What is Apple TV?

Category: Television

The Apple TV device is a digital media player sold by Apple Computer, which allows users to play multimedia content from their computer or online sources on high-definition widescreen television sets. In simpler terms, it lets you view on your TV screen what you'd normally see on your computer screen. The Apple TV box has gone through several revisions since its introduction in 2007. Here's what you need to know about Apple TV and competing devices...

Streaming Content From Your Computer to the TV

The original Apple TV box featured a 40 GB hard drive on which content could be stored, like other personal video recorders (PVRs). The drive's capacity was soon upgraded to 160 GB. But then, in September, 2010, Apple decided to eliminate the hard drive and make Apple TV a streaming-only device. The current Apple TV box retails for $99, and competes with other streaming media boxes such as Roku, Pop Box and Boxee. See my related article Can Roku Replace Cable TV? for a review of the latest Roku device.

Apple TV's streaming content providers include iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, MobileMe, MLB.tv, and NBA League Pass; more content providers are coming aboard constantly. Additionally, any Mac OS X or Windows computer running iTunes can stream local content to an Apple TV device. That means you can play your stored music and video collections, or display digital photos from your hard drive to your big-screen TV. But Apple TV does not limit you to watching television in the living room.

Using Apple's iCloud cloud-based sync service, you can stream anything that the Apple TV can handle onto your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac or PC. No matter what the content or where it resides, you can view or hear it on any of these other devices.
Apple TV

Physically, the Apple TV device is very simple, and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. On the back of the box are only four ports: power, HDMI, Ethernet, and optical audio. Getting started is a simple as plugging in the power cord and the HDMI cable that connects to your TV; the Apple TV receives its streamed content from your Internet router via a WiFi connection. Controlling the Apple TV device can be done from the Apple Remote, an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

Apple TV Versus Roku

So how does Apple TV compare to its primary competitor, Roku? It depends mostly on the content you want to watch. Youtube is available through Apple TV, but not on Roku. Popular services available on Roku that you can't get on Apple TV include Amazon Prime video, Hulu Plus, and FoxNews.com.

Roku also provides access to the Pandora and Rdio music services and the Angry Birds game, none of which are available on Apple TV. Another point to consider is that Apple TV requires an HDTV, but Roku will work with older standard definition television sets.

On the plus side for Apple TV, it offers the ability to stream to mobile devices like the iPad or iPhone, which Roku does not do. And Apple TV excels at streaming audio, video and photos from your computer to the big screen, via iTunes.

The target market for Apple TV seems to be media junkies who can't sit still. Who else would need a media player that can feed them a movie fix no matter where they are or what device they have handy? I'll concede that as a media streaming device for people who want to watch computer and online content on the big screen, it's a slick and relatively inexpensive solution. Just be aware that you'll need a beefy high-speed Internet connection to make any of these streaming solutions work well.

Do you have an Apple TV box? Tell me how you like it. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "What is Apple TV?"

Posted by:

ManoaHi
09 Dec 2011

While it is true that Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, etc. don't run natively on the Apple TV, you could get them on your Mac and still stream it through. THe only reason I don't get one is that I ran out of HDMI ports. Looking at options for "fixing" that. Considering remote controlled switch or possibly the Vizio XWH200, then I would get an Apple TV.

Why not the Roku? The main point is that I have so much iTunes content (accumulated over 4 years) that the Apple TV makes more sense.


Posted by:

Gavin
09 Dec 2011

I bought one, brought it home, set it up and nothing happened. I took it back and I told the genius in the store that I bought it from that it didn't work. She asked a key question (one that she could have asked before I took it home) "what kind of LAPTOP do you have?". Immaterial, I replied, that's not where my movies are. "Oh", she said, "it only works with LAPTOP computers (or desktops with the equivalent wireless cards)". I found another option which I bought. From another store.


