The long-awaited update for the Apple TV arrived yesterday, providing Apple's television box with YouTube functionality built in. Macworld's controversial Apple TV review saw the Apple TV getting a measly two-stars, citing a lack of content to blame. So does the YouTube update change things entirely?
There's no denying that the inclusion of YouTube is a 'game changer'. From having no content at all in the UK, to having the world of YouTube at your fingertips is a case of 'extremes' that begs attention.
Installing YouTube on the Apple TV couldn't be easier. Simply click on the 'Update' option and wait for the download. It took roughly five minutes to download the update, and another couple of minutes for the Apple TV to restart.
Do this and you'll find a new option marked 'YouTube' on the Apple TV menu. Click on it and you'll be gazing over the following options: 'Featured', 'Most Viewed', 'Most Recent', 'Top Rated', 'History', 'Search' and 'Log In'.
The first three options take you to a selection of video clips selected by the YouTube community. There's a lot of random video here, of varying subjects. A lot of it tends to be obscure and cliquey in the way that internet groups can often be - it matches up with the YouTube website so you can take a look there to see what's on offer.
Like the YouTube website, you can search for, store favourites and rate video clips. Which is what the rest of the menu is taken up with. Of great relief is the fact that you log in to YouTube from your Apple TV and sync up with your YouTube online account.
This is particularly handy because searching for video clips directly from the Apple TV is a bit of a bind. While the Apple remote is widely praised for its simplicity (it's only a directional pad and two buttons), it's clear that using it to enter text on the screen is a hassle. Consequently the ability to sync up with your online account is invaluable: it enables you to do the searching and bookmarking from your computer, then use this as a springboard to watching video clips and searching for related videos from the comfort of your TV.
The amount of video clips available on YouTube also limits the experience. YouTube claims to have converted 10,000 video clips to the Apple TV format, and while this is certainly plenty of video to play around with, it's far short of the reported 5.5 million clips on the full site. You don't have to search very hard to discover the limitations of having a library of just 10,000 videos.
A present annoyance is that videos that you favourite online that aren't converted to Apple's H.264 codec don't appear on the Apple TV. And, at the moment, there doesn't seem to be any way to identify online which videos have and haven't been converted - so it's a bit of a crapshoot to find videos unless you're sat at the Apple TV itself tapping titles in with the remote. However, YouTube claims that all video clips will be converted by August so we can see this problem disappearing over the next two months.
Of course quality is the first concern that most people cite. We've used programs such as VideoDownloader for FireFox and iSquint to rip and convert YouTube video for the iPod (and consequently the Apple TV) and are well aware of how shoddy the video can look on the big screen.
So we were pleasantly surprised to see how good some of the clips looked now that they've been encoded into the H.264 codec. Some of the main clips (on the 'Featured' menu) appear to be running at a much higher resolution than regular YouTube video. We haven't been able to inspect the video yet, but we guess that newer clips are being re-encoded separately at a higher resolution than the Flash video used for older clips.
Of course, that doesn't mean that all the clips are of a high quality, and plenty of the video shows the rough and ready look that you'd expect from YouTube. But it hardly matters, the joy of having a world of video to search and play on your TV more than makes up for the fact that some of it looks slightly 'amatuerish'.
YouTube is an amazing addition to the Apple TV, one that changes the nature of the device completely. You certainly can't complain about a lack of content for the device now - and it's ability to sync up to your online account brings the community element of YouTube and all its video where it belongs, in your living room. We expect to update our review and rating of the Apple TV after we have had a more thorough test of the device.