Updated: March 15, 2013
Apple TV Media Player (2010 ver.)
A whole new ultra-compact design that brings key changes to functionality and price
Prior to the release of the new Apple TV, the previous Apple media player hardware dated back to 2007. Since 2007, Apple did only come up with a major firmware upgrade in 2009 to enhance the player functionality.
This is not the case with the 2010 Apple player. The new Apple is the result of a totally new hardware design, one that has brought about major changes to the original player functionality apart from an incredibly tiny form factor and a significantly cheaper price.
This is definitely one of the best video streaming players, and the player to opt for if Apple is your brand and want to enjoy Netflix in addition to iTunes. But be aware, the Apple still suffers from a series handicap. Read here to learn more.
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.
A Cool new Apple TV ...offering more for less in a tiny package
Despite its success, the original Apple media player was nothing more than an extended iTunes player. Two years down the line, a new firmware upgrade transformed the original Apple TV into a more robust box that offered more in terms of features with its 160Gb built-in hard disk, DLNA functionality, and digital media content support. But the upgraded Apple still suffered from the same original restriction, namely content was very much limited to the iTunes store though a number of firmware updates did eventually add access to more non-iTunes content like Flickr and YouTube.
However, things are in for a change. With the Apple MC572LL/A streaming player, Apple is taking a whole new more aggressive approach to full-screen multimedia streaming. It ditched the hard disk found on the original Apple to come up with an ultra compact design, one that is cheaper and more robust than the previous Apple streaming players.
It is a design aimed at helping Apple take advantage of the latest revolution in TV entertainment - that of streaming content directly from the Internet straight to your HDTV. For just $99, you get access to Netflix, YouTube, and TV shows and movies from the iTunes Store. Not much compared with the Roku streaming player but unlike the new line of Roku players, the Apple player comes as DLNA-enabled. In other words, you can also stream music, photos and videos from networked computers running iTunes. Add AirPlay functionality and there you have a wireless media player Apple fans would surely find it hard leaving it out of their 'iproducts' collection.
Article continues after this advertisement.
Design: The Apple comes in an exceptionally small package, delivering a very strong impact with its new tiny design. In fact, at just under an inch in height by less than 4-inch by 4-inches, it is possibly the smallest wireless media player within its class that would fit anywhere including behind your plasma or LCD/LED TV. This new compact design is approximately a quarter the size of the original Apple TV. This became possible as Apple ditched the built-in hard-disk found on the original Apple.
This means that the new Apple TV is not an exact replacement to the previous Apple but the latest concept in media streaming is now shifting from that of playing content you have downloaded on your player, to streaming of content straight from source - whether that being a networked PC or the Internet. Obviously, in these circumstances, sufficient wireless network bandwidth and a fast Internet connection are a must for the best HD streaming performance. But if these are non-issues, the new Apple TV hardware with its dual-band wireless N technology is capable of excellent HD streaming performance.
The included remote is a sleek simply clicker finished in aluminum with just a menu and play/pause buttons, and an up/down/left/right directional pad with which you can navigate around the Apple menu options and content.
Mentioning the remote, you can also use your iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone as a remote once you download the free Remote app.
This gives you better control over content selection, and since control is over Wi-Fi instead of infrared, the player response to your commands is also faster.
As indicated in our introduction, the new Apple TV comes with Airplay support, dubbed by my many as Apple's secret weapon. The reason is that with Airplay functionality, you can wirelessly stream music, photos and video stored on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad running iOS4.2, to your HDTV via the new Apple TV.
Connectivity: The Apple TV connectivity is basic but relatively adequate. Apart from the dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) wireless connectivity, main connectivity is over the Apple HDMI port to output both high definition video up to 720p and surround sound audio. There is also an optical audio out, a fast Ethernet port for connection to a wired network should you prefer, and a micro-USB port for servicing and support only; in other words, you cannot plug in your USB drive to view multimedia files on your TV through the Apple TV box.
Equally important, like its predecessors, the new Apple TV miss an analog AV output - meaning you cannot connect the Apple TV player to older televisions.
The Apple TV in use
Setup would not take more than just a few minutes. It is simple - almost plug and play, while the on-screen interface is intuitive, very quick in response, and equally important, it is easy to navigate - even with the provided oversimplified remote control. The user interface is almost the same as that found on the original Apple TV, which isn't bad since that was one of the original Apple main strengths.
Some may argue that with such a basic remote, you cannot do much but the truth is that the Apple TV user interface is extremely simple, intuitive and even quick in use; in our opinion it is better than that found on the new line of Roku players. In this respect, the supplied remote is more than adequate.
The main screen lists the basic content categories: Movies, TV Shows, Internet, Computers, and Settings. The Internet category refers to non-Apple services, like Netflix and Flickr. The computer category refers to multimedia content you will be streaming straight from your TV thanks to the player DLNA support; supported media files include:
Video: H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formatsMPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format
Photo formats: JPEG, GIF, and TIFF
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
Content: From a user perspective, the most important deliverable for any Internet streaming player is content, and enhanced content support is what the new Apple streaming players aims to deliver. Apart from the possibility to rent movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store, now you can also get 99-cent HD TV show rentals on some Fox and ABC shows. And like most wireless digital media players, the 2010 Apple multimedia streaming player also supports Netflix streaming - something which now has become standard on Internet-enabled streaming boxes.
The new Apple wireless media player is capable of delivering one of the best video streaming performances - doing even slightly better than the Roku XD and XDS wireless media players. This applies irrespective of whether you are streaming straight from the Internet or from your networked PC. Buffering time is typically a few seconds but then this increases to close to 30 seconds when streaming HD material.
However, irrespective of the player performance, both buffering time and even more important, video streaming performance are very much dependent on the speed of your Internet broadband connection and available network bandwidth.
Picture quality of the Apple TV is also very good despite what some may think that the 720p upper limit may render for s softer picture; rather, we think that the Apple has an edge in this respect over other streaming boxes.
The reality is that it would be extremely hard if not impossible for one to notice any difference even on an average size 50-inch HDTV especially when considering that here we are dealing with broadcast TV content; as further explained in our guide to HDTV Formats, broadcast TV programming never delivers the full image resolution supported by the 1080 standard due to bandwidth issues.
The new Apple TV is possibly one of the best video streaming players within its class - both in terms of picture quality and video streaming. And combined with the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, it is even better!
The real issue with the Apple is content, or rather the lack of it. This was the case with the original Apple TV and is still Apple TV main shortcoming with respect to the competition - in particular the new Roku players. Compared to the Roku, the only real plus of the Apple TV is its ability to stream music, photos and video files wirelessly straight from your PC. OK, you have got access to Netflix now, but when it comes to iTunes, content is still lacking in terms of supported TV networks. In addition, even from supported TV networks like ABC, Fox, and Disney, many popular shows are still missing.
The bottom line: Content may be an issue but content is something Apple can fix with a firmware update anytime. In the meantime, at just $99, the new Apple is all set to help Apple capture more of the latest emerging video streaming market in the world of home entertainment. Above all, the new Apple player represents a solid, tiny, inexpensive streaming box for Apple fans looking to bring Netflix into the living room.