As mentioned previously, we recently acquired an Apple TV and a fairly standard 720p 66cm LCD TV.
What problem was I trying to solve?
After spending some time in the US, we have Australian and US iTunes Store accounts. For the last year the majority of our TV came from one iTunes store or another (mostly one). We grew tired of advertising and DVDs. J & I promised that when we gave up our roughly $100/month cable subscription a few years ago that if legal downloadable content became viable we’d be happy to pay at least half that amount on content we could select for ourselves, watch at our leisure, and enjoy without advertising.
We’ve also recently boxed a few hundred CDs and put them in storage. This came about after we realised we’d purchased a shedload of music, but only about one physical CD per year for about 2 years. We needed a more convenient method than an iTunes library on a NAS to access our music collection.
We’re paying to be hostages to iTunes DRM. It’s not great. We got over it.
Convenient and sexily-presented access to all of our music
It’s an always-on jukebox of all our favourite hits which is easier to use than a CD player and doesn’t become scratched and unplayable when handled by children or visiting Luddites.
Consumer-grade access to video content
Fewer hours spent fiddling with PCs or digging for DVDs. Just cursor around and watch. Bored? You can drop a few bucks on a hire movie and watch straight away with little chance of there being a big fingerprint on the final chapter that stops you from enjoying your purchase.
What didn’t I know before I bought it that I should have?
Hard disk size
I got the 160GB version, and not the
8040GB thinking that I had to be able to manually carve up our 220GB of content and I’d prefer to have as much of it available as possible to avoid having to make too many decisions about content. Truth is, you don’t really need to go overboard with hard disk space. I have about 40GB of audio, and when you set the Apple TV to decide what to sync for you, it seems to allocate enough space for my entire audio collection and uses the rest of the space on what video it divines I’m likely to want t watch.
Automatic sync settings
Automatic sync works by constantly updating the content of the Apple TV with the iTunes libraries on your network to try to make sure the content you care about is online when the iTunes libraries aren’t. If your iTunes library is online, the Apple TV shows the content of those libraries as available through the menu system and if you play something that isn’t on the Apple TV’s hard disk, it begins to copy the content onto its hard disk and starts playing when it’s confident there won’t be a break in transmission to re-buffer.
The Apple TV seems to be hard or slow to wake up after a rest. Often you have to poke away at the remote for 15-30 seconds to get it to display or utter the first "bloops" of evident wakefulness.
Very occasionally the Apple TV appears to thrash like a computer and be consistently unresponsive. Twice I’ve had to switch it off and on to restore sanity and responsiveness.
"While Apple TV is playing back video content, the syncing of content from iTunes is temporarily paused. Syncing will automatically resume shortly after you stop playing video content. " (http://support.apple.com/kb/TA24601)
What this doesn’t tell you is that for some reason, when you’re paused in the middle of an Apple TV-purchased movie, your Apple TV also likes to do resyncs if you accidentally leave your iTunes running on another PC. I suspect it’s zealously syncing where you’re at in the movie so it can restart you from that point on any other iTunes instance. The problem with this is that resyncs while you’re in the middle of a TV show or a movie cause the Apple TV to become unresponsive or sluggish and stuttery for a time. It seems to take upwards of a minute to recover from a resync commenced when you paused a feature-length film. The unit becomes unresponsive, eating remote control clicks or misinterpreting them as click-and-hold commands. I typically spend some time after the Apple TV has recovered from sluggishness trying to find my way back to where I originally paused.
This is probably the biggest disappointment. It seems to me to be a bug. Resyncs should be transparent to the user of the Apple TV and certainly shouldn’t affect usability or response time. Fingers crossed for a fix.
"Automatic" sync almost works as I’d expect
With Automatic sync the Apple TV loads up on video content you haven’t watched yet and content you have watched tends to be deleted to make way for new content. The downside of this for us has been kids’ content. We have Dora the Explorer on high rotation, and the Apple TV liked deleting Dora in favour of other content. Now that Dora has been watched a few hundred times Apple TV has taken the hint, but having to boot up a PC to get Dora on the air was a little more tiresome than I expected. It would be nice if you could explicitly hint that you’d like to prioritise some content for caching on the Apple TV.
Apple TV is visually polished, extremely well integrated with all things iTunes, yet suffers the same poor responsiveness of other computers that pretend to be HiFi equipment (I’m lookin’ at you Media Center PCs). It’s not as polished and predictable as I expected.
On the whole, as an iTunes-dependent family we’re hooked and find it indispensable. Without an iTunes addiction it wouldn’t make a lot of sense.