Well, this is it. After 30 days of using the AppleTV I think I can say with confidence exactly what I think about the device from just about every angle.
The AppleTV is a great little device, but (right now, at least) it’s not going to be for everyone…and there are very few people that it’s going to make a viable cable replacement for. Now, we know that there are going to be software updates, and we know that new features are going to integrated into the system over time, but at this time we can only judge it based on what it does now.
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There is no doubt that the box is slick. The interface is great. It’s easy to use, it looks nice, and it keeps everything simple.
I have been extremely satisfied with being able to watch podcasts on my television without having to resort to hackery and customizing a machine for it. I don’t want to hack things – I want to plug them in and have them work. The AppleTV does this very well.
Now, for those of you that DO want to hack things – you’re really going to love the AppleTV. There appear to be endless ways to hack the little device to get it to do just about anything you want. You can even turn it into the world’s cheapest Mac if you are so inclined. All very cool stuff.
The content in iTunes, really, is what keeps it from being a must have. The quality is far too spotty, and even when you guy a season of a series, not every episode is encoded the same way. That’s something that HAS to be changed before this is going to be a device that I can tell everyone to go out and get. It’s very disappointing to drop $30 bucks on a season of a show and find 4 episodes encoded in 4×3, and another one that is apparently low resolution (320×240) (I’m talking about The Office Season 2, here). I could have spent about $10 more at a store and gotten every episode in DVD quality and formatted correctly.
I am a big fan of the concept of downloading it once and having it work on my computer, my iPod, and my television. I think that’s great, and that’s honestly what I want to spend my money on when I’m buying content…but the quality HAS to be there.
Now, not every bit of content to play on your AppleTV has to be purchased. There are tons of videos out there on the web available legally, and for free, and you can watch all of them on your AppleTV in not time flat using Visual Hub. Now, granted, I’m using a Macbook Pro, so if you’re on a Mini it’s going to be slower, but most hour long video files will encode for the AppleTV in about 15 minutes with standard encoding, and about 30 using H.264 (which I highly recommend).
So to break down who this is, and isn’t for, let me say this – if you get most of your entertainment off of the Internet and want to watch it on your TV…get an AppleTV. If you don’t watch a lot of television, and want to keep the shows that you do watch when you watch them – get an AppleTV. If you buy boxsets instead of paying for cable – get an AppleTV.
But if you’re a sports fan, a channel flipper, or a videophyle, don’t get an AppleTV as a primary means of watching entertainment. If you want one to get your downloaded content onto your television, or to watch podcasts, then – by all means – go pick one up.
Now, the big question is – am I going back to cable?
I have found that I watch much less TV using the AppleTV, and I get more work done. I don’t miss the shows that I’m not paying for, and the shows I do buy are shows that I will watch over and over again. The AppleTV is good, but not perfect, solution for me.
I also enjoy having our family photos on the television as a screensaver. My daughter really seems to enjoy that, and I like having my music just a button press away. I find that when I used to turn the TV on for noise, I now switch it over to the music, and I’m enjoying my music collection a lot more than I was before.
So, for me, the AppleTV works, and works well. I believe that the quality issues will be address in the near future, and I hold out hope that we will see HD in iTunes before the end of the year.
I believe that much like the first iPod, there are VAST rooms for improvement in the AppleTV…and I think they’re coming. When they do, this device will be a force to be reckoned with, that even Comcast and Time Warner will have to pay attention to.