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Review: Apple TV

Apple’s hobby: will the television be revolutionised?

Changing how people watch TV is never going to be easy. This is a habit most of us have ingrained into our routines every single day. Perhaps this is why Apple refers to its set-top box as a hobby; something to play with and test the water while it tries to work out exactly what people might want and, more importantly, how they might end up using it.
The question of use is so important because, while the original Apple TV was perhaps not an impulse buy (costing $299/£199) many early adopters found that after a couple of weeks it sat unused and collecting dust in a dark corner of their AV cabinet.

So what has changed in this new model? First, the price. At just $99/£99, justifying an Apple TV, even if you’re not convinced it’s going to revolutionise your television-watching schedule, just got a lot easier. For many people the justification will be that, with an Apple TV plugged into the back of your big- screen TV, all of the movies, music and TV programmes hidden away in your iTunes libraries are liberated from your computer screens and beamed directly into the living room. Or bedroom.
Like the drastic change in price, the other changes Apple has made to the Apple TV are much more of a revolution than an evolution. This is a very different entertainment centre.
The first thing you’ll be impressed by is the size; the Apple TV is positively diminutive. Packaged with Apple TV you’ll find one of the sleek silver Apple remotes, a power lead and a manual.
Crucially, the external power brick has gone, the hardware somehow squeezed into the device itself – a godsend if you want to limit the confusion of cables around your TV set.

Gone too is the hard drive and, unlike the MacBook Air, it hasn’t been replaced by flash memory, it’s been replaced by… nothing. This isn’t about storage, it’s about streaming. Streaming from the iTunes Store, streaming from your Mac and even streaming from your iPad or iPhone, wirelessly and with very little setup.

Simply upgrade your iPhone or iPad to iOS 4.2 and you’ll find it automatically detects any Apple TV on the same network, adding an AirPlay icon next to the playback controls when you’re watching video (and it’s not just limited to video from iTunes, it works with web video and many video apps as well). Tap the icon, select the Apple TV and the movie appears on your TV. It’s a simple concept but, for anyone who’s ever tried plugging a computer into t

heir TV, it makes a whole lot of sense. Whether you’re browsing your iTunes library or YouTube, it’s far easier on a touch screen than controlling a mouse while sat on the sofa ten feet from your television, but then who wants to crowd around a tiny screen to watch the action? With the Apple TV you get the best of both worlds.
Of course, most of the video you’re going to stream through your Apple TV isn’t going to come from you iPhone or iPad, it’s going to come from your Mac, or from the iTunes Store. Streaming from the Mac is effortless – it simply requires you to sign your Mac up for iTunes Home Sharing, using your Apple ID. Once activated, your Mac automatically appears in the Apple TV menus, from where you can browse not only your movies, but also your music, podcasts and iPhoto library. Things don’t get any trickier when you try to stream from the iTunes Store. Simply log in, again using your Apple ID, and you can effortlessly browse Apple’s library of video content, which comes complete with a preview, synopsis, cast information and both customer and independent reviews. Just how extensive you’ll find that library to be is possibly the only real criticism we can level at the Apple TV. U
S readers will be able to rent from Apple’s entire collection of HD movies and 99¢ TV programmes. The movie collection is on a par with most other streaming services. It’s the television programmes that are a little more controversial. Apple made a statement by offering rentals at such a low price, and it’s a statement that not every studio is prepared to support. The catalogue is light at best, and you’ll be lucky to find all your favourite shows. Of course, you still have access to the full iTunes library of regular television shows to buy, but you’ll need to purchase these on your Mac and then stream them to your Apple TV as it’s rentals only from the device itself. The bad news for readers outside of the United States is that they won’t even find a menu for television shows on their Apple TV screen – it’s movies only until Apple manages to sign some international deals.
Even considering those limitations, the Apple TV remains an extremely attractive proposition – no contracts, no fuss, incredibly easy to set up and at an impulse-buy price; it may not revolutionise the way you watch television, but it’ll certainly give you a glimpse of the future.