Apple TV Review
It’s no secret the Apple TV hasn’t set the world on fire, but Apple’s media streaming device is now more appealing to UK users, with the introduction of TV and film downloads accessible through iTunes. UPDATE: read our latest Apple TV review.
We’re not going to repeat ourselves as we’ve reviewed this gadget before – but we’ll run through a quick reprise. The Apple TV enables you to play content from your iTunes library through an HD TV. It has its own hard drive and can sync content from one nominated computer, while being capable of streaming media from collections held on up to four more. Additional features include YouTube access and the capacity to browse image libraries on .Mac/MobileMe and Flickr. The Apple TV also lets you buy music, subscribe to podcasts, and buy and rent films and TV shows from iTunes using the Apple Remote, the device and your TV – no computer is required.
Rent or buy
Renting and purchasing films is easy. You can do it via iTunes on your Mac or PC, but it’s best to buy new content using the Apple TV, as that’s the only way to receive it in widescreen format. That’s quite annoying, as you must wait for content to download to your Apple TV before playing it, which can take a while depending on your broadband connection. It would be much better if you could purchase a film on your Mac during the day in order to watch it in the evening on the Apple TV. However, picture quality is superb, especially when you opt for the HD versions (well, it’s not full-quality HD but 720p, so it’s neo-HD, at least).
Finding films is easy; you navigate available content on-screen with the remote. When you rent a film you have 30-days in which to begin watching it, and then 48 hours to finish viewing. You’ll find it starts playing from where you stopped viewing. As the film syncs with a nominated iTunes library, you can sync an iPod and the film (rentals and purchases) passes across to that as well.
What isn’t so good is the price: £6.99 for a library title and £10.99 for new titles. Rentals start at £2.49, and you pay an extra pound for HD. We know these prices have been insisted on by film studios eager to protect DVD sales, but when you consider that The Matrix DVD costs £2.99 (including postage) from Play.com, it’s clear there’s a premium on convenience here. And with rentals starting at $2.99 in the US, where older films cost just $9.99, it’s hard to see how the UK arms of the film studios, who’ve put pressure on Apple regarding pricing, are going to win hearts and minds among BitTorrent users. Accusations of rip-off Britain have also been levelled in that while Apple has reduced the price of the Apple TV in the US, it hasn’t yet reduced the cost here.
The 40GB Apple TV costs $229 (£116) in the US, the same model sells for £199 here. The 160GB Apple TV costs $329 (£167) in the US, but £269 here.
Getting your back up
Another criticism regards the way the Apple TV works. The 160GB model can carry a huge amount of content, but you can’t back it up. It can be synced with a computer, but you may not have 160GB of space on your Mac to dedicate to media. As the Apple TV has a USB port, it seems strange that you can’t connect an external hard drive to extend storage and back up.
This means those consumers who buy the system as a standalone device without a computer are at risk of losing their media. Hard drives do fail so backing up is essential. Perhaps Apple could introduce Apple TV support within Time Capsule, so the multimedia system could make automated backups. Power management is also a problem – you can’t switch the Apple TV into standby mode, it’s always on and consuming electricity, unless you unplug it. It’s certainly no green machine.
Some may feel we’re nit-picking here, but we’re not. Environmental, pricing and usability criticisms are important, but aside from these grumbles, we have to admit the Apple TV becomes far more attractive each time Apple updates its software.
The addition of film and TV shows does transform the Apple TV into a handy supplement to TV schedules. We’d like to see the US price reduction matched in the UK, but if you already own plenty of iTunes content this is a liberating, though perhaps, not yet essential, purchase.