Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Starring Apple TV

For a while now I've toyed with getting some sort of TV-internet integrating kind of box. I wavered when technology guru Dave Howkins commented how brilliant the Western Digital WD TV Live box was, but in the end I plumped for an Apple TV - but was this a good move? We'll see.

The idea of these boxes is to integrate internet content with your TV to make the UltimateViewingExperienceTM. Sounds like the kind of thing that's good in principle, but somehow never quite works.

So I forked out the not unreasonable £90 to £99 (depending where you buy it) for an Apple TV. First observation it's tiny. Ridiculously small. I've had power supplies bigger than this box. Still, whap in the cables and let's go (note, btw, it doesn't come with an HDMI cable, you need to buy one).

The outcome - I am genuinely pleasantly surprised. I can control the thing with the supplied (also rather small, but beautifully formed) remote, or an app on my iPhone or iPad. The main screen gives a very crisp menu with choices of Movies, TV Shows, Music, Internet, Computers and Settings (see left). Movies and TV Shows provide material from iTunes, so mostly paid for.


This has already come in useful, both to watch a fairly recent film, and to catch up on the TV series Whitechapel, which we only discovered in Series 3, but is available from iTunes. The basic video level is as good as ordinary TV/DVD, and HD is somewhat better.


Next up on the menus is Music. This is only of interest if you've paid up to Apple to have iTunes Match, which puts all your music in the 'cloud' so you can play it from any device, including Apple TV - works fine if you have this. Next a very useful 'Internet' section. This includes Netflix, which admittedly involves a £5.99 monthly subscription, but gives a great choice of older films and TV series (I have every intention of watching Morse through from Episode 1). You also get YouTube for the yoof, and provided your computer is running iTunes you can access your computer's music and photo library from the 'Computers' section.


One thing Apple TV doesn't have yet (but the WD box does) is an iPlayer option. But one extra feature available to those with iPads and iPhones is that you can turn on mirroring where anything playing on the portable device's screen shows on the TV. This is fun when you are showing people photos on an iPad (by far the best way to share digital photos) as they are also on the TV screen for a wider audience. But it also means you can use any of the catchup services - iPlayer and ITVPlayer, for instance - and mirror it onto the TV screen.


All in all - everyone loves it. The only problem is everyone wants to use it!
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