Apple TV 2nd Gen (2010) - The So Very Bad

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly



Our Score:


In a nutshell the problem with Apple TV is not what it does or how it does it, but what it doesn't do. Some of this is country specific: there are no TV show rentals in the UK iTunes store so they have to be bought and downloaded on a computer then streamed to Apple TV. A licensing problem rather than Apple's fault, surely? No. In being so small the second generation Apple TV has stripped out the hard disk meaning no downloads. There is 8GB of NAND flash, but strangely this is reserved entirely for cache. The result is the Apple TV is still heavily dependent on the computers in your house and needs them to be switched on for everything other than renting films or browsing YouTube and Flickr.

This limitation is just the tip of the iceberg. The move to an iOS core (despite no App Store access) has seen it also adopt the same Apple A4 chipset (ARM Cortex A4 CPU, PowerVR SGX535 graphics) as the iPad and iPhone 4 meaning it isn't capable of 1080p video play back. Whether you see this as essential or not, it's an embarrassing omission for a media player released in late 2010.

Can you overlook the lack of storage, 1080p content and TV rental? If so you'll need strong stomachs to make up for the most fundamental flaw in Apple TV: its codec support. Apple has built its success on providing beautiful user experiences within tightly walled gardens and why Apple TV has struggled up to now is because this is diametrically opposed to the freedom required in building a good media player. Apple TV supports just H.264 video encoded in M4V, MP4 or MOV as well as AAC audio, MP3, Apple lossless, AIFF, WAV plus JPEGS, GIF and TIFF. Compare that with the WDTV, which arguably kicked off the renewed interest in media players in 2008 - codec support reads:



Video - AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG1/2/4), MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG1/2/4, VC-1), TS/TP/M2T (MPEG1/2/4, AVC, VC-1), MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264), M2TS, WMV9

Playlist - PLS, M3U, WPL

Subtitle -SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI

There is simply no comparison, especially with 1080p video support also included. Yes you can't buy content through the player directly, but you can buy content from ANY online store (including iTunes) on your computer and stream it or connect an external HDD and it will playback just fine.

Then there's the issue of price. £99.99 may not seem like a lot given it is less than its predecessor, but there are more comprehensive rivals like the WDTV HD (£79.99), Asus O!Play HDP-R1 HD (£86.99) and Roku ($79, but awaiting UK release) which offer better value for money. Furthermore the $99.99 RRP (£62) for the Apple TV in the US means UK customers have the right to feel short changed, especially given the reduced content available.


Only the most hardcore of Apple fanatics will find the Apple TV to be a worthwhile purchase. This is a tragedy because Apple has demonstrated it knows exactly how to build a stunning, intuitive and (in the US at least) inexpensive media player that has the potential to take the market by storm. Apple's restrictive principles mean it will never likely achieve the success so easily within its grasp. Some flaws simply can't be polished out.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Value 6
  • Features 4
  • Design 9

Occam's Razor

October 16, 2010, 12:33 pm

They have released it in a beta format.

I would like to see this re-reviewed in 6 months when it has changed into a must have gadget.


October 16, 2010, 2:33 pm

For the remotely tech savvy (i.e. all of the TR audience) it does seem to miss the mark by quite a way compared to its competitors.

P.S. While the markup is extortionate, the UK equivalent price including VAT is $99 / 1.5991 * 117.5% = £72.74. Although VAT will soon rise to a crippling 20%, making that £74.29. Either way it's at least a 33% markup which is way more than Apple's usual 12% for computers and iPads.

A Scotland

October 16, 2010, 2:37 pm

Hmmm. I think this review misunderstands the target market (admittedly I skimmed it so apologies if this is mentioned somewhere). I bought this with a view to (after having a play myself) giving it to my 60 year old parents purely as a HD movie rental solution. Convenience, polish and ease of use. If it actually did what it promised it would have been perfect for them.

The major flaw here is that it simply does not work. I and loads of others have had the following major problems:-

1. Everytime the device is turned off (sleep) for any period of time and turned back on then it forgets your wifi settings. It doesn't tell you this and appears to be still connected but nothing works. Eventually you figure it out and have to re-enter the wifi password to reconnect;

2. Every now and then it fails to recognise your computer so it cannot stream your media;

3. It seems the apple servers are overwhelmed or there is a problem with the device, because even on my 20mbps connection I have to wait 30 mins plus for an HD movie to buffer before it begins playing. This defeats the whole point of the device. It is one of the few features boasted about on the packaging and it simply does not work.

