Daniel Eran Dilger
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Apple TV Take 2: an in-depth review (part 1): what’s new

Apple TV
Daniel Eran Dilger
Apple is keeping itself busy. Along with the 10.5.2 update to Mac OS X Leopard and a new reference release of Aperture 2.0, the company quietly made available the free new “Take Two” software upgrade for Apple TV on Tuesday. Here’s a look at how Apple TV compares as a living room media player and source of HDTV content, what’s new in the software upgrade, and how well the device achieves its goal of bringing iTunes media to home theaters in its second try at inventing itself.

From a non-blazing 1.5 Mb DSL connection, the software update download takes about twenty minutes, and then takes another ten minutes to install. The update actually includes three software upgrades:

  • An EFI firmware update.
  • A firmware update for the Apple TV’s HDMI video hardware that enables 1080p output through upconversion.
  • The new Take Two menus and interface with support for HD downloads, rentals, AirTunes and more.

Continues: AppleInsider | Apple TV Take 2: an in-depth review (part 1): what’s new

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  • nat

    This review has seriously made me question restarting my Netflix subscription. If it weren’t for the upfront (but reasonable) cost of AppleTV, I think just about everyone would switch over.

    There are, however, some errors in the HD Download Market section of part 2…

    – Xbox Live rentals are available for 14 days, not 30.
    – in the comparison chart, the mid-range Xbox 360 actually comes with a 20GB hard drive, not 40GB.
    – in the comparison chart, the PS3 actually has free: 1) HD/SD wallpaper-themes, 2) mp3/wma audio tracks based on original playstation games, 3) HD/SD trailers for upcoming theatrical and movie or music Blu-ray titles, 4) HD/SD game trailers, and 5) HD/SD music videos from Sony Music affiliates artists (this last feature is only available in Australia and Hong Kong only).

    I also notice a question mark next to Free SD/HD trailers for the 360. If that was a question, the answer is yes. There are free SD/HD trailers, “shorts,” and behind-the-scenes featurettes, but they are few and focus on a handful of movies.

    You should really consider noting that 360 uses Microsoft’s convoluted Points system (100pts = $1.25, 500pts = $6.25, 1000pts = $12.50, 2000pts = $25, 5000pts = $62.50) that makes purchasing from the Xbox Live Marketplace’s lackluster selection WAY more confusing than the alternatives (even the plastation store uses real money). Alongside content and just about everywhere else in the 360 interface, there are ads, some relevant, some completely unrelated to videogames, like SYNC and Zune ads.

    In the comparison chart, you could also add that the 360 has optional b/g WiFi that costs $100. In addition, you can only officially stream content from a Media Center PC to 360, but a fairly well known 3rd party app, Connect360, allows any Mac running iTunes to do the same thing very easily. The free version has a limit of 100 songs, 100 photos, and 5 movies/videos, while the $20 full version offers unlimited streaming of content, which can be played and controlled during game playing.

  • nat

    Meant to mention a final but minor thing about that comparison chart.

    Similar to Fox including a iTunes importable version of Family Guy at Macworld, some studios are releasing Blu-ray titles that include PSP transferable versions. I think this is mainly due to the abandonment of Sony’s proprietary UMD format by studios. So, in effect, the PS3 offers portable content. However, it requires the purchase of a PSP ($130) and a Blu-ray movie that supports PSP playback. I’m not sure if this DRMed file has a expiration date, if it can be re-imported to PSP, and if there are any other limitations.

  • jltnol

    I STILL think Netflix is the way to go. For less than $20.00 per month, I can watch a ton more movies than that would buy in iTunes.

    When iTunes came out, I quickly embraced the download to own model of music…. no more boxes and boxes of CD’s and cases to move any more.

    I bought a movie or two when Apple started selling feature length movies in iTunes, but was disappointed by the quality.

    No doubt the HD downloads look good… I intend to purchase one to see for myself, but in the end, it still seems too expensive to use on a regular basis.

    Unlike with music downloads, there is no “instant gratification” with movies, let alone HD movies. If I have to wait a few hours, the moment has passed, I’m on to something else.

    Now, with that said, when the pipes get bigger, faster, and cheaper, the cost per HD title comes down a bit, and the selection is bigger, then, yeah.. maybe. But only a maybe.

    I guess what I’m waiting for is HD content that I can purchase and download to my computer for keeping and long term storage, AND transfer to AppleTV for viewing. For that I’d consider $15.00 a title a good investment.

  • nat

    jitnol,

    Where are you getting that HD downloads take “a few hours” to download? On a decent connection, SD movies can start playing after a few seconds, while HD movies only take a few minutes to start because Apple TV is able to play the partially downloaded portion while the rest is downloaded in the background. Obviously, if you have a pretty weak connection, it could take longer, but even if it took around an hour for an HD movie, that’s WAY faster than waiting days on a Netflix delivery.

  • jltnol

    nat:

    I actually downloaded a 20 min TV show that took forEVER.

    I’ll try the HD titles and see, but I remain unmoved…

    I can watch a lot more HD movies from Netflix for $20.00 a month, than I can rent from Apple.

    I’m ALL in favor of downloading content… I just don’t think it’s cheap and fast enough… YET.

  • nat

    jltnol,

    I just rented a 2 hour SD movie and it took a little less than an hour on my 8mbs broadband connection (which generally hovers around 6-7mbs). But that’s besides my point, which was that an iTunes rental can be received faster than any Netflix mailer can. Also, if I had rented the same movie with an Apple TV, it could have started playing before the download was complete.

    I totally agree, you can watch a lot more HD movies from Netflix for $20 a month. But your argument was focused on instant gratification, not cost per movie.

    Now, near the end of that original comment, you did wish for a bigger selection of movies, and HD movies you could download-to-own for a reasonable price.

    On selection, compare Blu-ray’s ~300 movies, some of which are not offered on Netflix, to iTunes over 1000 rentable movies, with 100 in HD already. It’ll be a while before those HD-DVD exclusives make the move to the newly declared winner of the format war.

    Separately, on HD titles priced at $15 to own, well, that really depends on the studios and they’re kind of on the right track. They’re obviously willing to make some of their movies rentable in HD, and others have put up own-able SD versions for $10-$15. I think they’ll come around, like the music labels.