Taking the living room standard to a whole new level and adding a bling to it, Apple TV has always been among the favourite media streamers. Having lots of features and supported with many apps, Apple TV is among the most loved living room digital media player.
Looking at the consistent success achieved by Apple TV lot of competing products are trying their luck in enhancing the on-demand cable TV services. Some competitors emerged, some sustained and some failed. Surpassing these, Apple TV still managed to be the successful digital media player and so can be called as a successful experiment by Apple.
Since its first release in 2007 Apple updates the Apple TV often to make it even more stable and powerful than before. This is achieved by addition of new powerful chips, new features and exploit free software.
The first generation of Apple TV was launched in 2007 and after that Apple didn’t turn up to update its digital media player until 2010. The next generation (2nd Gen) came up in 2010 with a complete new platform. This was followed by 3rd generation in 2012 that included 1080p support and WLAN+.
For the year 2013, Apple revised the third-generation Apple TV and called it as ‘RevA’ or ‘Rev2’. This small increment in the model name indicates that there are no major features added into it. It’s still the same third-generation device with few extra features.
Let’s have an in-depth look at what the new version packs in.
What is Apple TV?
Apple TV is a digital media player that is designed to play digital content from the iTunes Store, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Flickr, iCloud, MLB.tv, NBA League Pass, NHL GameCenter, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Vevo, Smithsonian Networks, The Weather Channel, WatchESPN, HBO GO, Sky News, Crunchyroll, Qello or any Mac OS X or Windows computer running iTunes on a HDTV.
Apple updated its iTunes Store with 1080p content last year; until then everything was available in 720p only. The third-generation of Apple TV brings support for 1080p content which allows you to buy or rent full high-definition movies over the iTunes Store.
Along with a media streamer, Apple TV can act as a browser for some selected apps – that include YouTube, Vimeo, Netfilx, iCoud, Podcasts etc. These apps can let you browse the content that is available on the website on your HDTV. However, it is does not offer the complete browsing experience.
In addition to this Apple TV can also act as a media streamer that can stream content from your Mac on your HDTV. Called as ‘AirPlay’ it lets you stream the real-time content on the Mac or iPhone/iPad to your HDTV. Apple TV provides on-demand cable TV services over the internet. So one thing you should be clear about is Apple TV is not a set-top-box and you cannot watch free to air channels on it. Even though some apps can act as a browser, Apple TV does not offer full browsing experience on the HDTV.
Apple TV has its own operating system which is very different than Mac or iOS. Called as ‘Apple TV OS’ it has its own development kit, own user interface and own applications. The user interface and applications are made to be controlled by the tiny remote. It completely lies within the Apple ecosystem.
There are many services that have still not made their way to the Apple TV. You’ll have to wait for Apple to officially come up with an app that supports the services. As this platform lies within Apple ecosystem, you cannot use these services using a third-party app.
Chromeacast by Google showed us that there can be application compatibility between the apps running on smartphone/tablet and the digital media player. We expect Apple to come up with application compatibility between Apple TV and iPhone/iPad.
Apple TV is available in store for $99. You pay this for the Apple TV unit (movies and TV shows are rented separately). The price lies within the same bracket of its competitors, but is much more as compared to Google’s Chromecast which provides nearly similar functionalities.
Out of the box
On un-boxing you’ll surely have mixed feelings – both happy and surprised. Inside the box, you’ll get the Apple TV unit, power cable, remote control, a pair of Apple logo stickers, and user manuals. And you’ll be pleased to get the Apple TV. But, Oh, wait! Is anything missing?
This is everything that you’ll get out of the box but with this you’re not at all set to start using the Apple TV. Try connecting the device to your HDTV and you’ll be snared as there is no interface cable provided between the HDTV and Apple TV. Yes, there is no HDMI cable provided by Apple.
HDMI is the only way to connect Apple TV with a HDTV and it is not included in the box so you’ll have to purchase it separately.
The Apple TV
The Apple TV measures 23mm x 98mm x 98mm and weighs just 270g. It’s tiny, really tiny to fit easily in the palm. Apple follows its minimalistic design pattern into the Apple TV as well. Made with an aluminium housing, Apple TV is a sexy looking beast that will add a bling to your living room’s beauty.
It sports a black matte surface on which resides a reflective ‘Apple TV’ logo at the top of it. It has a glossy trim which is easily attracted by dust and finger prints. The corners are rounded that makes it look even more superior.
This is the clean and minimal look that features only a small white LED indicator at the front which glows on turning the device on. There are no buttons or unwanted indicators at the front, top, side or anywhere on the body.
At the back side there are few ports for making the connections – they include power input, HDMI, microUSB, optical audio, and Ethernet (LAN) port. Looking the ports, you’ll find their use pretty straightforward without wondering what a particular port does.
The Apple TV is coupled with a sexy looking slim, sleek and brush metal finished remote control. It consists of a circular navigation pad with four controls, a Menu button and Play/Pause button. The remote control is powered by CR2032 battery which has a great contribution for its sleekness.
