Apple TV is being called a hobby by some, and it looks like a work in progress. But it shines in several ways that makes it worth its $99 price tag.
Apple TV is an interesting product. On one hand, it's the "hobby" that so many called its predecessor. On the other hand, it's a fantastic entertainment device that delivers on Apple's promise of improving the consumer experience in the living room.
Simply put, the new Apple TV is a work in progress. And with a few improvements here and there, Apple could eventually have yet another home run on its hands.
The Apple TV is tiny. As Apple CEO Steve Jobs pointed out at the Sept. 1 event unveiling the new set-top box, it's about one-quarter the size of the original Apple TV.
The device's size makes it perfect for any entertainment center. And since its black, it's easily concealed during the day or at night when folks are watching movies or television shows.
The Apple TV boasts few inputs on the back. It includes a power port, an HDMI port, optical audio, and an Ethernet jack. That's it. For those with the latest home-entertainment set-up, that should be enough. Consumers hoping for component connections or more audio options are out of luck. They might not like it, but the Apple TV is designed to be cheap and simple to use. Having a slew of ports wouldn't reflect that.
It's also important to note that the Apple TV doesn't include a hard drive, as did its predecessor. Although some thought that would be an issue, it turns out that it really isn't. Streaming content to the Apple TV takes no time, thanks to the device's Ethernet and Wireless-N support. In fact, a hard drive wasn't missed during testing.
Getting the Apple TV up and running takes virtually no time. Users only need to connect an HDMI cable from the Apple TV to their television, plug the device in and it's ready to go. Initial set-up takes about a minute. After that, the entire Apple TV feature-set is available for the taking.
The new Apple TV's operating system mimics that of its predecessor. The software includes menus for movies, television shows, Internet services, and more. Owners can use the included Apple TV remote to move around the page, or use the free Remote application available in Apple's App Store. In either case, maneuvering around the Apple TV is a cinch.
As with most other Apple products, the Apple TV's user experience is what sets it apart from the competition. Those who have used the Roku set-top box know that it's sometimes hard to navigate the clunky software. Apple's software, on the other hand, is simple and intuitive. And it makes for a rewarding experience.
As with any set-top box, the value of the Apple TV needs to come from the content it offers. And unfortunately, that's one place where the device falls short.
The Apple TV allows users to stream movies and television shows for $4.99 ($3.99 for older HD titles) and $0.99, respectively. It also provides access to Netflix's Instant Streaming service. In addition, the Apple TV features YouTube, Flickr, and Internet Radio, but those aren't the device's main attractions.
Unfortunately, Apple has been unable to deliver a compelling entertainment-streaming service with the device. Its list of available films is somewhat lacking, and the company's promise of making content available on the same day as the DVD release doesn't always come true. However, some of the most desired films currently on the market are available on the Apple TV, including Avatar, Robin Hood, and others.
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.