Apple TV (3rd generation, early 2012) review
The Apple TV is a connected set-top box that offers access to iTunes TV shows and movies, as well as content from Netflix, YouTube and Vimeo. But is the £99 Apple TV a good buy? Here's our Apple TV review. See all multimedia reviews.
What is Apple TV?
When is a TV not a TV? When it is the Apple TV. Apple TV is not even a TV tuner for free-to-air channels, or a digital video recorder to catch shows while you're away from home or watching another channel. The Apple TV is instead a £99 set-top box dedicated to giving your existing TV access to films and TV shows purchased from iTunes and other services such as YouTube and Netflix, as well as all the music and photos you own.
In essence the Apple TV takes all the content that would otherwise be tied to your iPhone, iPad and Mac, and lets it loose on your TV. It's a media-player for your TV that can show off all those lovely movies, TV shows and photos via the biggest display in the house. And it does so in up to 1080p HD.
This does all mean that the Apple TV is really only of interest to those people who already own Apple products. But hey, we're on Macworld.co.uk, so that's you, right? (For more on home-entertainment kit visit our Digital Lifestyle hotspot.)
Apple TV channels
When we say that the Apple TV isn't a TV in the normal sense of the word, because it doesn't feature free-to-air channels, or a digital video recorder to catch shows while you're away, it does offer what could be described as channels, and this content keeps on growing leaving us hopeful for a future where the Apple TV will include links to OnDemand services just like our iPhones and iPads do - think the iPlayer and 4OD apps and you're not to far away.
Apple has made multiple updates to the Apple TV software over recent month, adding a number of new app-style TV channels, delivering new content to Apple TV users.
For some times Apple has offered UK Apple TV users access to Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and Wall Street Journal Live alongside the iTunes content.
Then in June, Apple announced several new additions to its Apple TV, including Sky News sparking speculation that on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer could be coming to the Apple TV soon.
Crunchyroll and Qello are also available, with the predicted HBO Go, WatchESPN appearing on US models. Crunchyroll, the leading global video service for Japanese Anime and Asian media, lets users in the UK and other countries watch shows an hour after they air in Japan, while Qello lets worldwide users stream HD concerts and music documentaries on-demand.
The latest Apple TV update has bought Vevo, Disney, Weather & Smithsonian 'channels'. Vevo will provide music video content. We are yet to confirm if these new channels/apps are available in the UK.
Apple TV build and design
The Apple TV is a stylish little black box that won't look out of place tucked beneath even the smartest HD TV. It's like a Mac mini, really, measuring 23x98x98mm and weighing a calorie-free 27g.
It's shiny black and curvy around the sides, and on the top is a matte black finish given relief by a shiny black Apple symbol and the word TV. You can see what they did there, right?
The connections are all around the back, as is the power socket. If it matters to you the way your audio-visual setup looks, look no further than the Apple TV. See also: iPhone 5 vs Lumia 1020 smartphone comparison review - 41Mp camerphone better than iPhone?
Apple TV: is my TV compatible?
If you are going to buy an Apple TV you need to know your own telly is compatible. It probably is. If you have an HD TVs with HDMI connectivity you can use the Apple TV as long as it is capable of 1080p or 720p output at 60/50Hz. You are unlikely to have any HD TV that doesn't fit this criteria, but your old CRT or a small, cheap flatscreen won't have HDMI in.
You'll need a broadband connection to access iTunes and the other content stores. See also: iTV rumour round-up, UK price, release date.
Should I buy Apple TV?
As we'll show in our detailed review below, there is a lot to like about the Apple TV. It's well-built and easy to use. But it offers access to a limited range of content, at a price that is often more expensive than other sources. And some of the better features really only work with other Apple products. Like many premium Apple tech, the Apple TV is best for those Apple completists who have all the gear and every idea how to match them all up. If that sounds like you, the £99 Apple TV is a great product. See also: new Apple TV rumours.
Apple TV: tech specs
HDMI is not the only connectivity option for the Apple TV. There's also an optical audio for you to output music as well as 10/100BASE-T Ethernet and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) to connect to the web. You can connect a keyboard via Bluetooth, and there is an infrared receiver for use with Apple's own remote. Finally there is a Micro-USB connector which is there principally for tech support purposes.
The Apple TV has its own built-in 6-watt universal power supply.
Apple TV: what can it play?
There's two ways of looking at this. In terms of file formats Apple TV can play H.264 video, MPEG-4 video and motion JPEG (M-JPEG). Audio formats include HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3 and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV. And the Apple TV can display JPEG, GIF and TIFF images.
Perhaps more importantly from a consumer point of view the Apple TV gives your big telly access to iTunes TV programs and movies, as well as those of Netflix, YouTube and Vimeo. You can watch Sky News live or on catchup reports, as well as viewing images from Flickr. There are other services, a full list can be found here: http://www.apple.com/uk/appletv/whats-on/.
Apple TV: user interface
Apple TV's user interface is simple and intuitive, as you'd expect from Apple, and will be familiar to all iPad and iPhone users as it utilises the bright and bold iOS looks.
The main screen delivers big icons for Films, TV Programmes, Computers and Settings, plus a small range of third-party options, including Netflix. The whole experience is very easy to use and stylish to look at.
You navigate the setup menus and input Wi-Fi network and password via the included Apple TV remote or using your iPhone and the Remote app.
Luckily, the Apple TV Software Update 5.2 introduced a handful of useful new features that included the ability to pair the AppleTV with Apple’s own Wireless Keyboard – making use of Bluetooth hardware that has previously lain dormant within the AppleTV’s glossy little black box (Apple says that other Bluetooth keyboards “may also be compatible” as long as they match the layout of a standard Mac keyboard).
This simplifies the task of entering network passwords or using the search function when browsing the iTunes Store or the YouTube app. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it does suggest that Apple is still trying to refine the AppleTV’s interface and make it easier to use in your front room.
Read our review of Apple's Apple TV 5.2 update here.