Updated: March 15, 2013
Apple TV Wireless Digital Media Player
Wireless Home Entertainment Systems Reviews
The AppleTV wireless digital media player was first released in March 2007; at that time, it was dubbed as iTV.
Two years later down the line, the Apple hardware is still the same but a software upgrade a year ago and some complementary changes to the iTune Stores, have brought about significant improvements to the Apple functionality.
Editor's Update December 2012: For information on the latest wireless media players, please refer to our Wireless Media Players Review page.
New 2012 Apple TV
More information is available in our review here.
The Upgraded Apple TV ...more than just a face lift
One could very well define the original Apple player as nothing more than an extended iTunes player for your living room.
All you could do was to view iTunes content already downloaded on your PC. Worst still, video quality looked terrible on the big screen as iTunes content was mainly optimized for the small screen of an iPod. Unfortunately, if iTunes was your preferred digital media player, then at that time, the Apply TV was pretty much your only choice.
However the new free software upgrade for the Apple TV means that now you can access the iTunes store to download your favorite TV shows and movies directly without the need to be tied up to a PC. Furthermore, the quality of the iTunes video downloads have been enhanced while some movie rentals are also available in 720pHD and 5.1 Dolby surround sound. In addition, the latest Apple wireless digital media player software upgrade also brings you access to more non-iTunes content like access to online photo galleries (e.g. Flickr), in addition to access to your digital photo and video library sitting on your PC, and access to YouTube videos and online podcasts added through a previous firmware release.
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Apple MB189LL/A 160GB
Packaging: The Apple media player comes in an extremely compact, sleek silver finished box that is no larger than 7.7 inches square by just 1.1 inches high. The front consists of just the power led, while all connectivity resides on the back panel.
Most of the space within the square box is taken up by an internal hard disk. This is used to store files when synchronizing media content from up to five different computers (PCs or MACs), wirelessly via an 802.11b, g, or n interface. Two versions are available of the Apple TV: A 40GB Apple version with its 40GB hard dish, and the somewhat more expensive but even more popular Apple MB189LL/A 160GB, with its larger 160GB hard dish. Other than the hard disks, both versions share the same feature set.
Though 160GB should be adequate for most users, yet there is no way of upgrading the internal hard disk with a larger one as is the case with the Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite featured elsewhere in this wireless digital media player review series. However, you can always add a secondary mass storage device via the Apple TV USB2.0 port.
Storing files locally on the Apple box allows for later playback; besides, it also renders for a smoother playback especially when working over an 802.11b or 802.11g network.
The Apple TV is probably, one of the few wireless digital media players - that sports dual-band 802.11n wireless connectivity in that it can operate over either the 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz Wi-Fi bands. While it does not support simultaneous dual band operation as is the case of the new Netgear EVA9150, yet supporting '802.11n' connectivity is extremely important for smooth streaming of HD digital media over a wireless network.
Setup is easy and simple - almost plug and play, while the on-screen interface is intuitive and easy to navigate - even with the provided oversimplified remote control. Overall, the Apple interface is more like an up-scaled iPod menu but with the difference that the Apple TV uses the left half of the screen to display contextual graphics, album art, etc.
Directly related with this simple setup is the way the Apple TV can be used as a remote speaker for any connected iTunes software. All you need to set the Apple TV into playing whatever audio you have got up and running on iTunes, including internet radio, is to click the menu in the lower-right corner of the iTunes window and choose 'Apple TV'. Doing so will set the Apple TV into streaming music to your living room, etc., without the need to even turn on your TV.
The Apple has a decent set of connectivity options, including component video and HDMI, supporting high definition video in resolutions up to 720p. Unfortunately, there is no support for standard video out. In other words, if your TV does not include any one of these HDTV connections, you cannot use the Apple TV.
Audio is available in stereo format via RCA jacks and 5.1 surround via either HDMI or the optical audio port.
Other connectivity options include a USB2.0, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, and a dual-band 802.11n wireless interface that is backward compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g.
Supported media file formats
H.264 and protected H.264 (from iTunes Store) with up to 5 Mbps, Progressive Main Profile (CAVLC) with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps (maximum resolution: 1280 by 720 pixels at 24 fps, 960 by 540 pixels at 30 fps) in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats, and iTune purchased videos up to 720p HD.
MPEG-4: Up to 3 Mbps, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps (maximum resolution: 720 by 432 pixels at 30 fps) in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats.
Supported audio include: AAC (16 to 320 Kbps); protected AAC from iTunes Store; MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps); MP3 VBR; Apple Lossless; AIFF; WAV; Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through
The bottom line
If iTunes is your preferred digital media player application, then there is no doubt the Apple player will be pretty much your only choice. And the updated Apple, with its enhanced iTunes video offerings of free and premium media content, PC-free operation with purchases and rentals being done directly through the iTunes store on your TV, and a lower price tag, represent an even more compelling internet-enabled wireless digital media player for your living room entertainment. The only restriction here being that the Apple wireless media player would only interface with an HDTV.