Did TR not encounter any of these difficulties with the test? I wonder if you have been given access to a "special" version of apple tv or a server dedicated to journalists? Or maybe you were testing off peak and that made a difference. Be interested to know as if it eventually works I will keep it (for my parents ;)) otherwise I will take it back.

A Scotland

October 16, 2010, 2:42 pm

Forgot to mention the boast that you can use your iphone to control it is also a con. There is too much lag for this to be anything other than a frustrating gimmick.

Checked out WDTV but am I right in thinking this just allows you to stream content you own? In which case it is not really a comparable product. Apple TV is mainly about renting content from Apple's catalogue.

Tim Sutton

October 16, 2010, 4:21 pm

@Occam's Razor

In 6 months this waste of time will be a 6 month older waste of time.


October 16, 2010, 4:47 pm

2 points. Firstly the Apple A4 chipset is capable of 1080p playback (as has ben shown on the iPhone4 - ) hence the 720p limitation must be in software.

Secondly, since it's iOS based, I'm hoping someone makes the effort to jailbreak it and allow it to play MKVs (amongst other formats) which would make it so much more useful.


October 16, 2010, 6:05 pm

Yes, throw in the codec support of a WDTV, 1080P support, and a much wider range of iTunes video content, and I'd think they'd be on to something. As it is, I can't see, even in its next incarnation, Apple letting the Apple TV out of its walled garden. Which is a shame, as I bet its UI would put other media boxes to shame. So, I'll stick with my WDTV for now.

Digital Fury

October 16, 2010, 7:03 pm

I agree with the review. However all my music/videos, in either original or as down-sampled copies, if available under iTunes on my main Mac. The whole family is using iPhone, iPods and/or iPads, so it's easier that way for everybody to access/manage the content from there.

While I have no idea if this 2nd gen unit will sell better than the 1st, I did buy one to make that content available on our TV as well.

Tom 5

October 16, 2010, 8:21 pm

I'm not sure why many people would bother with this product. My WDTV is serving me just great and it's approaching 2 years of solid use, its small, portable and has followed me on many of my travels. Would definitely like a more responsive remote, better UI and networking/streaming options but Apple TV is not much of an update if it does not play the majority of codecs!

What about the LaCie LaCinema Classic HD. They have a range of products with DLNA, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, upto 2TB of storage with 3 USB slots for adding portable drives and format support that trumps the WDTV. Can you review one of these?


October 16, 2010, 11:11 pm

Support for MKV? I wouldn't bet your mortgage on it. Just allowing media to be played off of USB would make this infinitely better, even if it was only limited to Apple sanctioned formats.


October 17, 2010, 1:01 am

Couple of quick points that I haven't seen above:

1) The killer feature for AppleTV could well end up being AirPlay. Being able to throw any video you like, from any source you like, on to your TV from an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad is a very interesting development and has the potential to be a game changer.

2) It's not there yet but looking to the future this could explode if Apple manage to secure subscription-based agreements with the content providers. IF they can get those deals signed (and, presumably, use their shiny new data centre to push the content without issues) then your Apple TV suddenly becomes a valid alternative to a satellite or cable box.

Other than that... it's still a flawed product but I don't for a moment think that the limited codec support or lack of 1080p is a major problem for it. Apple isn't really pitching this at the geeks, we've seen that devices in that market don't sell particularly well anyway, they're trying to create a whole new market for this sort of device. The hardware they have is perfect for that, what's currently missing is the content. Ultimately it'll all come down to whether or not the content providers will play ball, until then this really is best thought of as a media extender for your iTunes library, at least in the UK.


October 17, 2010, 1:34 pm

I didn't bother with the previous Apple TV and I'm not going to bother with this either.

The product is underwhelming.

I agree with the article - there are other players that do it better and cheaper.

But still, this being an Apple product, people will be queueing!!


October 17, 2010, 5:56 pm

I have the WDTV live and the Apple TV - WDTC wins hands down. Its not so much the interface as the apple Tv is lovely and simple yet very intuitive, its just that so much of my video content is avi, mkv etc and it would take a month of sundays to rip these into an itunes friendly format just for the necessity of having to use itunes. For someone who has only a small amount of locally held media, uses itunes for all music and is looking to stream videos from the internet then the apple tv is a really nice product, but as a media streaming device the WDTV live is streets ahead.

