Apple TV review

Described as an "iPod for your living room" Apple TV is Apple's attempt at taking over your living room. But has it got what it takes to beat other players already established in the market? We take a closer look.

Small and compact - it looks more like a teapot stand that the latest piece of cutting edge technology - the Apple TV is void of any buttons - not even an off switch. The rear of the metal cased unit offers the usual array of connections.

These include a USB socket (although you can't actually connect anything to it) an ethernet port for those who want to connect the Apple TV to their computer via a cable rather than wirelessly, a HDMI slot for connecting to your HD-ready TV, component video, analogue audio and finally an optical digital audio out socket.

The array of connections, including built-in wireless n support, means you shouldn't have any problems connecting the box to a television, however do bear in mind that besides the power cable, you get no additional cables in the box.

Apple TV works as either a streamer or as a hard drive storing music, video and images. The main crux of the unit is the later and connecting the box to a PC or Mac with iTunes 7.1.1 is the first port of call. Like managing an iPod you can select which songs, movies, podcasts, and photos get uploaded to the unit and if you've got a large collection expect this to take some time to transfer and sync. Everything is done via iTunes, however photos can be streamed either from iPhoto or by selecting a specific folder on your hard drive.

Streaming from other machines means you can have friends bring around their computer and share movies and music, however because of the way the Apple TV syncs images you can't stream photos. It's a shame, because we would have thought the idea of sharing your holiday snaps was more compelling than just sharing music or movies.

Once you've got your content loaded up, it's all about enjoying it and Apple have opted for a simple interface very similar to its iPod. Users are presented with a home screen that allows you to select Movies, TV Shows, Music, Podcasts or Photos.

Go into each one and from here you can access playlists, songs by artist, genre, composer, etc., in exactly the same way as the iPod, in the Music and Movies section you can also access 30 second clips of top songs from the iTunes store or view the latest trailers from Apple's QuickTime trailer page.

Streamed via your internet connection you can watch or listen to 30 second clips however you can't purchase.

Apple told Pocket-lint it was because it didn't want to get customers bogged down with keyboard inputs needed for entering credit card and address details, however we think the company has missed a trick. With iTunes OneClick offering it surely would have been easy to implement this and just use the main account details logged with the iTunes account.

That said all the clips we viewed via our 2Mb internet connection were very quick with hardly any delay.

Select a song to play you are presented with its album art, music title, band or singers name and a time bar. If you want anything more exciting, you have to wait for the screensaver to kick in.

Photos, once transferred can be shown in a slideshow with burns effect's, random transitions and music of your choice. The photos also act as the source for the screensaver so you can enjoy your images when it's not doing much.

Viewing movies depends on its quality, however in a world going high-def Apple's low quality movies be it trailers or music videos aren't great. Of course downloading a HD movie is going to take some time on a regular broadband connection and a hurdle Apple won't be able to solve on its own.

The Apple TV is a good simple offering, however it's not without its faults. No off switch (only standby mode) isn't exactly the greenest approach, while we were surprised that the box fails to include the ability to stream radio from iTunes either. It's not that it's not possible, after all you can stream the latest content from the iTunes store.

Finally and for parents, probably the most important, there is no parental control option. While this isn't really an issue for your laptop or home PC, for a device in the living room the battlefield changes drastically. If you don't want your little ones to see that 18-rated film or listen to those explicit lyrics then you have to remove them rather than just protect them via a pin.

Verdict

So should you rush out at go Apple TV? While the idea of media streamers aren't new, Apple has this great ability to take something old, give it its California spin and make it very easy to use as well as desirable.

That's exactly what Apple has done here. The Apple TV isn't without its faults and until the movie store launches in the UK later in the year this is still a glorified music and picture viewer.

Our advice, if you've got an iTunes collection and want to share it then this is a better solution than just plugging your iPod in to the back of the TV.

However if you're wanting if for the movie streaming wait till later in the year. By then the company will have likely have introduced a bigger hard drive for those movies and hopefully implemented, via software updates, the things like parental controls, internet radio access and maybe even an off switch.