Notes on Apple TV

April 3, 2007

Apple TVOne week in, more-or-less, and I’ve had time to form a few initial impressions.

It pretty much “just works” — the only problem I’ve had (and still have) is using the Harmony through the Xantech remote extender. Annoying, but livable until someone comes out with alternatives.

The interface is still very nice, yet slightly crippled (in Apple’s traditional fashion) by having an interface device that’s short a button. There needs to be some way to do things like “adjust aspect ratio” and “view metadata”, but even if such was built (or hacked) in, there’s not a button on the remote to support it. Video playback could also benefit from “skip forward” and “skip backward” buttons (preferably with configurable durations).

Having access to my music library with a nice interface, plus the ability to conveniently watch video podcasts that I’ve always avoided before (my attention span for watching video on a computer is rather short) is almost worth the price of admission by itself.

Syncing is painfully slow, even with a 100 megabit ethernet connection (tied to a gigabit ethernet backbone). Apparently the transfer speed is the same on wired ethernet as it is on 802.11n — if you have one of the new Airport Extremes and are considering wiring in your Apple TV, don’t bother.

Fortunately, the same speed is more than enough to support streaming just fine; syncing is probably another “don’t bother” thing, unless you’re on a slower connection (802.11g?) — or talking to a slow machine running iTunes.

DVD (or better) grade content transcoded from DivX/xvid looks pretty good.

Transcoding content via Quicktime Pro is painfully slow on a Core Duo MacBook Pro. VisualHub is somewhat faster — erosion vs. glaciation.

I don’t imagine I’m going to be transcoding a substantial amount of content, because a) it’s slow, b) there’s still quality loss, and c) I already have a device in the same location (a PC running Media Portal) that will play Divx/Xvid/h.264 content natively, just fine.

The good news is that the hacking of Apple TV proceeds apace — it looks like someone now has a way in without opening the case. I don’t imagine it will be long before we have a pretty much plug-and-play method to enable Apple TV to view non-Apple encoded content located outside of iTunes.

At which point this box turns the corner towards being brilliant.

[tags]Apple TV, Video, TV, Mac, Quicktime, Visualhub, Divx, Xvid, h.264, iTunes[/tags]

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