Video Adventures: AppleTV

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I don’t have the spare income to indulge myself in all the new toys that come along. However, I considered the Sprint refund to be ‘found’ money, and used it to buy myself not one, but two new toys: a Kindle eReader, and an AppleTV.

The AppleTV is a little box that connects to your TV through an HDMI cable and to your computer and iTunes either wirelessly, or via an ethernet cable. I can use the box to look at video podcasts, watch movies or television shows, peruse photos from my local drive or via Flickr, watch YouTube videos, and listen to music.

Before the recent software update, I had to find podcasts through iTunes on my computer and sync to the AppleTV. Now, I can search and browse on podcasts directly from AppleTV. Apple still needs to filter the podcasts to those that can only play on AppleTV, but most can so it’s not too much of a hassle. Many of the podcasts are pretty lame, but some of the podcasts, such as those for the Hubble podcast and the Spitzer Science Center, are in HD and absolutely exquisite. Best of all, the podcasts I’ve checked out to this point are free.

I can sync television shows and movies from my computer to the AppleTV. After the recent software update, I can also rent movies and buy TV shows directly through the AppleTV interface. Apple is still adding movies to its library, but about 70 are in HD, and at least a couple of hundred are in SD. I don’t know how the movies look on the 50 inch televisions, but they look great on my smaller 27-inch 720p TV.

The movies aren’t cheap. An older movie rents for 2.99, 3.99 for HD quality. A new release is 3.99/4.99. If you have Netflix, it’s going to be cheaper to get your movies through that service. However, I’ve found that blu-ray movies sent from Netflix fail about 50% of the time. Being able to rent through Apple provides a second avenue for HD content. Plus, it’s a nice option when the weather is cold and there’s nothing else to watch.

The movies are ready to view in about one or two minutes after making the purchase (TV show) or rental (movie). I’ve found, though, that waiting until about 2-3% is downloaded works best.

You can sync music, but I only have the smaller 40GB machine, and don’t want to load it down with music. I also prefer to listen to music through my other computer, which is connected to nice speakers.

I can watch YouTube videos through the AppleTV, but I’ve not found it worthwhile. The YouTube photos look bad on a computer monitor, much less on a bigger TV screen.

Where I’ve found the AppleTV to be particularly useful is with photos. You can choose to sync a local directory with your AppleTV, copy photos to this directory, and they’re automatically uploaded to the machine. I can watch the photos in a slideshow, which is a great way to check out the pictures for flaws, bad cropping or focus, and so on.

There’s something about seeing the photos on the larger screen, while you’re seated several feet away, to get a good, objective view of the images. Since the AppleTV is connected to the TV through an HDMI cable, I get a nice, sharp view of the pictures. In addition, I can have the AppleTV use my photos, rather than its own built-in pictures, for the very nice screensaver. I’d like to have that screensaver for my Macs.

When I get bored looking at my own work, I can connect to a .mac or Flickr account, and add as many Flickr contacts as I want in order to look at other people’s photos. So, who has a .mac account I can try?

The AppleTV interface is very easy to use, and the box is small and out of the way. It runs a bit warm, which is typical for an aluminum Apple product. Whatever you do, do not stack it on your DVD player. The remote is very small, about the size of an iPod nano. So far I haven’t lost it, knock on aluminum. Unfortunately, AppleTV is restricted to US access at this time, but the Apple company has stated it will be rolled out to other countries hopefully later in the year.

Is the AppleTV worth the money? I wouldn’t buy one of the larger hard drives. The AppleTV is not separate storage from your computer, because it works by syncing so you’re really not getting any additional space. I do think the smaller versions are worth the money, especially if you don’t have a computer that supports a DVI or HDMI connection. It’s been fun viewing the different podcasts, and the device is a nice alternative if you don’t have cable (which I don’t). If you’re a photographer, the photo slideshow capability is especially useful.

Note that Apple has refurbished AppleTVs for sale for 199.00 at the Apple store. It’s not much of a savings, but thirty bucks is thirty bucks–enough for 5-10 movie rentals.

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