For Christmas, I received a ton of stuff, which I briefly discussed in one of my book reviews. Now that I have had some time to mess around with some of the other stuff I got, I thought I would discuss my experience with one of those things. Today's post is on the Apple TV.
The Apple TV is Apple's entry into the HTPC market, which is now currently in its second generation. It does not seem to do much that other HTPCs cannot do, but it certainly does make things easier than making a full-blown PC and then have the media center front-end (e.g. MythTV, XBMC, Front Row, etc.) load up automatically on log in or boot. For now, this all I can say.
Now, I did not go into this blindly, as I have discussed the Apple TV before in an earlier post. I knew it was a device meant for streaming and it is really great for that. The setup was extremely easy, as many Apple fans and others like things to be. One of the first things I tried, when setup was complete, was YouTube. Although the first experience with YouTube on it was not very satisfying, it now runs like a charm. I could access it from the web browser on my Wii, but using it on the Apple TV was definitely much easier. Now, I will admit that I did not search hard for a dedicated YouTube app, when I tried it on the Wii initially, but nonetheless my statement still stands. Netflix streaming was as steady as can be and I could control it via the Apple Remote. The Wii at least has a dedicated Netflix app that can be easily found and is pretty easy to handle via the Wii mote, but the Wii mote pretty much goes into standby mode and must be woken, when you want to pause and such. On the Apple TV, however, I do not need to wake up the Apple Remote just to pause and such. I also enjoyed the streaming from Apple's new iCloud service, which I setup on my iPad, so I guess that there is not much need for those that get their content exclusively from iTunes. Like YouTube, it buffered a lot on my first attempt, but is pretty smooth now. As my only other device that can do these things simply is a Wii, that is the only thing I can compare with Apple TV's features, so there out are probably better devices out there. Streaming services on the Apple TV were great and in some cases outmatched the Wii experience.
Like everything else, the device is not perfect and there were things that I did not find so nice or lacking. For example, iCloud streaming was not pure bliss with just a minor hiccup in streaming. As I stated earlier, I did enjoy the convenience. However, it misrepresented my content. When I go through the list of shows available to me, it does not display every single show I purchased from iTunes. There was one show missing and that is Hell's Kitchen. Maybe, Apple lost the right to sell the season I purchased or something, since the show does come up in the search results. Because of that fact, Apple did not lose the rights to sell the show itself, so I cannot be too mad at them. This is what a cloud experience is like, when you trust companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, or anybody else. Hopefully, SSDs become more widely used than cloud services, but that is not what I see in the future of computers, as people mainly prefer ease of use over complicated tinkering, even among those that use Windows PCs. The ones that prefer otherwise are, according to my CompTIA A+ studies, avid gamers or those who build their own computer. The other thing that was I not that impressed with, and even more so than iCloud streaming, was Airplay mirror from iPad. The mirroring capability provided by to the iPad from the device suffered a huge lag when I tried it. Now, lag times are expected with this sort of thing, but the lag was just like using Logmein or VNC to connect remotely to a computer. Over a LAN, things should be a bit quicker and probably smoother. So, it is kind of pointless to use it to play a game from the iPad on a display, unless the game does not require quick movement to play it. However, Airplay from video applications that supported it worked pretty well. The lag issue may be due to network usage at the time, but I have not tried it recently to verify. The lack of a hard drive also disappoints me, since I can only watch television shows I purchased from iTunes, not those from other sources. The only ways around this are Airplay via iOS device, Time Capsule, or sharing the iTunes library on your computer with the device. I cannot say anything about streaming from Time Capsule, but streaming from my Laptop was really smooth. Another thing that annoyed me was that I could not stream any movies from iCloud. This is probably due to the fact that movies are not available to download via iCloud anyway, so like televisions shows from other sources, Airplay or the sharing of your iTunes library is needed. Yes, movies can be streamed from Netflix, but they do not provide as many titles as your iTunes library on your computer can have. The other thing that kind of gets on my nerves about iCloud streaming is that you can only streaming video for free. If you want to listen to your music collection, but do not want to share your computer's iTunes library or use Airplay, you must pay Apple an additional fee of $25 or so a year. It is not that bad of a price, but I am already paying $99 a year for something else and the $15 or so a month to Netflix. Lastly, the streaming services are lacking. They may fit a normal person's life with YouTube, Netflix, and a few sports services, but, outside of iCloud streaming, Netflix, and Youtube, there is almost nothing for me. I do not like to watch sports and Netflix streaming is pretty limited, especially for me. I enjoy Japanese animation a lot, as it is one of the only mediums now days that has a story to follow throughout the course of the show. Almost everything else where I live either focuses on eye-candy or only has a story that almost never lasts more than two or three episodes. Movies also are the same way here, to the point where I do not enjoy going to the theatre often. I have seen some decent ones recently though, which suggest stories in movies is not completely dead. So, for me, I get more content via Airplay and iTunes library sharing on the Apple TV, or even just connecting my laptop to a display and speakers. iCloud streaming is not completely free nor will it always have every show you purchased and iPad mirroring through Airplay was laggy. Movies cannot be streamed through it, unless Netflix is used or Airplay through an app or iTunes Library sharing is enabled. Streaming services are limited for anime fans.
Despite the issues, I enjoy the convenience it brings me enough that I am satisfied with what I get. There are things that are comparable to dedicated apps for the Wii or are better than them or the workarounds for the Wii. I would recommend this to sports fans and people that dislike anything animated, because they think animated shows and movies are only for kids, or those that dislike Japanese animation. For those that like Japanese anime and/or want to watch their entire video collection, I would recommend either finding a different HTPC product or just hook your computer up to your television display, since you will get every feature your computer offers. For those that want to play games from their iPads on a bigger screen, it may be better to just connect the iPad directly to the display.
What do you think of the Apple TV? Do you have anything to add that is good or bad about it? Feel free to comment.
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