But I guess therein lies the answer, most people probably dont have lots of films on their PC, and this is the box that introduces them to media streaming.

For £99 all in it will sell well. Its the reason I bought one. I shall undoubtedly jailbreak it and/or keep updating and see how it develops. It certainly is a noce small neat device, but so is my WDTV live......


October 18, 2010, 2:45 pm

I have one, picked it up in the US the other week while I was there since the Apple exchnage rate really makes it worth it! Think everything about this has already been said but really it was the ideal option for me over something like the WDTV or Popcorn hour because:

1) I have owned an iPhone/iPod touch for several years so have very much bought into the Apple ecosystem with Apps and films, therefore all my digital copies of films have all been ripped from DVD and encoded by Handbrake and loaded into iTunes so I can play them back on my iPod/iPhone, getting an ATV when using iTunes as the central media hub is a no-brainer in that case, although it would have been nice to be able to sync as opposed to just stream from my PC. However I have to say the old ATV did give me some syncing problems (the slowest syncing times EVER) where as the new ATV is very fast at streaming even 720p films

2) Very interested to use the ATV in conbination with my iPhone when browsing the web using Airplay! I tend to surf the web at home now on my iPhone and I often come across videos that I would like to watch on my TV as opposed to the iPhone, so sending it to the ATV with Airplay will be a great addition when it is released

3) I very much believe that APple will release an app store in the near future, and that it will not only release media consumption apps (Project Canvas? Lovefilm?) but also games as well and so will improve the ATV even more


October 18, 2010, 3:58 pm

I think many people are missing the point of what the Apple TV 2 is for.

Bottom line is: Non-iTunes/Apple users move along; nothing for you to see here. This device is not for you. Codec-junkies out there will be much better served by one of the other devices mentioned in the comments.

However, if you have bought into the Apple/iTunes ecosystem, have a large collection of media, nicely organised in iTunes and are interested in getting that content to your TV, then take a look. You will probably be impressed, especially if you have an iPad (ideally), iPod Touch or iPhone to control the thing.

I've not suffered any of the problems mentioned above, setup took 2 minutes and the deice is stable. I've not tried all the features yet, but the menus are slick, films look great, YouTube works perfectly, It's a very classy piece of kit.

I bought this thing primarily as a means of easily accessing my iTunes music library in my living room, with all play lists, album art and other iTunes specific metadata intact, a feature that AFAIK none of the other players can do. It does this flawlessly with a simple intuitive interface, and for me this is worth the £100 alone. The other features are a bonus.

The price differential between here and the US is just a way of life. Same things cost different amounts in different parts of the world. It's a bit annoying I know, but I think it's time to get over that.

Alan Edwards47c

October 19, 2010, 5:04 pm

Here's why I'm getting one:

1) It's cheap

2) Everything is in iTunes for my iPod anyway

3) I can keep podcasts on my iPod, and stream them to the Apple TV over AirPlay, play them in the car or listen to them at work, and the current position and played/unplayed flags sort themselves out

4) DLNA on my Bluray player just doesn't work



October 20, 2010, 12:10 am

@Alan Edwards: You forgot to include 'ecosystem' in your post and point #4 is a real peach.


October 21, 2010, 2:14 am

@ffrankmccaffery: You forgot to include 'ecosystem'

This is true, but he was able to do them without Flash. :)


September 20, 2011, 6:45 am

I have just discovered that films rented off iTunes will not play through my Samsung TVs, one a couple of years old and one brand new, because they are not authorised to play protected content. I bought the very expensive HDMI connector for my iPad precisely because I thought I would be able to use it as an occasional media centre and play back rented movies on the big screen. I consider myself reasonably well informed about gadget issues but I have never seen anything about this. I was about to buy an Apple TV, but now I am not so sure. How can I be sure that videos I rent through iTunes will play back on my TVs? I have just blown £35 on a tiny piece of plastic that is simply useless. As long as the big studios are allowed to get away with unfair restraints on trade no wonder people resort to piracy. Surely at the very least Apple and online rental sites should be forced to make it clear in no uncertain terms in large letters that you may not be able to watch your purchase? It is an absolute scandal. I am amazed that sites like your own do not do more to publicise this issue. You have done many articles on digital devices for TVs, but I haven't seen one mention of the fact the restrictions may render them totally useless.

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