Apple TV alternatives group test

Introduction

It’s the party event of the year. Apple has invited you to meet all the members of its product family and you’re slowly working your way around the room. “You know Mr iPad and Mrs iPhone?” “Hello”. “This is Mr iMac. He’s big in home computing.” “Nice to meet you”. “This is the Laptop family and now here’s Mr...” “Hang on, who’s that by the canapes?” “Oh, that’s Apple TV. Black sheep. We don’t really talk about him. Shall we move on?”

Yup. The Apple TV has an image problem. Dismissed by Apple bigwigs as ‘just a hobby’, its biggest problem seems to be that Apple hasn’t found a decent way to monetise it — that is, to part you from additional hard-earned cash in the shape of music, movie and TV downloads. That’s not really surprising. For one thing, you have all those free and low-cost set-top boxes that Steve Jobs has so taken against. But it’s also a problem of perception, and of what the Apple TV doesn’t do out of the box — you can’t watch DVDs or Blu-ray discs on it. It doesn’t have a TV tuner. You can’t use it to access other media content on the web. It doesn’t do BitTorrent.

All of which is a shame, because the Apple TV is a great little piece of kit. It’s the easiest way by far to sit back on your sofa and fetch all the movies, music and photos stored on the other Macs you have around the house. And, thanks to its built-in storage, it’s a fairly decent media server in its own right. It’s future doesn’t look too rosy, though. Caught between rumours that it might silently disappear or that it might turn into a thin client for ‘cloud’ media services, it looks like a product who’s time came... and then went again without anyone really noticing.

We hope the Apple TV really does find its niche (although that may be in doubt after Apple upgraded the Mac mini in June), but if it doesn’t we’ve lined up some tasty alternatives that either do what it does but better, or simply offer an alternative means of viewing and listening to the stuff you love — without having to pay through the nose for the privilege. So sit back, have another drink and enjoy. It’s what the digital home was invented for.

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