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Apple TV 2nd Gen (2010) review

Gordon Kelly

By

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

If Apple was a superhero it would be called 'The Polisher'. That is the key skill Steve Jobs has instilled in his company and to such a degree rivals rarely match it. The problem is polish can't fix everything...

The latest case for the prosecution: Apple TV. In the run up to Apple's second generation product hype was abound that 'iTV' would be essentially a screen-less iPod touch with HDMI output, running iOS and featuring full integration with the all conquering App Store. In reality we got a tiny new form factor with an enhanced UI and reduced price tag. It was, quite frankly, underwhelming. It is also stunningly well polished.

As with all Jobsian products, unwrapping Apple TV is a pleasure in itself. The box is minimalist, it slides open seductively and the presentation is fantastic: the device positioned snugly at the top with the power cable and instructions kept neatly below. HTC has learnt a great deal from Apple in this regard, but Apple is still the packaging king.

It is still the design king as well. If you thought the new iPod nano was small compared to its predecessor, then the Apple TV will have you shaking your head in disbelief. At just 99 x 99 x 23mm the second generation unit is less than half the size of its 200 x 200 x 28mm forebear. At 270g verses 1.1Kg it is also vastly lighter. In fact it's little bigger than an ashtray. The matte black finish of the top and bottom also contrast beautifully with the glossy sides and the power, HDMI, micro USB, optical out and Ethernet ports look as if they were carved in by a skilled sculptor.

Setup is polished too. Simply plug in the power, connect the HDMI cable, turn your TV to the correct input and the setup wizard will guide you quickly and smoothly through the setup process. This detects your network if you use WiFi (it is obviously automatic via Ethernet), logs into your iTunes account and discovers media via Home Sharing - be it on other computers or a NAS with iTunes server (as long as a computer connected to it is switched on).

Menus are slick and intuitive with four main categories: 'Movies', 'Internet', 'Computers' and 'Settings'. Movies links to standard and high definition films available for rental in iTunes (£3.49 HD, £2.49 SD, previews are restricted to SD) and theatre trailers (both SD and HD). Internet links to YouTube, iTunes' podcasts, MobileMe, Flickr and iTunes' radio stations. Computers shows the individual computers sharing your iTunes account with direct access to their iTunes content. Settings gives access to parental contracts, screen saver settings, media playback preferences (subtitles, repeat, playlists, etc), Airplay and putting Apple TV to sleep. And... and... and that's it.

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.

BobaFett

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.

Omar

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 - http://blog.gsmarena.com/iphon... ) 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.

Pbryanw

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?

rav

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.

BOFH UK

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.

Premfab

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!!

supersizeme

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......

Stelph

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

HamSandwich

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





Alan.

ffrankmccaffery

October 20, 2010, 12:10 am

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

Keithe6e

October 21, 2010, 2:14 am

@ffrankmccaffery: You forgot to include 'ecosystem'





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

mikfrak

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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