The remote control uses an infrared sensor to control the Apple TV. Having infrared control, any kind of remote controller with infrared sensor can control the volume for music on Apple TV. Infrared is line-of-sight propagation and that’s why the controller needs to be within the range of the Apple TV. Instead of this Apple could have provided a Bluetooth sensor remote control.
Along with this Apple Wireless Keyboard can also control Apple TV. Apple Wireless Keyboard is only compatible with all Apple TVs after second-generation as they’re included with Bluetooth chip in them. If you use an iOS device you can get the remote app from the App Store to use your iOS device as an remote for your Apple TV. I have an iPhone loaded with the remote app which makes it easy for me to control the Apple TV with gestures.
To set up the Apple TV find a proper position with minimum distance from the HDTV and with a power outlet nearby. Plug in the power connector in the power outlet and Apple TV. Connect a HDMI cable between Apple TV and HDTV. A HDMI cable is not provided with the Apple TV you’ll have to buy one yourself. We will recommend you to buy a v1.4a HDMI cable that can be from any manufacturer. No need to purchase a high-priced or a gold-plated cable. These are the only basic connections that are needed to start using the Apple TV.
Along with this there is an optical audio out port which comes handy if you have a HTiB (Home Theater in a box). There is a microUSB port on the board which is useless for normal users. The only use of this micro USB port is to diagnose problems found in the device.
In case if you don’t have a Wi-Fi at your home you can still use the Apple TV. Ethernet port comes handy in this case. However, reports say among all Apple TV users, this port is rarely used. Once the physical connections are done, it’s time to set it up.
On turning it on for the first time you’ll be asked if you want to turn on ‘Voice Over’ feature. This can be turned on by clicking the button on the remote three times. Voice Over feature will read the menu option that you’ve currently selected.
Proceeding further, you’ll be asked to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Select the Wi-Fi network and enter the password if any using the on screen keyboard that is displayed on the TV screen. Selecting the alphabets is painful thing to do as you can select only one alphabet at once with the remote’s click wheel.
That’s it! Settings are done and you’re now ready to use the Apple TV.
Apple TV OS is a complete new platform designed especially for Apple TV. Apple TV uses a app-centric design that gives a neatly organized colourful feel to the interface. The interface borrows design pattern from the iPad. Turning on the Apple TV you’ll feel as if a giant iPad is hanging on the wall.
The interface is purely interactive and full of graphics and transitions rather than simple plain text. Apple TV’s interface is ideal for a digital media player – providing you maximum coverage in a minimalistic way.
On turning on the Apple TV for first time you’ll see a home screen sectioned in two parts consisting of pinned cover arts and app icons. The scrollable pinned cover arts at the top are the top TV shows or movies in the iTunes Store. The icons at the bottom are the installed apps on the Apple TV that will take you various different services.
The pinned cover arts are scrollable sideways and as you move around selecting each cover art, text appears underneath it that tells you the name of the movie or TV show. Selecting the movie or TV show will bring up the iTunes interface.
This interface shows details about the movie or TV show that includes the title, description, actors, director name, producer name, release date, genre and rating. These details are followed by four icons – they include Preview, Rent, Wish List and more.
Preview will bring up the movie trailer which will make it easy for you to decide whether to rent the movie or not. If you are planning to rent the movie later after the break, you can add the movie to the wish list. Typical rent of the movie is $4.99 which is expensive as compared to the other third-party services. This adds to more cost.
Coming back to the home screen, it will clearly indicate what Apple has borrowed from iPad’s design. The wide, glossy, rectangular icons with rounded corners at the bottom are inspired from iOS’s native icon set.
The icons that you see at the first screen are not the only apps available; you can scroll down through the icons to have access to more apps. Scrolling down through the icons will tuck away the rotating pinned cover arts and icons are everything that you’ll see on your giant big screen. On the factory settings, the first four icons are always Movies, TV Shows, Music, Computers and Settings. Let’s have a look into each of these apps in-depth.
On navigating into Movies a new screen will be displayed that will show you series of cover arts placed one after the other in a row fashion. These are some more movies available for renting. To make the sorting easy, these cover arts are categorized as New Releases and Category title. Selecting any movie will take you to the same movie description interface.
The Movies screen also features a menu bar located at the top which includes – Top Movies, Genius , Genres, Search and Trailers buttons. By default you’re into Top Movies section, you can navigate to Genius if you have any Genius playlist set up. It also allows you to browse the movie collection by its genre or even search for a particular by entering its name.
On navigating into TV Shows, you’ll see that the pinned covers on the home screen will change to the top TV shows available. The TV Shows screen features similar TV Show titles in a similar way as movies. On selecting any one title it will navigate you to the description of the TV show which will further let you to buy the entire series or select a particular episode.
Music app is not accessible to everyone. Only the users with iTunes Match service can get music service on their Apple TV. It’s not at all recommended as you can easily get Music from your iTunes library on your computer to the Apple TV. The next icon Computer makes it possible.
