I’ve been looking for a better way to use my HDTV lately. The Xbox360 (and XBox 1 running XBMC) I currently have works fine but the biggest issue I have with it, when watching any kind of media is how loud it is. Specifically the fan(s) inside it and the (now obsolete) HDDVD drive. It’s fine when you’re playing Halo 3 or Team Fortress because the games are usually loud and I have the stereo cranked. But when you’re trying to watch a movie or tv show, the fans are just annoying.
So after hearing from Tod about his experience with the recent ‘Take Two’ software upgrade, I decided to take the plunge and pick one up – the 40gb model since that’s all the store had in stock. I figured I could always return it if it wasn’t quite was I was looking for (and/or upgrade to the 160gb version if I decided I need more storage).
Setup was quick and simple. The package consists of the Apple TV unit itself, a remote (just like you get with most Macs) and a power cable. That’s it. No other cables are included. It has a number of connection options on the back as you can see above. I connected to my TV via a HDMI cable. My TV’s audio is connected to my stereo separately so I was done with the setup. I powered it on and was treated to a cool, but brief, intro movie and then a menu similar (but different) to Front Row on a Mac. I figured I would need to download the software update since it had just come out and that process took about 10 minutes.
Once I was back up and running again (after 3 restarts while the firmware upgraded) I started connecting things up. If you launch iTunes on another local machine on your network, you’ll be given the option to add the Apple TV to your iTunes. The Apple TV will provide a pairing code that you need to enter on your computer in order to allow them to talk to each other. Once that was done, it started syncing my iTunes library from my iMac to the Apple TV (which you can turn off if you just want to stream content).
I was most interested in the Flickr integration and so far, it almost makes the purchase worthwhile for me on it’s own, let alone the other things which I’ll talk about in a minute. There is a Flickr option in the Photos menu. While you can easily access any photos you have on your other computers (PC or Mac), having the ability to pull in Flickr directly is amazing. You add Flickr accounts to the menu screen and by simply putting in your username, it goes and grabs all your public photos (well, links to them at least). You can browse all your sets and photos from here. You can also browse your contacts as well and add them to the accounts list. There is a ‘recent photos’ option at the top of your list so you can view the last 500 (!) photos on the account. I wish there was a ‘your contacts latest’ option like there is on the Flickr homepage. Once you start viewing the photos, you can set the transitions, music, speed, etc of the slideshows. There is a much cooler screensaver option built into the Apple TV that I wish was a transition option which is simply a random bunch of images (from a set you choose or the recents) that just float up the screen in various sizes. Then after a minute or two, the images rotate around in 3D and keep floating up. It’s really pretty cool. I made a quick video of it:
Another compelling thing was that I had seen online was the podcast functions were vastly improved and that there is quite a lot of cool HD content available. To me, this is where the future of online media is going. Despite my HD DVD purchase, I had pretty much given up on physical media as a way to get video content and the Apple TV seems to be one of the better ways to access that online repository. Sure the Xbox has movie rentals but it doesn’t have access to Podcasts or easy access to the rest of my ‘digital life’ like my music or my photos. There is something to be said for seamless integration across my network.
There is also the ability to rent movies directly off the device, with many available in HD. Unfortunately, you need a US iTunes account to access all the really good stuff but Canada is supposed to get more later this year. Fortunately I have a US account although someone managed to spend the last of the store credit so I won’t be able to try out the HD movie rentals until I get a refill card next time I’m across the line. There is a fair bit of free content available and you can preview everything which is great.
I’ll let you know if a few weeks if it was worthwhile but so far I don’t see this thing going back to the store.