Posted by:

Laurel
09 Dec 2011

I have had an Apple TV device for over a year now. If it died tomorrow, I would be at the store the following day buying another. The main thing I use it for is to stream from Netflix to my big TV, but I sometimes stream YouTube videos, TED lectures and other podcasts, and even occasionally listen to radio on it. And there's nothing like viewing one's vacation pictures (stored on MobileMe until I move them to iCloud) on the big TV.

I've never had a Roku or any of the other competing devices, but I can say the Apple TV is a great little gadget at a great little price.


Posted by:

john
09 Dec 2011

It requires Itunes on your PC?! Disgusting.

Probably impossible to uninstall. No thanks, but thanks Bob for the review.

jbs/


Posted by:

Greg
09 Dec 2011

I wonder what file formats does it handle? Apple is notorious for its limitations. MP4 ? MKV ? What about non Apple audio eg AC3 - inside a movie, or MP3 standalone? And picture formats such as jpg and png?

I see it does note have a USB port so it cant play from a USB stick or HDD connected by USB.
(as my WD TV Live does)

The devil is always in the details.
I have been after a friend to bring his over for a year.
Currently, I have a Western Digital TV Live (NOT Plus) that has significant problems, eg AAC 5.1 downgrades to stereo.

User comments and experiences would be appreciated.
Thanks


Posted by:

Cho
09 Dec 2011

We prefer Media Center 7. We do all of the above plus other cool Media things; with no need for an additional "box". Plus, an ATSC tuner gets OTA brodcasts to Store/Watch at our whim.


Posted by:

Sally
10 Dec 2011

I have the Apple TV, the Roku & an internet ready blu ray disc player. Each has it's positives and negatives. If I absolutely had to give up one of them it would be the blu ray. I guess the thing I would say about that is if having the wifi capability adds $$ to the price, I wouldn't do that again.

I am glad I have both the Roku and the Apple TV though. Somethings they duplicate but I like having them both because of the things they don't share.

I use the Apple TV for watching things I've purchased from iTunes. I also use it for watching some of their podcasts. Roku is adding some of that same stuff now, like the NBC content. I also like being able to listen to my iTunes music via Apple TV. And I like being able to stream pictures to my TV as a screen saver. People who come to visit like that too. :)

I just got an iPad. I haven't figured out how to use that as the remote yet. Need to do that. I also need to figure out the iCloud stuff.

If you like playing with gadgets, like I do, and are curious about the whole streaming to TV thing, I would definately recommend you get an Apple TV. Especially if you have and iTunes account already.

One thing I am appreciating about Apple TV right now is that all my content is stored on my computer. AT&T is now limiting my internet streaming. :( I need to check into another provider I think. Anyway, I do have some content on Amazon but that requires streaming. This is not a huge issue, it's just an irritating one. So when I watch my iTunes content I don't have to think.... I'm using up my AT&T allowance.


Posted by:

Charles Denzler
10 Dec 2011

FYI - Roku boxes also allow you to view other good stuff like CNET, Leo Laporte's TWIT shows, and live stuff from NASA.


Posted by:

Laurel
10 Dec 2011

Greg, check here for details about the formats:
http://www.apple.com/appletv/specs.html

Like I said in my other post, I love the thing. I also have a DVD player that can stream Netflix on our other TV, but seldom use it. I have never liked DVDs (I actually prefer VHS to them for the ease of running the video backwards or forwards), so will never buy another DVD player. Streaming is the way to go. This is a good and affordable device for doing that, but I'm sure there are other good devices as well.


Posted by:

Tony
11 Dec 2011

I don't get it. Where does Apple make its money on this device. Is there a subscription fee? If you already have a Netflix account do you have to resubscribe through Apple? Thanks for any further info.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Apple makes money when you download stuff from iTunes.


Posted by:

Peter
12 Dec 2011

Is it possible to download a blu-ray movie, with a DSL (slow) modem , and store it on a hard drive , then play it back, from the hard drive, in real time, at full resolution? I've wondered about this for a long time.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If it's something that you'd normally have to purchase or pay to watch, then no. At least not legally.


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