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Monday, March 30, 2009

I use this: Apple TV

Apple TV
When I bought my new full HD TV, I knew that I'd need something else to be able to enjoy the high-definition experience. And since most of my media files were on my computer, I also needed something that would let me watch those shows on my TV.

Enter the Apple TV. It's a media device that connects to both my TV (via HDMI cable) and Mac (via wireless network) that lets me enjoy the best of both worlds. Setup and syncing were a breeze, allowing me to enjoy my shows without much pain.

(The only downside appears to be some HDMI handshake issue between my Samsung TV and the Apple TV. My current workaround is to unplug the HDMI cable, then replug it back.)

Here's my full review:

Like most people of my age group, I consume a lot of movies and TV shows on my computer or iPod. I'm not saying where I get these shows, only that I watch enough of these to spend more time in front of my computer screen than the TV screen.

So I decided to get a device that would be able to let me watch on a TV set the shows that are stored in my computer. And the device that provided the solution was the Apple TV . Made by Apple, the Apple TV is a sleek grey box that lets me enjoy my digital content -- movies, TV shows, photos, music -- on my TV.

Apple TV - contents
Out of the box, the Apple TV comes with almost everything you need to enjoy it straight away. Apple TV, check. Power cable, check. Remote control unit, check. Manuals, check. TV cable... hmm... get your own. I bought a $26 HDMI version 1.3 cable.

Setup is done in two parts: initially with the Apple TV, then through iTunes.
  1. Apple TV setup:
    Remove from box, connect HDMI cable, connect power cable, turn on power (there's no power switch on the Apple TV, so the wall outlet becomes the on/off switch), then setup the wireless network.
  2. iTunes setup:
    Let iTunes detect the Apple TV through the wireless network. Register the Apple TV, name the Apple TV (mine's called "Mapple TV"), then sync my content.
Apple TV - menu screen
After that, the Apple TV is ready for use! But wait, there's more! In addition to being tethered (figuratively) to my computer, it could also download network content from other services. These are Apple's own movie trailer site, YouTube and Flickr.

The movie trailers are not as updated as what you'd find on the website. For example, as of this writing, Apple featured the trailer for "Fame" on its website, but this couldn't be found in Apple TV's list.

The YouTube feature lets me watch any YouTube content. Besides categories like "Most Viewed" and "Most Recent", I can also search for content. If I enter my YouTube/Google Account name and password, Apple TV will also let me watch my favourites and subscriptions. Strangely, it doesn't let me watch my own videos! That's a very blatant omission.

The Flickr feature, on the other hand, doesn't require me to enter my name/password. Instead, it pulls the public photos from any Flickr account. I can add as many accounts as I wish, including those of my friends and/or strangers, to see their photos.

Downloading of content is surprisingly very fast, or maybe I'm used to slow speeds. For example, loading a 2-minute HD trailer took less than a minute, letting me enjoy it almost as soon as I pressed the "Play" button. YouTube videos take slightly longer, e.g. long enough for me to take a toilet break. Flickr photos appear almost instantaneously, which is useful for the screensaver.

What I really enjoy from my Apple TV is the HD experience. With my aging computer, I've never been able to watch a 1080p HD film without stuttering or pauses. But with my Apple TV and Full HD TV, I can watch them with crystal clarity. HD is really mind-blowing, and the fast downloads through Apple TV make such content even more available and appreciable.

One strange quibble: I constantly have to unplug then replug the HDMI cable on my Apple TV in order for my Samsung TV to detect it. From what I've read, it's a "HDMI handshake" problem between the two devices. Some say it's Samsung's fault, others point the finger at Apple. I've yet to find another workable solution, so in the meantime, I'll continue the unplug/replug ritual.

As a TV device, the Apple TV shines in seamlessly enabling you to watch content on your computer or at popular Internet services on your TV. Just don't expect anything more out of it, unless you're willing to void your warranty!


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