So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
As a media device we loved the Apple TV's simplicity, but we were disappointed by the lack of content available in Australia
- Compact size and design, ease of use and setup, excellent interface, good quality, AirPlay feature
- No way to rent TV shows, no hard drive, HD content limited to 720p, limited content available compared to US
The Apple TV is competitively priced and boasts an excellent interface, so if you want an easy to use, basic solution to rent movies you'll appreciate its simplicity. Unfortunately, the lack of content – particularly the fact that Australian users can't rent TV shows or access a service like Netflix – limits this device from appealing to a wider audience at this time.
Price$ 129.00 (AUD)
The revamped Apple TV is an attractive, tiny, media streaming box that fits in the palm of your hand, and it offers an excellent user interface. If you're looking for a simple way to rent movies from Apple's iTunes store, the Apple TV's low price tag of $129, and its slim design may make this an attractive media device. Unfortunately the minimal amount of content on iTunes, the lack of full HD 1080p streaming and the absence of a built-in hard drive may turn many users off considering this device for their TV set-up.
The new Apple TV will immediately turn heads due to its design; putting it simply, it's absolutely tiny. The glossy black box fits in the palm of your hand and is therefore ideal for using in smaller living spaces or apartments where excess space may not be available. With the smaller size comes a bare minimum of ports — the Apple TV has just a power socket, HDMI, an optical audio port, an Ethernet port and a micro-USB port that Apple says is for "service and support". The new Apple TV also has built-in Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) but unlike the original device it no longer has a hard drive, which means you cannot store any content on the device itself; all the content is streamed over an Internet connection.
Apple representatives repeatedly made mention of "mums and dads" at the briefing for the Apple TV and that is exactly the company's intended target audience. As you would expect from an Apple product, the Apple TV is a cinch to set up and use — the menus are attractively laid out, screen animations are minimalist yet smooth, and performance is adequate. Putting it simply, this is a device that most people will have no problems picking up and using on a day to day basis.
One issue we did have was with the included remote made out of aluminium. It is relatively tiny and has minimal buttons; a menu key, play/pause button, and a four-way, circular navigational pad with a selection button. While the lack of keys does not pose an issue for regular browsing, it becomes painful for text entry. If you have an iPhone or an iPad, we recommend using Apple's Remote app to control the Apple TV — once paired this will allow you to type on the iPhone/iPad keyboard in the Remote app to search through your Apple TV.
The Apple TV uses the iTunes Home Sharing feature to stream content from your computer. You will need to connect to the Internet (either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet) to verify your iTunes account details, and you won't be able to stream content from your computer unless it is switched on and iTunes is open. If your computer is asleep, accessing your content from the Apple TV wakes it up. The Apple TV also utilises the AirPlay feature, allowing you to stream music through compatible devices wirelessly. As an example, you can listen to music through your computer and your Apple TV, and adjust the volume of both through an iPhone or iPad. AirPlay will also work with video content once iOS 4.2 is released for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad before the end of 2010 — this will allow you to start watching a movie on your iPad, and then continue watching the same content on the Apple TV with the press of a button.
The Apple TV has just four menus on its home screen: movies, Internet, computers, and settings. Movies can be rented for between AUD$3.99 and $6.99, and the HD movies are generally more expensive. Unfortunately, all HD rentals are 720p — the Apple TV does not stream full HD 1080p content, most likely due to the fact that the device lacks a hard drive and therefore all content is streamed over an Internet connection. Despite this, the quality of HD movies on the Apple TV is excellent, with no stuttering or long load times and the image quality was quite good in our tests. On average, a movie was available to watch about two minutes after renting it on iTunes, and fast forwarding through scenes didn't result in any excess buffering times. The rented movies are available to view as many times as you like for 48 hours after purchasing.
Selecting a movie allows you to watch the preview, rate the movie, read other users reviews, and read reviews and ratings from popular movie review Web site Rotten Tomatoes. Along with the ability to browse through movies by specific actors, the Rotten Tomatoes link is a nifty addition. You can also search and watch videos from YouTube through the Internet menu, as well as access Flickr photos and MobileMe galleries. You can also share your own photo albums from iTunes — handy for showing off holiday snaps on your TV, for example. Other photo sharing sites like Picasa are not supported.
The main issue with the Apple TV is the lack of content available in Australia. Technically this shouldn't be called an Apple TV; as there is no way to rent TV shows if you're based in Australia (US users can rent a selection of TV shows for 99 cents) and Apple hasn't stated when this service will be available Down Under. You can buy movies and TV shows using iTunes on your computer and watch them on the Apple TV, but you can't purchase movies or rent TV shows through the actual device. Unlike Apple's US-based customers, Australian users don't have access to the Netflix service, which offers US subscribers unlimited TV shows and movies for US$7.99 per month.
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