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Apple TV: The first 24 hours

After spending a good 24 hours with a shiny new Apple TV, I agree with Mossberg and Pogue: this thing rocks. Apple has produced a great device that makes getting your iTunes and iTunes Store content from your Mac/PC to your TV and entertainment center, and with a nearly 10x lead in the digital media market at 118 million active iTunes users, they have quite an audience for it as well.

As with everything else in life, however, the Apple TV isn't without its downsides. But instead of penning a post that did nothing but dog the device, I figured I would put together some pros and cons I've found from poking and prodding at the Apple TV:

Pros

  • My initial sync was performed via that iTunes wireless AirPort Disk setup I wrote about earlier this month. Just to see how far I can push things, I occasionally tried to watch a video that hadn't been synced yet so it had to stream while the sync was still going on, and I never experienced a hiccup besides a noticeably slower start time. Impressive. I must mention, however, that I'm using Apple's ideal setup: a Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro upgraded to 802.11n, with an AirPort Extreme N-based router.
  • As Paul Kafasis confirmed, the Apple TV doesn't require an HD TV, just one that has component (RGB) inputs. That's great news for me, and I can happily say that iTS videos look great on our 32" JVC SD (Standard Definition) TV. HD - what me worry?
  • Thanks not only to Apple's sleek industrial design but also the entirely screen-based UI and minimalist remote, the Apple TV is by far the least intrusive piece of hardware in our humble entertainment center. It has but one tiny white light; no bright calculator-style numbers of blinking lights, unlike my clunky Comcast PVR box.
  • You can turn off the Apple TV's display (holding down Play for a few seconds) during a sync. This 'powers down' the device in more or less the same way you power down an iPod; it isn't completely turned off, and the Apple TV still wakes up instantly at the press of a button.

Cons

  • This whole 40GB thing is for the birds. We're living in an increasingly digital society, and our libraries are expanding faster than ever. I currently have 28GB of music, 4.26GB of movies (and that includes only two truly feature-length films purchased from the store), 6.13GB of TV Shows and 4.05GB of Podcasts, which is arguably (one of) the most quickly expanding portion of virtually any podcast subscriber's library. While I am on the whole pleased with this device, 40GB is a borderline insult. This is 2007, not 1998.
  • Parts of the UI definitely feel like they were designed specifically for HD in mind, though designing software for the strange, wide world of television can't be easy for anyone. For example: while browsing TV shows to watch, a block of text appears below the show's album cover that contains metadata such as series, show description, etc. Even sitting barely two or three feet away from my SD TV, this text is barely legible, and before you ask: my eyesight is tip-top.
  • Social downside to using the Apple TV: I can't display what I'm watching/listening to in iChat. I'm no software engineer, but me-wagers Apple could easily fix this.
  • While playing music, the Apple TV occasionally swaps cover art and the track control bar horizontally between the left and right sides of the screen. I can understand the desire to do *something* with the TV UI since whatever is on TV is supposed to 'do stuff,' but the effect is really cheesy. [Update: Commenters are pointing out that this is to prevent burnout in plasma displays. Complaint retracted, for the most part.]
  • The Apple TV is a trojan horse: I *so* have the urge to start buying iTS content without reserve. A long time ago a friend bought Pirates of the Caribbean as a gift for me, but I never caught the movie bug. After playing with the Apple TV for a while yesterday, however, I began wanting to buy movies like never before because this setup just works. I buy, I download, I watch on TV - all from the comforts of my couch (since my MacBook Pro is on my lap). As long as Apple cranks out an iTreadmill sooner or later, I'll consider us even.
  • The Apple TV doesn't seem to be able to initiate a sync while something is already playing on it. This is of course to be expected, and I debated leaving it off this list entirely, but I figured it was ultimately worth a mention. [Update: it appears I might be wrong. I'm playing music on the Apple TV and had to restart my MacBook Pro. Upon starting iTunes up again, it found the Apple TV and began syncing a bunch of new items in mid-song. My initial guess as to what's going on here is that, given the drive-intensive nature of video, the Apple TV can't perform a sync while it's playing a movie, TV show or video podcast, but song files are typically small, allowing many to be queued into memory which makes it easier to do two things at once. If anyone has more insight into this, do share in the comments.]

But don't leave my pros and cons all alone here - feel free to voice your own! If you've snagged an Apple TV be sure to leave your thoughts here, and if you're still on the fence, we'll try to help you pick the yard with the greenest grass.



After spending a good 24 hours with a shiny new Apple TV, I agree with Mossberg and Pogue: this thing rocks. Apple has produced a great...