The new Apple TV is a solid update to Apple's "hobby," but it's not a "cable killer" as I hoped it would be (sorry, Comcast -- well, no, I'm not). Of course, that would be expecting a lot from an US$99 device. And as a device that streams content from my Mac AND lets me access Netflix, it's a good upgrade for folks like myself.
Set-up is easy -- far easier than with its predecessor as there's no need to enter a numeric code in iTunes on your Mac to sync the Apple TV. You connect the Apple device to an HDTV via a HDMI cable (not included) and follow some on-screen prompts, and you're good to go. Also, the new Apple TV is small -- surprisingly so -- that it doesn't take up much space among your TV set-up, which, if it's like mine, has various devices attached.
You can set up the Apple TV with more than one computer on your home sharing network to stream to the TV, allowing for convenient access to video, photos, and music you've got stored on your Mac or PC. Strangely, you turn on Home Sharing in iTunes, not via the Networks option in Mac OS X.
You can only rent movies and TV shows via the new Apple TV, not buy 'em as before as the new incarnation has no built-in storage. You can still buy videos via your Mac, however, and stream 'em to the Apple TV. As for the rental prices, they're reasonable: HD movies start at $3.99 and HD TV shows go for 99 cents. And rented movies stream crisply with few artifacts.
One of the killer features of the new Apple TV is AirPlay, which allows content to be streamed from an iPad or other iOS device directly to your TV. This means you can watch part of a movie on your iPad, then begin streaming the movie to your television when you wish. AirPlay works seamlessly and is very, very cool.
Another nice touch: if you have an iDevice, you can download Apple's free Remote app from the Apple App Store, and use the device as a remote control for the Apple TV.
Though I like the Apple TV overall, there's plenty of room for improvement. To wit:
° You can download flicks from Netflix, but you can't use Hulu Plus or Vimeo. You can look at pics on Flickr, but not Facebook. Among TV broadcasters, only ABC, Fox, Disney and the BBC have joined the Apple TV party so far.
° Though I like the HDMI connection, if you need component or composite outputs, you're out of luck.
° There's also no Apple TV App Store as some expected. But I imagine that's coming sooner than later. After all, the Google TV is looming and it will come with a store that sells, among other things, games that users will be able to play on Google TV. I think an Apple store will be announced before the holidays -- and make the Apple TV a not-inconsiderable gaming device.
° Most movies are in HD (720p), but serious movie buffs are going to want 1080p.
But the Apple TV is a big improvement from "Take Two" of the device. And it has a lot of untapped potential. In addition to gaming, hopefully we'll see multiple app-like options for accessing video and audio content from a variety of third-party sources, rather than forcing everything to be bought or rented through the iTunes Store.
Then the Apple TV might being evolving into a real cable/satellite TV competitor.
Macsimum rating: 7 out of 10
-- Dennis Sellers