There is a lot of excitement about Apple TV, but it is not a new product. What is new this time around is that the device is HD and can interface with Netflix and YouTube. It also allows you to view photos and play your music collection, and in the future it may play well with the iPad and allow you to view movies that are playing on the Apple TV, on the iPad. Media players have been around for years and the original Apple TV goes back to 2005. Back then it was standard definition and lacked support for much of what it offers now.
The Apple TV is much cheaper now, at only $99, a far cry from what it used to sell for back in 2007 when it was more than $200. This is a good price point, and seeing how it is one of the cheaper devices Apple offers I expect to see a greater adoption of this product than we have seen from it in the past. In fact what I expect to see happen is mass adoption of the Apple TV by Mac enthusiasts (or now, “i” product enthusiasts as there is a whole different crowd of enthusiasts that like the Apple gadgets but do not have an actual Mac computer) and the continued support of everything else by those who love PC. The most significant update to the Apple TV is the support of 720p video, which means that you can finally get high definition content through this device. You also have Ethernet, component video outputs and an HDMI connection and even a USB connection for firmware updates.
One thing that does confuse me is the lack of support for 1080p. Is it because the average person does not know the difference between 1080 and 720 or that you need a screen larger than 27 inches to realistically see the difference between the two? Seriously Apple seems to be shortchanging their customers and putting out hardware that does some things, but not enough in that they may have trouble explaining to customers the nuances of the product at the Mac Store or whatever tech support numbers they have for those few that actually want to speak with them over the phone. If someone wants to watch 1080 video on a 19 inch screen, as ridiculous as that may be, they should have the right to do so. Offering one flavor of this device when they could charge another $30 for a 1080p device at $129 seems strange. Like most Apple devices it connects primarily to its own store and you can watch content approved by Apple on the device. You can break the device or hack into it, but in doing so you void your warranty. The pricing of content is interesting; currently you can watch SD content at $2.99 and HD at $3.99, and shows for 99 cents. Amazon On Demand is now offering movies for the same price; they still offer the ability to purchase a title for $14.99 and still have a lot of free content as well. What will different the options Apple offers through its iTunes store, and what is available through Amazon On Demand and other services is not price, but whether or not you can watch titles on your MP4 player or through a TiVo or some other media center as well as online.
It is not backward compatible with older televisions, so if you do not have a television that supports component or HDMI do not attempt to hook this television up with RCA composite or S-Video cables because they will not work on this device. To be totally honest I cannot see why anyone would want to watch SD video on a television larger than 25 inches even if it is coming off of a computer; the novelty of it is cool but you will not be able to experience the video the way it was intended to be viewed. This is a product for those looking for a simple set up and prefer the controlled environment that people used to Apple’s products are used to working in. It is not a viable alternative to the Mac Mini (which does offer 1080p video), and is meant to be used out of the box.
There is also some confusion as to the difference between media center platforms and operating systems, and media centers themselves. A good example of media center software is Windows Media Center, Google TV, or XBMC. Chances are the same software can also be ran on a PC, but one needs to make the distinction between that software, and the actual hardware it runs on. For example Google TV will be used on a variety of equipment, but there is no indication that Google themselves are actually going to produce the hardware it runs on. Another question one may want to ask themselves is whether or not they really want to hook another box up to their television, or whether or not they want to purchase a television with a media center already built into it. A search on Internet ready televisions will show you products that are already capable of viewing YouTube videos or Netflix movies. If you are already in the market for a television because your old set is being replaced, purchasing a television with an Internet connection built into it may not be a bad idea.
The Apple TV is a great product for those who want a simplified experience and do not mind paying for episodes of television shows or movies. Plus at $99, the Apple TV should be flying off of the shelves this holiday season and could make a great gift. But what is important is that what was a device ahead of its time can now interface with Netflix, YouTube, and in the future, the iPad, in order to centralize your television experience under one roof, the Apple TV should be able to do it all. The Apple TV will offer free content through YouTube and paid content through Netflix and Apple’s iTunes store. On the other hand the Roku Player is still cheaper as they have devices for as little as $59, and even their cheapest HD device is $69. For $99 you can get a player capable of delivering 1080p resolution, a feature they state will be available in the near future, which is currently more than you get on Apple TV.