I’ve been waiting 330 days for this. With the release of the AppleTV Take 2 software update, the original AppleTV finally resembles the device it should have been on Day 1, the day I purchased it.
Since then, I’ve put up with the jeers of friends, home entertainment enthusiasts, HD TV and movie nerds, and less-than-pleased media pundits. I knew when I bought the AppleTV it wasn’t a perfect device, but I purchased it on the belief that Apple would nurture it along and improve the limited set-top box because it had to.
The device was Apple’s entry into the lucrative-but-cutthroat living room, the heart of our digital lifestyle. The battleground is fierce: Microsoft’s Media Center, TiVo, DVRs, cable and teleco video-on-demand, game consoles, laptop computers (and YouTube, Joost, Hulu), Vudu, and so many more are bashing it out for our attention and entertainment dollars.
Except for ease of setup and use, the AppleTV has been a disappointment — I readily admit it — and I’ve watched as competitors continue to improve their offerings. Meanwhile, Apple was messing around with something called the iPhone and gaining entrance into the wireless world.
With the release of AppleTV Take 2, Apple is arguably on near-equal footing with everybody else, but before we go comparing apples and oranges let’s take a brief look at the “new” AppleTV.
Download and Setup
A snap. It took a while to download the update, and there wasn’t much of on-screen progress notification to let us know how things were going, but the download went well. Just be patient.
No need to learn anything new. The menu is now a simple box, with the left side offering main selections (Movies, TV Shows, Music, Podcasts, Photos, YouTube, and Settings) and the right side presenting sub-menu choices (like Trailers, Rented Movies, Top Movies, Genres, All HD (HD playback is only available via the AppleTV, not an iPod), Search, and My Movies (or My Music, My Photos). Use the minimalist remote to navigate your choices.
It’s as convenient and simple as I’d hoped it would be. To find a movie to rent or purchase — and yes the selection isn’t all that great, yet — you can browse through movies in familiar ways like genre, Top Movies, or search through lists.
One complaint: The thumbnails of the movie choices are small and hard to see from across the room, even with a big-screen TV.
When you find something to watch, you’re given a brief description and details like genre, release date, length, rating, actors, directors, and producers. You can watch a preview or choose to rent it for $2.99 (standard) or $3.99 (high-definition). If it’s available for purchase, you’re given that option as well.
Depending on your connection, the movie will begin downloading immediately and you can watch it right then. If you want to wait to watch the film, you’re given 30 days to do so. Once you start a movie, you have 24 hours to finish.
One thing I noticed: I downloaded “Superbad” but have been waiting to watch it, hoping it might sync over to the AppleTV after the upgrade. It’s on my iPhone but not on the AppleTV.
Purchasing TV Shows
The browsing and purchasing process is similar to renting a movie. What I really like is having direct access to iTunes to purchase an episode or season pass (if available) and have the show downloaded to the AppleTV, not my computer, which would then sync wirelessly over the network. It’s a slow process, especially if you’re downloading and sync’ing more than one episode.
If you sync your AppleTV with a Mac or PC iTunes library, the shows you purchase with be downloaded (uploaded?) to your computer for viewing there or on an iPod. Nice.
AppleTV Take 2 updates its photo capability by allowing you to access .Mac and Flickr accounts, which I’ve not done yet. You can view your own pictures, or those from family and friends.
I love listening to audio podcasts, but I get frustrated with video podcasts because they take a while to download, they eat up hard drive space, and unless I want to watch at my desk or on the laptop, I still have to transfer them to an iPod or the AppleTV.
Now I can subscribe to a video podcast and have it delivered directly to the AppleTV. “Strong Bad Email”, “Ask A Ninja”, “Cranky Geeks”, and Om Malik’s show are now no different than recording “House” and “Lost” on the DVR. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
- 1080p output is enabled
- manually inputting user names and passwords for iTunes, .Mac, and Flickr can be a pain
- picture quality is good to very good, but not great to amazing (I can already hear my HD buddies booing and hissing over this)
All in all, the AppleTV Take 2 upgrade is a solid improvement and puts Apple back into the game. But it took an awfully long time to get here, much longer than it should have.
Apple cannot wait another 330 days for the next upgrade, or it will be buried by Microsoft, TiVo, Netflix and others who continue to inch forward on a regular basis. Perhaps the recent patent filing by Apple hints at what’s next for the AppleTV?