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TUAW's Holiday Gift Guide: Should I buy an Apple TV?

Welcome to the TUAW Holiday Gift Guide! We've sorted the treasure from the junk and are serving up suggestions to make your holiday gift-giving a little easier.

The second-generation Apple TV might just be on a lot of Christmas lists this year. The new Apple TV is inexpensive at US$99, now allows streaming of photos and some video (YouTube and Netflix, for example) from iOS devices, and isn't plagued with hot operation, large size or slow response like the original one.

Long-time TUAW readers may remember that I really hated the first-generation Apple TV. It just didn't seem like something that came out of Cupertino, and I enjoyed gutting my old Apple TV as an experiment to extract some photos that I had saved on it. Well, the second-generation device is small, fast and easy to use, and the remote control app that is available for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad make it even more enticing. But do you really want to get one for Christmas?

Let's talk about what you need in order to be able to use an Apple TV. First, you should have an HDTV with a free HDMI port. The Apple TV uses HDMI output, and you frankly don't want to try to use an HDMI to Composite, HDMI to DVI or HDMI to Component adapter. It's designed for ease of use, and Apple wants you to be able to take a standard HDMI cable and connect your Apple TV to your HDTV in seconds.

The next thing you'll need is some sort of device to stream photos, audio or video from. Sure, you can use the iTunes movie and TV rentals "apps" on the Apple TV to stream goodies to your HDTV, but you'll be missing out on a lot of the fun. If you have a Mac or PC running iTunes, you'll be able to take any of the music or movies you own and stream them to your Apple TV. Even better, if you own an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, you can use Apple's AirPlay technology to send photos, slideshows, music and some video content from the device to your Apple TV. Want to see this capability in action? We have video.

Remember that you'll also need a fairly fast Wi-Fi network to complement the wireless streaming of all of this media between your devices and the Apple TV. If you have a recent Apple AirPort Extreme that supports 802.11n, you're probably all set.

If you already have another device that you can stream media from, like a Wii or other gaming unit that you can use to grab Netflix movies, or maybe an Xbox 360, you might want to think twice about buying an Apple TV. Take a look at what your current internet-and-HDTV-connected device can do, and you might be surprised. In many cases, you may find that your existing toys can already do what you might be able to do with an Apple TV.

Who's going to love an Apple TV? Anyone who already has a number of Apple devices that will support streaming to the second-generation Apple TV. Regardless of what you have -- an iPad, an iPod touch, an iPhone or a Mac -- it is incredibly simple to share a lot of your media by streaming it to your HDTV through the Apple TV. For $99, it's almost a no-brainer for a Christmas gift.

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