one is self-explanatory apart from Computers, which showcases photos, music and videos from any networked PC or Mac running iTunes. The menu system for navigating video especially is excellent — everything is laid out clearly, detail is plentiful, and previews are always available.
To listen to music via the Apple TV, you’ll need to have your music shared from your PC or Mac’s iTunes library — this can be a tricky proposition given the uniquely complicated nature of some home network setups — or through the cloud via iTunes Match.
iTunes Match is a $34.99 per year subscription service in Australia, matching or uploading your iTunes music library against Apple’s huge online repository. When you want a song, it’s streamed to your iDevice at a good-but-not-perfect quality level. We’ve only given it a small amount of use and we like the always-available music but don’t love the potential sound quality loss.
Next page: Apple TV iTunes Store access and performance
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