Apple TV & YouTube Review
Regular Macworld readers will remember our controversial two-star review of the Apple TV (Macworld June 2007). Macworld reviewer Rob Buckley referred to the Apple TV as suffering from the ‘stone soup’ syndrome. It was missing so many functions and features that it needed too many add-ons to make it palatable. UPDATE: read our latest Apple TV review.
We did, however, see the potential of the Apple TV and couldn’t help but notice an option called ‘Update’. So we promised to return to the device and reconsider the score if new features became available. And we are nothing if not true to our word.
Since then Apple has rolled out three key updates: the first is a version with a larger hard drive (160GB), the second, updated support for iPhoto and the third – and probably most important update – a deal with YouTube that enables you to stream video content directly from the web to your television.
Spending an extra £70 on the device now gives you the much more realistic160GB hard drive. Most iTunes libraries (especially those that contain video) will need this amount, and this model is now our recommendation. Of course, you can still stream content directly via Ethernet or over WiFi although you may see the odd glitch when streaming video or photos over a wireless network.
You can now stream photographs from iPhoto over the network directly to the Apple TV rather than waiting for it to sync. We’re still not sure why this was omitted from the original Apple TV, but are glad to see it fixed. On the downside you still can’t sync your iPhoto Albums apart from Last Roll and Last Twelve Months. This comes up short if you’ve just added a few memory cards from your holidays, which will come up as separate rolls. This forces you to sit through all the photos of the last 12 months to get to your recent pics. Frankly, we’re at a loss as to why the photo support is so poor in the Apple TV – Connect 360 ($20 [£9.73], www.nullriver.com) enables a Microsoft Xbox 360 console to stream photos (along with music and video and, indeed, provides most of the functionality of an Apple TV) and it can search your custom photo albums. A $20 piece of software made by a third-party company to work with a console made by Microsoft really shouldn’t be out-performing an Apple made product.
However, the Apple TV’s ace-in-the-hole is undoubtedly its newfound support for YouTube (www.youtube.com). This goes a long way towards making up for the lack of DivX support and continued absence of television shows and movies on the iTunes Store in the UK. To accommodate this YouTube is converting all of its (reported) 5.5 million video clips into the H.264 format used by Apple. Not all clips have been converted yet, but there’s already a substantial selection to choose from and Apple has promised all clips will be ready by the end of autumn.
The ability to watch YouTube on the Apple TV fundamentally changes the nature of the device. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of YouTube clips when playing on the big screen. While admittedly not as good as iTunes video (which is DVD quality) the quality is perfectly watchable and streams without any hitches.
The implementation of YouTube on the Apple TV is good too. You can search by Featured, Most Viewed, Most Recent and Top Rated (either today, this week or all time) and you can search the entire library direct from your couch. Typing in video titles using the Apple remote is a bit of a bind though. However, you can also sync up the Apple TV with your YouTube account to access your favourite video clips and viewing history.
The only niggle we have with YouTube is that it highlights another problem we had with the Apple TV – that it requires a high-definition television to work. That you need a high-def television to watch low quality YouTube video is a contradiction we find hard to justify. It may be that in the future, when the iTunes Store is providing television and movie content in high-definition it will make more sense, but for now we wish the Apple TV worked on regular television sets.
Still, we can’t help but admit to massively enjoying the presence of YouTube in our living rooms. It’s an experience we heartily recommend to all of our readers.
Steve Jobs has referred to the Apple TV as Apple’s ‘hobby’ and it’s clear that this product still has some way to go. If we were reviewing potential, the Apple TV would get five stars, but in day-to-day use it’s a three star product. It’s a bit expensive just to watch YouTube and the lack of iTunes Store video content continues to hobble its functionality in the UK. Still we can’t help but think that one day the Apple TV will more than justify its price tag. If you’re feeling flush though, YouTube alone may well make it worth spending your money.