Thirteen months ago Apple introduced “Apple TV” (we’ll refer to it as ATV from now on), essentially an “iPod for your widescreen TV”. While Apple doesn’t release specific sales figures on individual products, most analysts believe ATV received a fairly tepid response from otherwise ravenous Apple devotees.
Since its debut last year Apple has offered but one minor software upgrade and a model with increased hard drive storage. In Apple’s defense, they were just a little busy in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone, a new line of iPods, and a major ungrade to the Mac operating system. At one point, Apple CEO Steve Jobs referred to ATV as more of a “hobby” with everything else going on.
This week the “hobby” became a full-time job, with the release of Apple TV “Take 2”, a free software upgrade to existing ATV hardware. Before we get into the new features of Take 2, let’s review what ATV is and does.
ATV is a small (6-inch by 6-inch by 1-inch) Mac OS X-based computer that connects to your TV. The box contains an 802.11n wireless receiver, a hard drive (either 40GB or 160GB) and hardware and software to put images and sounds on your TV. It can connect to iTunes on your Macs or PCs wirelessly or via gigabit Ethernet. It has HDMI, Component Video, and analog/optical audio out ports.
That’s what it is. Now, what does it do? Simply put, ATV lets you access and view media (video, photos, and music) stored either on the ATV’s hard drive or on your computer (again, Mac or PC), on your TV and home theater system. The original ATV required you to acquire and manage the media (through iTunes) while seated at your computer, move it to the ATV via your network, then move to the couch to view it/listen to it. “Take 2” basically un-tethers ATV’s constant reliance on your computer.
Here’s what you can do with ATV “Take 2” without leaving your couch/easy chair. Rent, download, and watch an HD (720p variety) movie via your broadband internet connection. ATV currently offers 90 HD titles, with more to come. Being your faithful tech reporter, I rented the Nicholas Cage movie “Next” (because I wanted a fairly recent film with some digital special effects to check out the HD the film itself was nothing special).
You’re probably wondering how long it takes from the time you click the RENT button ($4.99 for a recent HD movie) until you can begin watching the movie without interruption. The answer (at least with my fast broadband connection on the first night of HD availability, which might have been “crowded”) eleven minutes. Not bad. Faster than the roundtrip drive to Movie Gallery.
So how was the quality on my 1080p Sony TV? Not as good as a Blu-Ray 1080p DVD (but, remember, it’s not advertised to be). Better than a standard-definition DVD played with an upconverting DVD player or the standard-definition online rental? Yes. Very good. While HD rentals provide Dolby digital 5:1 surround sound, I can’t speak to its quality as my TV isn’t hooked up to a sound system.
Once you click the RENT button, you have 30 days to watch the movie. Once you begin watching the movie, you have 24 hours to watch it as many times as you want. Once you’ve viewed the movie and the 24 hours expires, the movie is automatically deleted from ATV.But movies are only the tip of the ATV “Take 2” iceberg. Next time we’ll look at other new features that make ATV a valuable addition to any home theater setup.
|© 2008 Peter F. Zimowski|