Apple TV is one of the less well known members of the Steve Jobs’ digital offspring, and despite its decent credentials as a media player it still feels like the black sheep among the radiant iMacs, iPhones and iPads. This latest version has dropped the standard white casing in favour of a matt-black look, while shaving down the dimensions to make it as unobtrusive as possible.
The big news is that Apple has dispensed with the hard disk, so unlike the original Apple TV this incarnation is purely a streamer. Built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet connect it to the world, and the only outputs are an HDMI socket and an optical digital audio out. There’s also a mini-USB for service, but good luck hacking this one – it runs on a version of Apple’s iOS.
Simple really is an understatement when it comes to streaming, with much of the emphasis being put on movie rentals from iTunes. In just a few clicks you can watch a preview, make a selection and the film is streamed straight to the little box. New titles are typically £3.49-£4.49 each. Normal iTunes offerings are standard-def, but with Apple TV you can get content in 720p HD.
If you’re worried about your net connection stuttering just as the Alien erupts from John Hurt’s chest, there’s Home Sharing that allows Apple TV to access your entire iTunes library and play it out through your TV and sound system. And rather spiffy it looks and sounds, too.
For those too lazy to fire up their computer, AirPlay lets you stream movies, TV and music direct from your iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad. Just set the content running, choose AirPlay and it’s instantly streamed over the home network to the Apple TV and onto your screen.
Annoyingly there’s no BBC iPlayer – something that could well have swayed those still to be convinced – and the internet radio interface is fairly basic.
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Full HD omission
The fact the new model is limited to 720p is also frustrating. It’s not that pictures look terrible – even on a 50in screen, they’re impressive, although with some occasional, obvious pixellation – but rather that we know some online content has much more to offer. The sound is big, exciting and detailed, both through HDMI and the optical out.
Typically, the neat, aluminium-clad Apple remote that comes as standard is a bit finicky, needing a firm and steady aim at the little unit to work reliably. Much better is the free remote app for iPhone and iPod Touche, which puts artwork and all that stuff in the palm of your hand. Without it, Apple TV is much less attractive.
Apple has done well to take an axe to the price, with a sub-£100 pricetag likely to prove much more tempting, but a few extra features could have completed the picture.