Editorial: What’s Wrong with the Apple TV?

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What the heck was Apple thinking?

Apple TV Gen 2

At Apple’s Special Event in September there were many announcements on Apple Computer’s entire product line including the iPod, new iTunes, and the new Apple TV.  After looking at a number of set-top players over the years, we were keen on examining the Apple TV 2nd Generation up close and personal.  Steve Jobs promised us a new way to watch TV when he announced the brand new Apple TV (Gen 2) as he highlighted all the cool ways users would be able to stream movies through iTunes and Netflix.  He even showed us how killer it would be to transfer the contents of your iPhone or iPad to and from your living room through Apple’s new magic box – the Apple TV.

Apple TV Box

Apple shipped the new Apple TV at the beginning of the month and all the Apple fanboys lined up to get their latest Apple shinny thing – us included.  For months we have anticipated this release as Apple TV was sure to be a game changer.  Even when Apple announced the price of the box would be just $99, there was a flurry of activity with set-top media companies making sure they didn’t price themselves out the market.  After all, big, bad Apple was coming to eat your kids and steal your pets with their new cheap box!

Well, we got our Apple TV box a couple of weeks ago and it took us all about 10 minutes to plug it in to get it up and running.  After playing with it for a few weeks, we really have to ask ourselves, “What the heck was Apple thinking when they released this garbage?”

Apple TV Contents

There is actually a lot to like about this second generation Apple TV and we have seen the Apple fanbois (and apologists) trip over themselves to be the first in line to give it the highest praise.  But those that claim this is will forever change the way we watch TV are either nut-jobs who know nothing about media players and streamers, or are totally dumb.  Yeah, those are your two choices.

There is definitely something wrong with the Apple TV – not that any player is perfect – but the Apple TV has some deep-seated, fundamental issues like Dexter Morgan, or Sue Sylvester.  You know there is something there and when you see it, you don’t understand how everyone looking can’t see it either.

Apple TV Connectors

Let’s look a bit closer at what Apple has delivered.  First of all the box is hella-small:  Apple TV (G2) measures in at 3.9″ x 3.9″ x 0.9″and weighs 0.6 lbs, a little bit larger than a hockey puck or clay pigeon.  It is smaller than any other media player we have reviewed or seen and with no fan, it will be absolutely quiet when placed in your home theater.  Instead of a Realtek- or Sigma-based chipset to power this latest generation media player, Apple is using the same Apple A4 processor used in the latest iPhone and iPad.  The A4 package carries 8 GB of onboard storage – not RAM – but NAND onboard flash storage.  There is 256 MB of 400 MHz DDR2 of standard SDRAM, but the entire platform runs on less than 6 Watts of power. 

While the A4 processor seems like a great chip for powering a rinky-dink 10 inch screen, does it really have the processor power needed to decode my Blu-ray ISO or Dolby Digital sound?  Of course not.  I’m stupid for even thinking of that.  Apple’s solution, however, for playing “non-standard” files like MKV, ISO, or AVI is for the user to recode their entire multimedia library to fit the narrow window of what iTunes can play, thus making that content recognizable to Apple TV.

In our previous Apple TV article, we un-boxed the A-TV and detailed what you would need to do to get your media files to play.  Basically, once you have them in a ‘container’ that iTunes can understand (MP3, M4A) you would drop and drag them into iTunes so that they are visible to Apple TV and you can then play them.  You have to convert non-iTunes-compatible files by using a third-party converter like Super, and Handbrake to allow iTunes to catalog the media.

Again, we ask Apple:  What the heck where you thinking?

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