Apple TV lets you share your computer’s iTunes Library with your Apple TV. Computers app on the home screen will let you have access to it. You don’t need to have Mac to share your iTunes library with Apple TV. A Windows PC with iTunes installed can also do the work.
Settings app is the control panel for your Apple TV. It lets you set your Wi-Fi password, Apple ID or everything for that matter. You can change General settings, select a screensaver for your Apple TV which is initiated when you’ve left it idle, changing iTunes Store password, changing the computer access and also controlling AirPlay settings.
Screensavers are the cherry on the cake. There are variety of screen savers to choose from which acts as an eye-candy in your living room. One of my favourite is the National Geographic photo screensaver.
Internet is the backbone of Apple TV. If you don’t have an internet connection then Apple TV is not for you. It consumes hell lot of bandwidth in small time span and that’s why it is recommended to have fast broadband connection. The more the bandwidth is, the better is the Apple TV experience.
On playing any movie it takes about 5 minutes to begin as Apple TV buffers the movie first so that you can enjoy it uninterruptedly. Once you’ve rented the movie you have 30 days to start watching the movie, and about 48 hours to complete it.
That means you only have 48 hours to complete watching the movie. After 48 hours you have no control over the rented movie. You can watch it as many times as you want within the 48 hours. Apple allows you to view your purchases across multiple devices. That means you can start watching movies on a Apple TV and end them on a iPhone or Mac.
Apple TV also includes iCloud support, that means you can check out Photo Stream uploaded on your iCloud account onto your HDTV. This Photo Stream can also be used for making a personalized screensaver.
In addition to these apps, there are support to third-party apps as well. Netflix, YouTube and other apps also provide their services on Apple TV. So if you have a Netflix account, go ahead and have it on your Apple TV.
Other third-party services include – Hulu Plus, Flickr, MLB.tv, NBA League Pass, NHL GameCenter, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Vevo, Smithsonian Networks, The Weather Channel, WatchESPN, HBO GO, Sky News, Crunchyroll, Qello.
The most killer feature of the Apple TV is the AirPlay. This is the first reason why I have bought the Apple TV for myself. AirPlay is a proprietary protocol that allows you to stream audio, video and photo between Apple devices. If you live within the Apple ecosystem then AirPlay will surely turn you up. However, if Apple TV is your first Apple device then surely AirPlay is going to be useless for you.
AirPlay lets you stream any music, video, or photo from your iPhone/iPad right to your HDTV. There are many devices which provides similar functionality, but none of them could even come closer to Apple TV in terms of performance.
Most third-party apps have support for AirPlay which is one of the best thing as compared to competing devices. If you have an iPhone, just launch your favourite application and then tap the AirPlay button from the Control Centre, your content will be played on the HDTV within few seconds. It also works with personal media like the camera roll. It’s really easy to show your friends all the photos from your device on a giant big screen.
You can use your iPad to play unsupported movie formats on your HDTV by using AirPlay. There are many third-party apps like AVPlayerHD that can play unsupported formats on iPad and also allow you to stream the same on your HDTV using AirPlay.
In addition to this AirPlay can also be used for mirroring content from your iOS device or Mac to your HDTV. Mirroring lets you broadcast everything that is exactly running on the screen of your Mac or iOS device.
There are compatibility issues with AirPlay on Mac machines. Only Mac devices after 2011 are compatible with AirPlay mirroring. As everything is wireless you may face a lag of one or two seconds between the broadcast. It all depends on your Wi-Fi signal so stronger the signal the better is the mirroring.
In the recent update OS X 10.9 (Mavericks), Apple enhanced the use of AirPlay technology. Your HDTV can now be used as an extended display for your Mac using AirPlay technology. This is pretty neat functionality provided by Apple TV and is much robust as compared to other competing devices.
- Dimensions: 23 x 98 x 98 mm
- Operating System: Apple TV OS
- Processor: Apple A5 single-core (ARM Cortex A9)
- GPU: PowerVR SGX543MP2
- RAM: 512MB
- Storage: 8GB
- Output: HDMI, Optical SPDIF
- Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n
- Network: 10/100BASE-T Ethernet
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Infrared: Yes
- Price: $99
Apple TV is a digital media player of its own kind. Its sexy, robust and appealing that acts as an eye-candy in your living room environment. Priced at $99, one should really consider if he really needs an Apple TV or other cheaper alternatives can satisfy his needs. Renting movies on Apple TV is easy, but more expensive than some other services. The playback is excellent, but the god is the bandwidth.
If you live within Apple’s ecosystem, meaning, if you already have Apple devices at your home that can be an iPhone, iPod, iPad or a Mac machine then Apple TV is for you. The reason is you can make the most out of the Apple TV by using AirPlay functionality in addition to on-demand TV services.
However if Apple TV is going to be your first ever Apple device, then we would recommend you to get a cheaper alternative. As most digital media players offer the same functionality, getting an Apple TV just for on-demand services is no brainer.
Other cheaper alternatives like Roku or Google Chromecast are way to go.