Apple TV’s drawbacks outweigh its benefits

After more than a week of using, testing, and cracking open the Apple TV, I have yet to understand why anyone would pay $299 for a very limited, albeit easy to configure and use, media player.

You can see me testing and cracking open the apple TV in these galleries:
Unboxing and testing the Apple TV
Cracking open the Apple TV

I initially thought the Apple TV would be a great product. Here's a device that would let me store HD content on my computer and watch it on my widescreen TV. I could even purchase the TV shows I missed last week and watch them at my leisure. I definitely thought the Apple TV's benefits would outweigh its drawbacks. I was wrong.

Unboxing and testing the Apple TV

Pros:

  • Stylish, thin design
  • Quick, straightforward setup and configuration
  • Intuitive, user-friendly GUI

 

Cons:

  • Requires iTunes
  • Limited to one synced iTunes library
  • Limited to five streaming iTunes libraries
  • No USB device support
  • Extremely limited, overpriced iTunes content selection
  • Poor iTunes video quality

 

While I assume many of the Apple TV's limitations are designed to prevent piracy, the measures are far too restrictive for me. I should be able to access and play any supported media file on my computer, whether or not I use iTunes. Storing content on the Apple TV should be a simple copy and paste procedure. I should be able to stream content from an unlimited number of sources. I should be able to connect an iPod to the Apple TV's USB port and stream content—Microsoft's Xbox 360 does this quite nicely. At the very least, Apple should offer a wider selection of television shows and movies through iTunes and dramatically increase the quality of the content it does offer.

During our tests, we purchased Star Trek VIII: First Contact from iTunes. At $14.99, this decade-old title is way over priced. You can buy the two-disc DVD collectors edition, released in 2005, for $10.99 from Amazon.

I can pay $10.99 for two DVDs that include loads of special features, offer a DVD quality image, provide an interactive menu, and are completely portable. Or, I can pay $14.99 for just the movie, which according to Apple's Web site plays at "near DVD-quality". Sure, I have to wait a few days to get the DVD from Amazon, and I may have to pay shipping, but those are minor inconveniences.

Not only was I disappointed by our test movie's price, but the Apple TV's image quality was much worse than other CNET editors and I expected. Given that the Apple TV requires an enhanced definition or high-definition TV, I was confused by our test movie's poor quality, until I looked at the file size. A standard, single layer DVD is usually around 4.4 GB, including menus and special features. Our downloaded copy of Star Trek VIII: First Contact was only 1.19 GB—about 1/4 the size of a normal DVD. Perhaps Apple is trying to conserve iTunes bandwidth, but the image quality on the movie we tested was not worth the $14.99 price.

For those users who love their iPods, want an iPod experience on their television, and don't mind iTunes' limited, over-priced content selection and poor video quality, the Apple TV may be the perfect device. I can find better uses for my $299.