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.
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.
- Stylish, thin design
- Quick, straightforward setup and configuration
- Intuitive, user-friendly GUI
- 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.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.