Apple TV – First Impressions (meh!)

The Apple TV is part of Apple’s strategy to move to “cloud based” subscription and on-demand services. For music, they already have a large share of the smartphone and music player (e.g. iPod Touch) market. For video (tv shows, films and movies), they need to be in your living room. I received my new Apple TV device last week on the day it was released in the UK.

The design of this product is all Apple. It is sleek. Easy on the eyes. So small – amazingly small.. which is great as it can sit in between some CD’s next to my AV receiver.

Easy to set up – HDMI cable, optical audio if you want that too. Once you have connected the hardware, you navigate the menus with the small remote that is provided and connect to your network (802.11 support – a/b/g compatible). That’s it.

If you don’t want to use the small remote, you can also download an app for your iPhone or iPad (itunes link) that allows you to control the TV over wi-fi. I’d actually recommend that you do this – having the iPhone/iPad keyboard is handy when you want to search for a movie.

The main menu is split into Movies, Internet, Computers and Settings.

Movies – this is currently Apple TV’s prime function. You can rent hundreds of movies from the iTune Store and have them streamed to your player. The video and sound quality is excellent for streamed content. The prices seem a bit high compared with Sky Box Office and other services, but the quality is great and you won’t have a problem finding something to watch with such a large inventory available.

Internet – you have a limited choice of YouTube videos, Flickr, etc. You do not have access via the device to view additional content. Although you do have access to podcasts – which include video and audio programmes.

Computers – you are able to stream music and video from any mac or PC running iTunes 10 (or greater) with home sharing switched on. No access to DLNA enabled computers (e.g. Windows Media, Twonkyvision, TVersity, etc).

My impressions.

The price feels right at £99 in the UK. Anything more than this and it becomes a tougher decision. At this price, I would consider having one in each room of my house that has a TV in it (3).

The product looks and feels awesome. It is an Apple product – what more can I say.

The content is lacking.

In the US, Apple TV shipped with access to TV shows (via rentals), NetFlix apps, etc. The fact that you can rent a movie from Apple is useful if you do not already have Sky Box Office or a PS3.. but that is where – for me – the usefulness ends. Big deal – I can pay Apple a high price to rent a video on demand.

Why no TV Shows? No access via the device to the TV Shows available on iTunes Store.. which makes no sense to me. But not even the BBC iPlayer or other sources of content in the UK. Who cares about access to YouTube? I would expect this device to be a better way to consume the video content that I might watch on my iPad – TED conferences, TV on demand, video blogs, etc. As mentioned earlier, Apple provide podcasts that include some of this type of content but it is limited, the navigation is clunky and the video quality is generally poor (compared to movies).

This was the promise and I assume (I hope) that it will be delivered when AirPlay is released with an upgrade for iPhones and iPads in November. My expectation is that I will be able to load some content – any content – and redirect whatever I am watching on my iPad to an Apple TV unit of my choice for “larger” viewing.

Today, however – Apple TV is not very useful. I would not recommend it to anyone until AirPlay is released and/or Apple improve the content with partnership deals with the likes of LoveFilm perhaps, adding TV shows, and add additional apps for video content providers such as TED, Vimeo, etc.

There is a great future for this product – it just feels too early. Let’s see what November brings.