Among the pile of gifts I received this year, the best by far was the Apple TV I received from my girlfriend. I had been asking for it for months and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know I was getting one. So when I was handed that small, yet deceptively heavy box, I knew immediately what was inside. I was a huge fan of the first-generation Apple TV and have even taken the time to hack it so that it can be retired into the bedroom paired with my 7-year old CRT.
I could have asked for the Apple TV expecting Apple to add applications over the next year, but that’s not the case at all. I wanted the Apple TV because it fits my life. You might expect that I’d dislike the new Apple TV’s inability to sync and to be honest I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the new streaming model, but I couldn’t be happier with it. The fact is that almost 100% of the time that anyone is watching television in the living room the iMac is turned on in the office. And for the few times when the iMac is off, Netflix is the perfect stopgap.
The new Apple TV does put more focus on content from iTunes, but that’s to be expected with a device like this. I actually rent quite a bit of content from iTunes and I’m sure I’ll be renting more now that television content is available to me. The selection of television shows isn’t large but I expect Apple will be adding new providers as soon as they’re able to. It also helps that the price is so cheap. In the past I would have to think about whether I really wanted to pay $2-3 for an episode of Family Guy, but at $0.99 I barely give it any thought before hitting the rent button. I can watch 2-3 times as much content for the same price — not a bad deal at all.
When it comes to content in my iTunes library, the experience has barely changed. Aside from my content being buried one menu item deep, it’s exactly the same as the Apple TV’s original software. I can watch all of my recorded television shows and movies in the living room, and unlike the first-generation Apple TV, the streaming quality is superb. No stuttering, no buffering, just smooth playback.
But, I don’t have to stream content just from my iMac. I can also stream content from my iPhone or iPad. I sync my devices regularly so I always have the latest movies and TV shows. If my iMac isn’t on I can always just stream media from my iPhone or iPad with AirPlay. I was excited when AirPlay was announced but never thought it would be so easy and work so flawlessly. Simply start playing a video on an iOS device, tap the AirPlay button, and choose the Apple TV. Within seconds I’m watching the video on my 42-inch television. While streaming a video over AirPlay your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad doesn’t just become a glorified remote, you can hit the home screen button and continue to use the device just as you would if the video wasn’t playing at all. This was actually my biggest fear with AirPlay, I didn’t realize until just a couple of weeks ago that this was possible.
The last video source for the Apple TV is Netflix. If you’re already a Netflix subscriber and haven’t purchased a device to stream content to your television, I would strongly suggest picking up an Apple TV. It’s by far the best interface I’ve ever used and the video quality is on par with any other streaming box. With “Suggestions For You,” “New Arrivals,” and your “Instant Queue” just a click away, this is the best way to browse Netflix’s library of streaming titles. When viewing a movie’s description you’ll see a “More like this” section along the bottom of the screen which helps you find all of the movies you want to watch.
I don’t really have a lot of negative things to say about the Apple TV. It’s what I expected and exactly what I wanted. The syncing limitation hasn’t bothered me a bit and the interface is infinitely snappier than my first-generation Apple TV. And even though I received it as a gift, I appreciate the relatively low price tag. Apple has a winner on their hands here and as long as they keep pushing the content providers to offer their content, the Apple TV will continue to have a place in my living room.