My first thoughts on the Second Generation AppleTV

My AppleTV arrived a while ago and I thought it might be time to share initial reactions.

My first reaction is that it was a mighty breath of fresh air in our TV room.  We dropped cable tv a few weeks ago and moved an old G4 mac into our TV room to support iTunes content.  That combination was fine, but the big and load G4 was more of an annoyance.  The mess of cables, keyboard, mouse, UPS, etc was just something get in the way.  Getting all of that out of the TV room was a big improvement.  Instead of a huge noisy box with a mess of cables, we now have a tiny box with just a power cord and HDMI cable.

The AppleTV is relatively easy to use.  It has a simple interface that even my 3 year old can use.  It also small enough to move around to other rooms, should you want to watch content on another TV and don’t want to buy another box.  So far, the watching experience using iTunes, Netflix, and YouTube has been quite good.

One thing I haven’t yet tried (and need to try) is set the Parental Controls.  We failed to use Parental Controls on Comcast’s system and that cost us $5 in an unwatched movie (thanks to our 3 year old).  Fortunately, right now it’s impossible to rent (or buy) anything since I haven’t set up the accounts.

The overall interface, however, is clearly geared to the iTunes store to rent content.  I don’t know how much of that I plan to do in the future (it’s reasonable to rent in some cases), so it’s slightly annoying that so much of the interface is based on content I’m not going to access very often.  Hence, parental controls is a must if I enter any iTunes account information.

The only real problem with the device I’ve noticed so far is hangs trying to access remote iTunes libraries.  Since the AppleTV has no hard drive, it’s critical to have good networking to the machines that are hosting the source iTunes libraries.  It appears, at times, it has a lot of trouble connecting to libraries and only pulling the plug on the device helped.  However, it’s unclear whether this is a problem with the device, with iTunes, or with my home network (non-apple 802.11n set up).  It could also be that the computers go to sleep and the connects do not update properly.  Either way, it can be annoying.

An indirect problem with this set up is the inability to set ratings on music and video content in iTunes.  I would love to be able to tag rating to all my content which would allow me to specifically allow or disallow what my kids can access in my iTunes library.  Without that ability, I find I have to have, at a minimum, 2 iTunes libraries: a master library, and a kids library.  The kids library contains just what I think is okay for them to watch/listen.  Right now, that means I have libraries set up on two different computers (although, come to think of it, it might be possible for me to do it on the same computer, which would be better since only one of the libraries would be available at a time).

The most surprising thing about the AppleTV is how much more I play music in the TV room.  We did have a Generation 1 iPod connected to the stereo, but we never used it.  We forgot what was on it, didn’t want to bother managing it, etc.  With the AppleTV, we have full access to all the music – which actually serves as a really good way to get the TV off and the kids playing.

Why I am getting an AppleTV

I’ve been wanting to get an AppleTV for years, but I’ve never pulled the trigger until now.  The machines were always reported as hot (and I recollect reports of noise).  Worse, it probably wouldn’t have worked on our TV.  The final nail was that it was too expensive for the risk of not doing the job we wanted.

An  AppleTV is mainly a way to view your iTunes content on your TV.  Up until the new version, the AppleTV was a hard-drive based system that synced content to you main iTunes library on your computer.  The new (and much cheaper) version dumps the syncing and the hard drive and adds a few more outside connections like Netflix.  Furthermore, the new version is tiny and very quiet.

So, what changed my mind?

First, we decided to drop Cable TV.  We  spend way too much money on TV.  Given the shows we watch, we realized that most of what we want to see is on broadcast TV, Hulu, netflix, or other web sites.  The shows that aren’t freely available on the net are often easily purchased while still saving money over the cost of  Cable TV.  Thus, if we choose to buy, we would have an avenue to play the shows both on the computer and on TV (Amazon doesn’t work with macs, AFAIK, and thus gets ruled out).

Second, we made the move to HDTV.  It’s not much of a move; we sold our existing TV and are using my HD-capable computer monitor as an HDTV.  Interestingly, the size of this TV (24-inch) really shows the fact that 1080p is really only useful at 50 inches or large and that when we eventually upgrade (between 32-40 inches), 720p is enough.

Third, we have invested in the iTunes universe.

Forth, I want to minimize out-of-the-home networking.  Other boxes exist that can handle iTunes content, but understanding is the content is  pushed to outside servers and then to the box.  My internet provide does cap the amount of bandwidth I can use in a month (breaking that cap can lead to disconnection).  Thus, I don’t want any bandwidth wasted on that sort of thing.

Fifth, the AppleTV is not a computer.  When we made the decision to drop Cable TV, we reluctantly moved a computer in our family room to play iTunes content.  It is impossible to use as a computer, it’s really noisy, and takes way way too much power and space for the room.  We want it gone ASAP.

Sixth, the AppleTV is really small and has few cables.  There are many reasons this is good.  But a surprising one is that the simpler the set up, the easier it is to move into other rooms.  Eventually, we want a small HDTV in another room so easily moving the box would be great.

The AppleTV for use is a “No Brainer”.  The cost is relatively low risk if we decide we don’t like it (anything over $100 is getting up there, and anything over $200 is flat out of the picture – it’s just friggin TV after all).  The announcement of the new version shifted our focus from buying a blu-ray player (after all, the size of the TV we have wouldn’t do blu-ray justice anyway) and allows us to consider the possibility of replacing our TV with something a little larger.

I’ll report more once the device arrives.