Saturday, 06 September 2008

Apple TV

(Review) - The long awaited Apple TV is finally here, and it’s the iPod for your TV. The exterior appeal of the Apple TV is as sexy as it can be with no visible buttons whatsoever on the front. In fact, the entire product doesn’t have any buttons. The front face is integrated with the power LED and the remote sensor. That’s all. It’s the classic way of doing things for Apple with simplicity as its core design fundamental. Apple TV, as a box, is amazingly small in comparison to regular DVD players and other similar products. As you move to the backside, you will find 2x video output options (component and HDMI), analog audio input, and a USB 2.0 port (currently a service port). As a service port, it doesn’t have any capability attached to it in its current state, though Apple seems to be future-proofing here.

It’s evident from the way things look that Apple TV is not compatible with old, analog TVs. It’s exclusively designed for HDTVs (and doesn’t come with A/V cables) in one form or another, so for a lot of you who may be waiting for the Apple TV, but don’t have the right TV set, you are out of luck. We wouldn’t be too disappointed, however.

Apple TV comes with a basic infrared remote control with the most basic functionality, which is again Apple’s way of doing things. It’s equipped with 5-way navigation system with plus/minus, play/pause and forward/backward buttons, and a menu button that also functions as a back button in between sequences. It’s not programmable, and will not allow you to control the volume on your TV. A pity, really! On the flip side, it’s a basic infrared remote, so you can program a universal remote to work with Apple TV.

iTV and Apple's Digital Media Strategy Analyzed

Apple’s Apple TV comes integrated with the latest 802.11n wireless standard to stream music and video in the fastest way possible, theoretically. Obviously it’s backwards compatible, so that’s helpful. Apple TV also has support for a hardwire connection, in case you want to avoid wireless access altogether. WPA and WEP security encryption standards can be enabled, too.

Another serious drawback to Apple TV is its close connectivity with iTunes. While you can’t purchase music and videos directly from the Apple TV, the entire functionality of the device is limited to iTunes. Like we said earlier, it’s basically an iPod for your TV, and not a very good one at that. While networking, setting up and connecting with iTunes was a pleasure (it’s Apple, after all), that’s where the pleasure ended. The video quality was the most disappointing feature of the Apple TV. But we don’t think we can blame Apple TV for the fact. You see, iTunes and its content is limited to be viewed on the iPod and its small display, and the file resolution just isn’t high enough to be scaled to a 50-inch HDTV. Audio quality was good, though. Live audio (no surround sound support) and video streaming is available with decent performance, since backing up a live stream will result in buffering (obviously you can’t fast forward a live stream) every time to find the right spot.

By the way, Apple TV does support high video resolutions for HDTVs, it’s the iTunes and its content library that’s lackluster.

Apple's Arrogance with iPhone

The interface, thankfully, was again downright amazing. Apple’s strong points are clearly depicted in its products across its entire product line, from computers to consumer electronics. We were glad to forget about the boring, old interfaces that we are so used to seeing, and instead, we focused our attention on the interface that was just so wonderful. The music and videos had album art, the screensaver utilized our photos (or standard scenery photos), the information associated with albums was readily available, and it was just a joy to interact with such a professionally and intuitively designed interface. Apple should seriously consider offering "How-To: Design Interfaces" crash courses to other consumer electronics giants.

We thoroughly enjoyed working with Apple TV on a variety of things, but other aspects of the product annoyed us just as much. Apple TV, with its interlocking iTunes support, isn’t targeted towards consumers who don’t already have Apple products, which is disappointing in itself. Why would Apple want to prevent interested consumers from adopting the Apple lifestyle is beyond us, but for the time being, it’s a reality. Just like the first iteration of the iPod, Apple TV needs work. It’s a good product that’s worthy of consideration for diehard Apple fans, but for everybody else who’s looking to get serious functionality out of the product, we say you need to wait for the second generation of Apple TVs to hit the market, and for Apple to work on fixing the quirks before plumping down your cash. $299.99 for such a limited device is relatively hard to swallow.

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