Apple TV Initial Impressions

March 27, 2007

Apple TVSomething bad happened yesterday — I wore out yet another keyboard. Worse, while I was at the crack store Fry’s picking up a new one, I walked past a stack of Apple TVs, and one of them followed me home.

Outside of being in the store anyway for the keyboard thing (the “colon” key failed — how the hell can a “colon” key fail? Semicolon works. Shift+anything else works. Try writing HTML or CSS without a colon key), I probably wouldn’t have been as tempted to get one right now if it hadn’t been for the high rate of very interesting hacks emerging for the Apple TV over the past few days — I’m guessing Apple has hit another one out of the park.

The unit comes boxed more or less like an iPod — fold-open box in a slip case, “Made by Apple in California”, etc.

Not a cable in sight, other than the power cord (boo).

At least the power cord doesn’t have a huge transformer brick on it (yea!).

Hooking it up was simple — component video cables to the display, digital optical audio to the stereo receiver, ethernet to the network switch.

Well, it was simple because I had the cables handy — don’t buy expensive cables for this folks — go to monoprice and you can buy a set, two spares, and have them shipped overnight for less than you can buy a single set at most big box electronics stores.

A lot less.

Power on, a nifty animation lets you know that the video and audio are hooked up right. Once that stops, it immediately gives you the option to sync to an iTunes installation on your network.

I had a “duh” moment and kept looking for it under Preferences | AppleTV (having noticed that dialog on the last update) — it actually appears first down on the left side, where the iPods show up. Select the AppleTV, type in the passkey that the AppleTV shows, and you’re all set.

Alternatively, you can skip this and just stream from iTunes. You get to sync to one installation, and stream from a handful of others (I’ve heard 5, but I’m not sure if that’s 5 plus one sync, or 5 total.)

The interface is predictably pretty and intuitive — much like Front Row dragged an iPod behind the bleachers and had its way with it, and the resulting love child was swaddled in Coverflow…

All in all, it’s very nice.

Of course, I don’t have any video to speak of in iTunes, other than the occasional video podcast, and I’m even less likely to buy video from iTMS than I am to transcode a bunch of my other content to H.264, so over the long haul, my enjoyment of this is going to depend largely on how efforts to shoehorn in xvid and divx content proceed.

On the other hand, it does have a dandy interface for playing iTunes music, but at $299 it’s a rather expensive alternative to an iPod dock.

Only time will tell, but I’ve got a feeling this is going to be pretty nifty over the long haul.

There were MP3 players before the iPod (let me know if you want a couple), but it took Apple’s genius at packaging the iTunes experience and a brilliant interface with one to make it a mainstream product.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Apple TV is about to do the same with the media player market.

Apple TV

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