The new Apple TV was announced by Steve Jobs on September 1, to much “ooh’s” and “aaah’s.” At first blush, there is much to be impressed about. After watching the announcement, I was ready to order the new Apple TV. But, after settling down a bit, I decide to take a look at the specs and see what was really behind this new mystery box.
Now in the sense of fairness, please understand I have drunk the Apple Kool-Aid. That makes this review all the much harder.
From a technical perspective, there are a few fundamental differences between the new version of Apple TV and its predecessor. The first is the lack of a hard drive. Previous Apple TVs were available in 40 GB or 160 GB models, but this one has no internal hard drive to speak of. This fact speaks volumes: this is purely a streaming device. There will be no storing music, videos, or pictures on this device; any content for the Apple TV will be from an external source.
The also missing from the new Apple TV from the previous version is the composite Audio/Video, which some may find limiting. But I think as the target audience is technophiles, this won’t really be excluding many end users. And making a re-appearance in this latest iteration is a 10/100Base-T Ethernet connection. I personally am happy to see this as I was always disappointed by the video quality that is achieved by streaming over wireless. This was the Achilles heel, in my opinion, of the original Apple TV.
The gist of this device is that all media content is streamed from somewhere to this device. It is the interface between the home media system and the other sources. These other sources are iTunes, a PC or Mac, or a new inclusion, Netflix. And soon the streaming capabilities will be increased to include iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch with the introduction of AirPlay. Apple also says it will be able to stream internet radio and future software versions will increase the capabilities of this device.
All of this is packaged in a device significantly smaller than the size of the original. And with a price tag of $99, I am reasonable confident this is bad news for the makers of the Roku player.
All of this is fine and well. I’m sure it will find its niche. But it falls short of the device I was hoping for. I was hoping Apple would take this in the other direction of a full home multimedia center. Instead we got a Roku player that can interface with iTunes. My hope was that they would include a blu-ray player and DVR capability. Clearly this wasn’t to be.
But my main criticism that I have is that I have all the capabilities the new Apple TV has already in my MacBook with a HDMI adapter, and in many respects, more. I can hook my MacBook up to my TV and stream iTunes, Netflix, Pandora, LastFM, etc. already. Likewise, just about any laptop purchased from Wal-Mart can do what this does (and more) without buying an additional device. But unlike a laptop or my MacBook, I cannot put DVD in the Apple TV.
And since a good portion of the functionality requires that you have a PC or Mac to stream from, why exactly why do I need or want this device? It doesn’t eliminate or merge any of the devices I already have and offers no revolutionary advancement in home entertainment.
To summarize, while I can see the Apple TV continuing to have a niche following, I don’t think this was the revolutionary product I was expecting from Apple. Apple kind of phoned this one in.