By: HDTV Professor
Apart from the excellent functionality, the most appealing thing about the Apple TV is its pedigree and diversity of features. The small TV-streaming device has really evolved and ironed out most of the kinks from its 1st generation offering (first seen in 2007). One of the biggest improvements of the new Apple TV (released in 2012) is its ability to stream and play 1080p HD movies. Note that due to compression and streaming, it’s not full HD, at least not what you would get with a Blu-ray player.
With regard to programming, Apple TV has a solid library, but it does lack the app and licensing suite of competitors like Roku 3. With AirPlay, you can run content from any of your Apple devices (including a Mac) on your HDTV. If you’re a big gamer or just love to stream, it’s an absolutely essential option. If you don’t own any Apple devices, you’re better off looking elsewhere as Apple TV is really meant for folks already invested in the Apple landscape.
This is the same, sleek black box many of us have come to love. It’s simple and not really obstructive, meaning it’s not going to be an eyesore when sitting on your shelves. The back interface is pretty standard: there’s a HDMI port, optical audio output, Micro-USB (for service only) and an Ethernet port. To minimize lag, using an Ethernet connection is usually your best bet for any HD streaming device. Don’t worry, Apple TV still has Wi-Fi capabilities, if so inclined.
Instead of text-based menus (as seen in older models) everything is represented by icons. Makes it easier to navigate the menus so you don’t get lost or confused. The top of the screen features a scrolling carousel of the latest movie releases. Obviously, you’ll have to pay to rent or own these movies, but it’s nice to see what’s new.
Each movie entry has helpful information including a cast list, reviews from other viewers and links to similar movies you may like. There’s also a preview button to catch a sneak peek of the title.
Another nice cog of the Apple TV formula is the Computer icon. Simply tapping the button lets you find any media on your computer (as long as both are on your Wi-Fi network). From there, you can access your music, movies, TV shows, podcasts – basically any static or dynamic graphic on your computer. Makes it super easy to re-live that Hawaiian vacation.
If you’re streaming from your iPad to the Apple TV, you may notice some significant lag if you don’t have the bandwidth to support it. In all our Ethernet tests, everything worked out well, with no noticeable delay or buffering. Games like Asphalt 8 and Metalstorm held up just fine, even under multi-player conditions. Generally speaking, that’s the type of game performance you can expect, even under high frame-rate demand.
When it comes to streaming 1080p HD movies, it takes a few minutes before the movie is ready to play. That’s pretty standard, so need to worry about any slowness there. Before/during download, Apple TV will let you know how long until your movie is ready to play; don’t rely on that too much as the time tends to jump around. Focus on the download bar at the bottom of the screen. Playback was great – there was no buffering and the connection didn’t drop. As noted, you won’t get the full HD experience as you will with Blu-ray (full 1080p), but the resolution and quality still look amazing.
As mentioned earlier, AirPlay is essentially restricted to Apple so if you own Android or Windows devices, you’re better off looking elsewhere. The device is designed to work within Apple’s environment…and does so flawlessly. From tablets to Macs, you won’t be disappointed with the performance AND inter-device integration.
Other streaming content from Netflix was smooth as well. The initial buffering phase took a few seconds, leading to a seamless start and playback of even the largest of programs
In short, if you already have content on iTunes, then the features inside the Apple TV are right in your wheelhouse. Rent and buy movies from an Apple device and watch it on any other. Grab stuff from your iCloud, like your photos, and enjoy them on a beautiful display/interface on the big screen. The second you walk through your door ALL the photos or videos on your mobile device are immediately available via Apple TV (even new content gets seamlessly uploaded to the cloud before you ever need it).
AirPlay is great in theory, but still has a few bugs to work out before it’s the go-to feature for Apple TV. Also, the remote does require a direct line of site, but let’s be honest, how often are you going to be using the remote from another room?
Whether it’s streaming, viewing photos from last night, or just listening to music, the Apple TV is a great home-streaming device…just make sure you truly want to completely immerse yourself in the Apple ecosystem (if you own at least 2 Apple devices, done deal :).