Review: Apple TV
Apple's tiny media streaming device is affordable and now handles 1080p: if you've got the bandwidth, it can provide (some of) the media.
Siobhan Keogh | Tuesday, March 27 2012
Product type: Wireless HD video streamer
RRP incl GST: $159
- Full 1080p HD streaming content
- Good, but not great, selection of movies
- AirPlay streams from other Apple devices
- Few additional apps
One of the chief complaints about the first version of Apple TV released onto the US market was that the device could only stream video at 720p. In line with Apple's recent upgrade of the iPad's screen to the 'retina' display, the company has now upgraded its wireless media streaming Apple TV to full, 1080p HD.
All the full HD movies available through Apple in New Zealand can now be 'rented' on the device. Music is also available, although since it's pretty unusual for people to use their TV as a music device, we'll focus primarily on film.
Apple TV's movie catalogue is better than most - many of the titles are both recent and popular, like Drive and Toy Story 3. The back catalogue was also surprisingly good - we spotted Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in the mix, along with the 1931 version of Dracula and almost all of John Carpenter's movies (yes, we were checking out the 'horror' section). But there are also strange holes in the collection - we couldn't find one of the highest grossing films of all time, The Dark Knight, or classic film Casablanca. If it's missing titles like those, it's missing a whole lot more. Some movies were also in the wrong categories - Batman vs. Dracula was in the horror section, and Top Gun was filed under romance rather than action.
Apple TV does search as you type, though, so at least you don't have to painstakingly type every letter in with the remote and on-screen keyboard before you discover whether your movie is available or not.
Once you do find a movie you like and shell out the $6-$8 to rent it, you can watch it at any time in the next 30 days. If you start playing the movie at any point, however, you'll have 48 hours from that point before the rental expires.
What's surprising about using the device is that the content it plays not only looks great - at least it did on our 40-inch Samsung test TV - but that it can stream video at high resolution flawlessly, without lagging or pausing to buffer. We were just using a standard home broadband connection in the Auckland CBD, with max ADSL2+ speeds, so no fancy or expensive business connections here. It's just fast because Apple TV content is hosted on a local content server.
There are no TV shows available through Apple TV - likely due to licensing issues in New Zealand - so if you're looking to stream the latest episodes of Dexter or Mad Men, you're out of luck.
Apple TV also has a couple of extra functions, which are useful if you can get them working. AirPlay is simple enough - record video on your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone, and if iOS is up to date you can play the video back on your TV wirelessly, with the touch of a button. It's quick and simple, if you need immediate playback of video for any reason. You can also use your iDevice as a remote control by downloading the Apple Remote app.
Connecting Apple TV to a PC is not so easy - we unfortunately didn't have a Mac available to test with, but trying to get Apple TV to cooperate with a Windows PC running iTunes was about as fun as falling out of a boat into piranha-infested waters. To connect the devices wirelessly, you have to set up what's called 'home sharing' in iTunes. That's easy enough, except on the first PC we tried, home sharing simply wouldn't turn on. On the second PC, it connected but the library wouldn't load, and then home sharing turned itself off again, halting the process. We had to close iTunes and reopen it to get home sharing running, and even then we found the movie we'd paid for refused to download. All of this is probably iTunes' fault more than Apple TV's, however.
Apple TV does have a few extra apps, but truthfully none of them are all that exciting. There's an app for playing YouTube videos, a similar one for Vimeo, and apps for Flickr, Major League Baseball, and viewing your photo stream on your alternate Apple device through iCloud.
New Zealand has always had issues with the content available on media streaming devices, as licensing high quality content in our country is arduous and expensive. Add to that the fact that each two hour movie you play will have a file size of around 4GB at 1080p, and Apple TV becomes significantly less appealing than it might be in other nations. That said, despite the holes in the catalogue, it's the most up-to-date and wide-reaching selction of movies we've seen on a device like this one. If you have a big data cap, more than one Apple device, and a desire for full HD, we'd definitely recommend it.
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