We were prepared to be underwhelmed by Apple TV. After all, it’s just a streaming box with more limitations than is healthy, right? Kind of. But it’s also much more than that. We were expecting the Apple TV to bring the simplicity and elegance of the iPod to our tellies. What we weren’t expecting was for it to deliver the hackability that makes it a geek essential.
Setup and go
Wireless kit is notoriously tricky to set up, but not so with Apple TV. You need to buy your own HDMI cable, but from there on, it’s plug-and-play all the way, with a slick video and intuitive interface getting you wirelessly connected within seconds. What’s more, there’s no power brick and no fan noise.
But what content will Apple TV actually play? “If it’s on iTunes, it’ll work with Apple TV” is Apple’s mantra, but that’s not quite true. Despite having an HDMI output, the box can only play standard-def video or 720p hi-def footage. And more worryingly, Apple TV can only cope with MP4 and H.264 file formats, so a huge amount of video content is not compatible. Still, QuickTime Pro (£20) will convert many unprotected video formats.
More than just streaming
It may have its video limitations, but Apple TV is more than just a simple streaming device: it’s an iPod for your TV. Just tell iTunes on your Mac or PC what you want to copy to the 40GB hard drive, and it’ll start synching from iTunes and iPhoto, or Photoshop Album on a PC. This means you don’t have to have your PC switched on to use Apple TV, which raises it head and shoulders above the competition.
A bit of ‘creativity’ will bring even more functionality. Replacing the 2.5in hard-drive with a 120GB job morphs it into a media juggernaut. Installing Apache (see appletvhacks.net) turns it into an open-source web server. And opening Apple TV to install the Quicktime plug-in Perian will let you play all those naughty DivX files.
Of course, such nefarious activities aren’t everyone’s bag, so Apple TV has some nice future-proofing options for more official updates. There’s support for the latest 802.11n flavour of Wi-Fi, and also a mysterious USB port, which has no official use but could in future be used for connecting a Freeview tuner.
All this functionality makes Apple TV an excellent streamer – as long as you use iTunes. If not, Netgear’s forthcoming EVA 8000, the Xbox 360 Elite and the PS3 are better options for chucking media wirelessly onto your telly.