A sophisticated piece of kit that’s let down by poor search and limited remotecontrol functions. Used with an iPad or iPhone, it becomes a delight to use. You’ll exhaust its movie library fast, though.
Apple has had a few stabs at a TV box that lets you get at your iTunes content (by our reckoning, this ‘second-generation’ device is its third or fourth attempt). Thankfully, it’s finally got it right, producing a very neat and compact box that takes up less room than the average USB hard drive. It runs a custom version of iOS operating system and has an Apple A4 processor under the bonnet.
In true Apple tradition, this modest-looking box is short on connections but big on style. There’s an HDMI connection to hook it up to the TV (cable not supplied), a power cable and an ethernet port. Setup involves a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing with the onscreen keyboard and limited buttons on the remote control. Once configured with your Wi-Fi and able to access items stored on PCs and Macs via the Home Sharing option, there’s little else you need do. We were able to call up our home PC and view its contents, along with those of Time Machine and other network drives.
The main screen lets you choose between Computer, Internet, Movies and Settings. Apple has recently added Vimeo to its Internet options – this video showcase includes some great short films and animations that can be rated and saved for later viewing. YouTube, podcasts and MobileMe content are also on offer. We received a few error messages in the podcast section, and found the remote control difficult to use for search, but the presentation of content is superb.
Lack of content remains a problem for the Apple TV. You can rent movies for 99p and play them as often as you wish in 48 hours. There isn’t a vast selection, but the list at least now tops 200. New titles such as Limitless are expensive at £4.49 to rent or £13 to buy in HD (£3.49 and £9.99 respectively in standard-definition). Detailed synopses and preview trailers are provided, though.
The brushed-aluminium remote control is an ideal size to fit in the palm of your hand and has a recessed thumb notch for selecting items, plus menu and pause/play buttons. For queuing up items to play, it’s ideal; for scrolling through menus, its lack of buttons makes it frustrating to use. iPad, iPod touch and iPhone owners are better off using their tablet and the accompanying Apple TV ‘Remote’ (free) and accessing their library this way for playback.
The second-generation Apple TV is a media streaming or synching device, unlike its storage-based predecessor.
The Apple TV was released four years ago, and even with an updated interface, added features, and price cuts, it was never what we’d call a success. Here’s our hands-on first look at the all new Apple TV.
Part of the original device’s lack of success can be attributed to the fact that Apple considered Apple TV a ‘hobby’ and never really devoted the time or resources to make it a better product, but as Steve Jobs admitted at the launch of the next-generation Apple TV, it also didn’t give customers what they wanted.
It lacked content and quality, cost too much (both the hardware and downloaded media), and was too complicated. The Apple TV reboot is an attempt to address those issues and make it a well-respected member of the Apple ecosystem. (We say attempt because it’s too early to tell if the updated model will satisfy current owners or convince those who’ve never used an Apple TV to take the plunge.)
This new Apple TV certainly wins on the hardware front. On the outside, it’s a quarter the size of the original, a tiny black box that will run cool and quiet due to its utter lack of a hard drive.
You can pick it up and hold it in the palm of your hand, easily. On the back of the new Apple TV is a small selection of ports, far fewer than on the previous model. If you don’t have a TV that supports HDMI, forget it – this device has only an HDMI port for video out. There’s also an optical-audio port, an ethernet jack (along with built-in 802.11n networking), and a USB port that Apple says is for support use only and not for any end-user functions.
Apple TV: specification
On the inside, the specs have been updated to support 720p video at 30 frames per second (the previous model could only hack 24fps, and even then there were often issues). This is a big deal because a lot of TV-show content is shot at 30 frames per second, and Apple wants everything on the new Apple TV to be in HD, including TV rentals (although Apple does appear to plan on offering SD TV show rentals – presumably for any content not available in HD – for the same 99p-an-episode price).
As for the interface itself, it’s going to be pretty familiar to current Apple TV users. It’s the same remote-driven UI, with a series of menu items from left to right. The details have changed, and the Netflix instant-watch implementation Apple has done is very much in keeping with the Apple TV’s design philosophy, rather than looking like every other Netflix implementation we’ve seen on various standalone and embedded devices. (There’s no support for buying stuff anymore, just renting movies and TV shows – if you want to buy stuff and keep it forever, you’ll want to do that on your computer and then stream it to the AppleTV.)
And the price drop to £99 might be low enough to entice the curious who would never have dropped £200-plus on such a device.
Previously a confusing and expensive device suitable only for fanboys and Apple completists, the Apple TV’s hardware has been much improved. Whether Apple TV becomes a mainstream success depends largely on the availability of content. But with the success of services such as BBC iPlayer, and the vastly reduced price of the hardware, the all-new Apple TV could be a late bloomer (even with the UK price being so much higher than in the US).
Apple TV (second generation): Specs
- Apple A4 processor
- HDMI2, Optical audio, 10/100BASE-T Ethernet, Built-in IR receiver, Micro-USB (for service and support)
- Built-in 6-watt universal power supply
- 802.11n Wi-Fi (a/b/g compatible)
- 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats
- MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5Mbps, 640×480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats
- Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35Mbps, 1280×720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format
- HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320Kbps), protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3 and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV
- Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through
- JPEG, GIF, TIFF