Actually, it hasn’t really been that long since Apple released the latest iteration of the Apple TV – mid-March, was it? So it’s not too late to review it, even though rumor has it a real Apple TV, the one with an LED/LCD, is coming out the end of the year. We don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future, but we’re here to review what’s in the here-and-now. And what’s in the here-and-now is the 3rd generation Apple TV.
Thing is, if you were to be technical about it, the Apple TV has no reason to be sold in the Philippines, which is why it isn’t. It’s built around an iTunes background, and iTunes isn’t exactly full-featured around these here parts. Music and video copyrights prevent iTunes from selling the material here, so the local iTunes Store is a wisp of its normal international self. Plus, a lot of the other material is based in the States: Netflix, for one, is US-centric, and the sports channels NBA, NHL and MLB, while accessible via a US account, are technically verboten to us.
But none of those technicalities can stop us Filipinos, right? I recently got a unit, and tried it out.
So let’s check out the new Apple TV. First off, it’s terribly small. It’s all black with a logo on top, and more like one-and-a half iPhones in width and about three of them in thickness. Really tiny. The box it came in is barely larger than an iPhone’s box, with just the Apple TV, a remote control and the power cord. There isn’t even an HDMI cable included, which I had to provide. There is a small white pinlight on the front right panel to show activity. It gets a bit warm in use.
There’s barely enough space in the back for the ports, which are squeezed in tight: an HDMI out, a micro-USB port, an Optical Audio out, a LAN port and the power cable port. That’s it. You hook it up and set the network connections, whether it be LAN-based or wifi-based, and off you go!
The main interface is a series of iOS-like big buttons based around iTunes content: movies, music, TV shows, and other buttons for the sports channels, Netflix, WSJ Live, YouTube, Vimeo, Podcasts, Photo Stream, Flickr, (the soon-to-be-cancelled) MobileMe, Radio, (movie) Trailers, Computers (linked to the system) and Settings.
The Settings button takes you to a plethora of different adjustable choices: General, Screen Saver, iTunes Store, Audio & Video and some other settings. Updating the software and firmware is done entirely on the Apple TV; there is a setting in the General section that does it.
Going into each menu choice will send you down a rabbit’s hole of other choices, from which you can back out by pressing the Menu button on the included remote. You can also hook up your iTunes library on your Mac using Home Sharing, and stream your media to the Apple TV. And if you’re tired of using Apple’s simple and sparsely-featured Remote Control to type in your searches, accounts and passwords, you can use a free app called Remote on your iPhone or iPad, and type more conveniently on their virtual keyboards.
The package includes a Remote Control and, as remotes go, this is very basic: a Menu button, a Play/Pause button, and a big circular 4-way with a select button in the middle. You’d think, man, Apple really scrimped on the remote, but actually, in practice, those few buttons are really all you need to navigate the controls of the Apple TV.
The big problem about the Apple TV is that it can’t store your media, not like the older models – it doesn’t have a facility for storage, whether it be a hard drive or SSD (which is why it’s as small as it is). It relies on streaming your material from external sources, so that means you’re gonna need a fast internet connection if you’re going to rely on the iTunes Store for on-the-fly video streaming, and not just on streaming from your computer’s iTunes library.
The newest wrinkle in the bunch is the inclusion of 1080p resolution via the new, upgraded single-core A5 processor, a step up from the previous version’s 720p. HD videos from iTunes look marvelous (but be careful – most material marked HD on iTunes are actually just 720p, and you have to specifically look for 1080p material).
The other wrinkle is AirPlay – which for someone invested in the Apple ecosystem is a godsend. You can beam material from your iOS devices – a massive number of iPhone and iPad apps have incorporated AirPlay – directly into the Apple TV with no configuration or setup whatsoever. You can listen to your music or play your hi-res videos by simply selecting the AirPlay button. You can also Airplay-mirror whatever it is you’re doing on your devices directly to the screen of your TV, which is great.
Or you can dual-screen some games and use your iPhone or iPad as the ultimate controller. Games available now to dual-screen are stuff like Ducati Challenge HD, Real Racing II and Metalstorm: Wingman, and some apps like Vevo HD and Discovery HD. You basically split the game or app into two screens, the TV and the iPad, with usually the controls and other information on the tablet and the game proper on the TV screen.
As a full-on media player, however, the Apple TV is still limited to what Apple has chosen to give you, and therein lies the rub. It’s great if you’ve bought into the ecosystem of Apple, with iTunes, OS X, the Mac and your iOS devices and iOS apps – but if not, you’re better off looking elsewhere. If you’re thinking of buying one regardless, keep in mind the limitations of the system.
The 3rd gen Apple TV is available for $99 on the US Apple Store, but is obtainable for a considerable markup (an average of around P7000) from local online sellers.
You must be logged in to post a comment.