Netflix Instant Streaming Is Apple TVs Saving Grace

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-10-22 Print this article Print


On the television side, it's much, much worse. The Apple TV only includes content from ABC, Disney, and Fox. So, folks hoping for "The Office" or "CSI" won't find it. The device also lacks support for HBO and just about every other major cable network. It's a glaring omission that takes some major points of Apple TV's scorecard. 

But there is a saving grace: Netflix. The rental company's Instant Streaming offering includes a plethora of content, ranging from old classics, such as The Godfather, to more current films. It also boasts every single episode of some recent television classics- Battlestar Galactica, Family Guy, and The Office.

Netflix's Instant Streaming service costs $9 per month, which might turn some away. But consumers hoping to get their hands on an Apple TV will want to pay that price-Netflix is simply integral to the entertainment experience on the Apple TV. 

Streaming Content 

Since the Apple TV lacks a hard drive, streaming all the aforementioned content is central to the set-top box's operation. 

Luckily for Apple, the streaming experience is outstanding. Netflix content loads quickly, and the time between renting content via iTunes and watching it is quite short. Throughout the viewing process, the Apple TV sputtered just a few times on more than a dozen hours of streamed content. That was especially surprising, since most of the shows and movies that can be rented through the Apple TV are in HD. 

Speaking of HD, the quality of the content was impressive. It won't come close to matching Blu-ray (unfortunately, the Apple TV only supports 720p HD content, compared with Blu-ray's 1080p resolution), but it should be more than acceptable to most users. 

All in all, the streaming experience on the Apple TV was generally outstanding. 

Apple's Remote Application

Aside from that, other content-such as music or videos installed elsewhere-must be streamed to the set-top box. 

Streaming that content works extremely well. It takes just a few minutes to link a computer to the Apple TV, and streaming content is as simple as accessing the user's library, picking content, and clicking "play" from the set-top box. 

Apple's Remote application is similarly useful by providing a full listing of the user's iTunes content from within the app. As before, folks need only choose the item they want to play, and it instantly runs on the Apple TV. 

It would have been nice to have been able to buy songs or albums from the Apple TV, but it wasn't the end of the world. In fact, the experience of listening to music on the device was equally as appealing as it was on the original Apple TV, which stored one's content on the device. 

Apple is also keen on a new feature called AirPlay. In essence, consumers using an iOS-based device can start consuming content on their iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, and then beam that to their Apple TV in real-time. Unfortunately, AirPlay is coming with the as-yet released iOS version 4.2, which means it's not yet available to consumers. But it's arguably one of the most anticipated features Apple is readying. 

The Final Word 

The Apple TV is, admittedly, hard to describe. The device is highly functional in some ways and not-so in others. The package is both appealing and disappointing. It's a tale of give-and-take, yin and yang. 

But that doesn't mean it's not worth buying. It might still feel like a hobby, but, at $99, it's priced right. And it's just a few deals between Apple and content providers away from becoming a full-fledged streaming powerhouse. 

So, it's probably worth betting on the Apple TV. It might be facing some stiff competition from the Boxee Box and the upcoming Logitech Revue, but it has real promise. And for $99, it's hard to see how consumers could go wrong, even if it's used as a backup device.

Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for, 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

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