Apple TV Invades My Bedroom

I recently purchased the new Apple TV with the 160GB internal storage drive as a way to get movies and other iTunes video content into my bedroom. My living room has an HP Digital Entertainment System PC, on which I can play iTunes videos, as well as video from other on-line sources, incidentally, which is why I didn’t need the Apple TV there.

The Apple TV was a breeze to install, as I opted for the direct-wired Ethernet connection instead of connecting to my slower WiFi network. The iTunes software installation on my notebook immediately recognized the Apple TV and started moving content over to it as well.

One glitch I ran into was that the iTunes synchronization did not copy my entire music library over to the Apple TV unit – only the last week’s worth of new music (courtesy of Amazon’s MP3 download service, which I like better than that of iTunes). Turns out the only way to force the copy of all my music over to the Apple TV was to highlight my entire library and “mark” each item (via the right-mouse-button context menu). Once I did that and resynchronized, everything moved over properly.

Video playback on the Apple TV is pretty good for regular TV shows – I have it connected to a 32” LCD panel via HDMI, and the visual compression artifacts were negligible on episodes of New Amsterdam, Reaper, and Supernatural. We also took advantage last night of the ability to rent and watch high definition (HD) movies, selecting Jodie Foster’s The Brave One as our test subject.

The movie took about 5 hours to download over our 2MBps connection. We had purchased it on Saturday evening in order to view it Sunday night, so the download time wasn’t a problem. It should be noted that some TV programming can be watched a minute or two into the download, instead of having to wait for the entire show to download, by the way.

The HD quality of the rented movie was very good – I could not discern any artifacts. The only disappointment other than the weak ending of the movie itself was that there was no embedded surround sound in the film. I don’t know if this is a normal situation or limited to just the movie we selected.

All the ordering and downloading can be done directly via the Apple TV, or also on the associated PC running iTunes. And you do need to have a Mac or PC to get the Apple TV running, incidentally. To order via the Apple TV, just enter your iTunes account information and password via the cool little remote control.

The cost for the HD rental was $4.99 ($3.99 for the non-HD version), which allows the movie to stay on your Apple TV (the only platform it will play on) for up to 30 days, and once you start watching the movie, you have 24 hours to finish it. Not unreasonable considering you don’t have to drive to the rental store to get the movie, but more expensive than a service like NetFlix if you’re an avid movie watcher.

From our perspective, it’s a lot cheaper than buying the movie on Blu-ray Disc, especially considering it wasn’t that great a movie (although Jodie Foster’s performance was pretty good).

The Apple TV, in addition to being a music and video jukebox, also offers photo storage and a related slideshow mode, and also has a YouTube viewing option where you can look at the most recent, most viewed, most popular, and searched for YouTube videos. Nice distraction, although it also serves as a reminder of how inane 99% of YouTube content can really be.

The current price of the Apple TV 160GB model is $329, and you must have a usable Internet connection, a local area network, and iTunes-capable personal computer to make it work.

My only technical annoyance with the Apple TV hardware is that is on all the time, and it runs hot. You can shut down (i.e. put in stand-by) the video output section (which is a major heat generator) of the Apple TV by pointing the remote control at the Apple TV, and then holding down the “play” button for six seconds, but this was not documented anywhere obvious. I stumbled across this tip during a Google search about the subject.

In terms of content, iTunes has a great selection of movies and TV shows, but frustratingly iTunes does not have everything I want to watch – shows like Battlestar Galactica Season 4, Private Practice, Torchwood, Pushing Daisies, Dexter Season 2, and Dr. Who were all not available, for example, requiring me to resort to Amazon Unbox or BitTorrent feeds.

I give the Apple TV a 7.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale. It would rate higher if it were more eco-friendly in its power consumption and if it had greater content selection.