July 4, 2007

Apple TV

Apple TV is Apple's most recent foray into the consumer electronics market and is billed as the last piece of the 'media' puzzle. With Apple TV your iTunes content moves from the computer into the living room where it can be controlled with a simple 6 button remote and a gorgeous visual interface.

The best way to think about Apple TV is as an iPod that you plug into your flat screen TV. Instead of syncing with a USB cable however, you transfer content on to Apple TV via a wireless network. In typical Apple fashion Apple TV isn't a product that does everything, but everything it does, it does well.

Setting up Apple TV is marginally harder then syncing an iPod for the first time. Firstly, you'll need a wide-screen TV that has either composite, DVI or HDMI inputs. Secondly, the only cable that is supplied with Apple TV is a power adaptor so you'll need to make sure you buy the cable you require before you leave the shop. Lastly, to get content on to your Apple TV you'll need to have the latest version of iTunes running on your computer, version 7.3.

Configuring Apple TV is easy. Simply plug it in, select the resolution that suits your TV (Apple TV presents you with a list of 'recommended' options) and then set your sync preferences. Apple TV comes with a 40GB or 160GB hard drive that is designed to store your media locally so you won't need to have your computer running when your using it. It took me just over 2 hours to sync all of my content to my Apple TV using a standard 802.11G network. Apple TV only 'syncs' with one computer (like an iPod) but can 'stream' content from up to five additional Macs or PC's on your network. That means if your friend comes over with his laptop you can listen to his music, or watch his movies with a couple of clicks.

If you've played with Front Row on a Mac you'll be familiar with the Apple TV interface. The slick graphics zoom in and out as you press up and down on the remote. While most consumer electronic interfaces leave a lot to be desired Apple TV delivers the goods. The interface is silky smooth and never stutters. The fit and finish is pure Apple quality.

So how do you get content for your Apple TV? Ideally you buy it through the iTunes store. In Australia iTunes has the largest selection of music and podcasts but try to buy a TV show or movie and you'll be disappointed. Apple Australia hasn’t officially announced availability of either yet, but if the latest version of iTunes is any indicator it is coming soon.

In the meantime there are other ways of getting video content on to your Apple TV. You'll need to arm yourself with a piece of software called Visual Hub that lets you convert any video on your computer (including DivX files) to the correct 'Apple TV' format. Once you've made the conversion syncing video content is a cinch. Simply drag it in to the iTunes window and Apple TV takes care of the rest.

It's exciting to see a new family of product from Apple and Apple TV makes a lot of sense for those that have invested in some part of the iTunes ecosystem. Like other Apple products the thing you notice most about Apple TV is that it just works. There are other devices on the market that let you transfer content from your computer to your TV but they are complicated and more expensive (and they don’t work with iTunes). While Apple TV is a first generation product watch its maturation carefully. When iPod was launched critics damned it for being too expensive and basic. Yet 6 years later Apple has sold over 90 million of the players. Look for similar success from Apple TV.