Apple TV

Yet more dust has settled after the Macworld keynote, and I've been thinking about the Apple TV product. I've had enough of watching downloaded TV on the iMac, and want to set up a home media centre. The way I see it, the obvious choices are either (a) use an XBOX 360, which has the added benefit of being able to play Gears of War, or (b) go with a product like Apple TV. I want to be able to get content onto it easily, as well as codecs, and not have to use a keyboard to get it to work. PVR capability is a nice-to-have. And it must support HD content.

As with the iPhone, I have storage issues with Apple TV. The average downloaded (compressed) movie is 700mb (.avi format), season 2 of Battlestar Galactica (compressed) came in at 7gb, and an HD movie can be more than 15gb. So what's the point of releasing a home media centre that only has a 40gb hard drive? Alright, the XBOX 360 only has 20gb (although I gather an upgrade is imminent). But the way I see it, these devices need to hold 500gb of data to be fit for current purposes. And at least a terabyte will be needed in a year's time.

Plus everything you want to download and watch would first have to go through iTunes, apparently. So for most downloads it would need to be processed by iSquint before it'll work on iTunes, then you'll need to wait while it syncs with the Apple TV.

So both the iPhone and Apple TV get little more than a raised eyebrow from me. Sigh.

But apart from that, I'm very happy with Apple today -my iMac died, and when I checked their web site it turns out that my model is subject to a free repair extension program. It is outside it's warranty and I won't have to pay a penny to get it fixed. Hurrah! I suppose some might argue that it shouldn't have broken in the first place, but I'm an early adopter and expect these things to go wrong.

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UPDATE 14/1/07: I've done some research and have added a comment to this post with my findings.

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Comments

Phil Whitehouse said…
I've done a lot more research since this post, and have discovered the following - may be of use to anyone trying to do the same thing.

My requirements are being able to very easily watch my downloaded content on a new HDTV (which I haven't bought yet), without stringing wires across the room from the iMac where the content resides. As this is mostly downloaded using BitTorrent, it generally comes in a DivX or XVid wrapper, and I therefore usually run it on VLC (which is why I usually don't know for certain what video or audio codecs are used - it just works).

I don't want to have to re-encode my content before watching it. I don't mind waiting for it to sync across to whatever device I end up using. I like the idea of using the same device to watch video podcasts (especially dl.tv). And it needs to support HD content as far as possible.

So it would seem that Apple TV is the best option of a poor to medium bunch. XBOX 360 is ruled out from the start (as a media centre anyway), as it will only play WMV or WMA content. There is a product called Connect 360 that will stream video from a Mac to an XBOX 360, but I'm not going to convert all my video content to that closed format.

The other options include using a Mac Mini. This is a nice current option, and about the same price as an Apple TV if I bought it on eBay. I can run VLC on it, so no problems with codecs. And can use it for everything else I currently use my Mac for (more control over content and software). But I need to do more research to find out how well it will handle HD content. I'm wondering whether I'd need a better processor for that, as my current iMac (1.66Ghz processor) has difficulty handling HD trailers downloaded from the Apple website.

I'm not sure what processor the Apple TV has (the website doesn't say), but I'm assured that it can handle HD content and I'm willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt until I hear to the contrary. So the final question I'm left wondering about is whether I need to convert my content at all to watch it on Apple TV. I can use a universal plugin called Perian to make Quicktime run DivX and XVID content on my Mac, and I suspect this would allow the content to work in iTunes too (iTunes uses Quicktime for video). But I don't think Perian can be installed on the Apple TV device.

That's where I'm at right now. If anyone has any comments, let's hear them! My room layout doesn't allow me to put the iMac next to the TV, before anyone asks. Using Windows or Linux to drive a media centre is more trouble than it's worth (and probably more expensive as I'll need a new PC, and more space to put it in). One thing I like about the Apple TV device is that it looks nice and doesn't take up too much space.
Stephen said…
"I'm an early adopter and expect these things to go wrong"

Why though? This really does frustrate me - in our professional life we could never get away with a ropy 'first release'. I know that we're talking about complex systems of hardware and software and ergonomics etc but really...
Phil Whitehouse said…
Hey I'm with you buddy. If we pay a stack of cash for something it ought to work, no matter how new it is. But I expect the hammering these products get in the wild is that much more extensive and varied than any controlled testing could be.

Then again, if "their" testing was more thorough, we'd end up having to pay for it through increased cost. Instead they're saying "we've done the best we can, now we're selling it to you - and we'll fix it within a year free of charge if things go wrong". I'd rather that than laying down an extra £100. And they really can't afford to have all their units go wrong, so I expect they are pretty thorough. I doubt their insurers would allow otherwise! I'm actually pretty happy with the balance.
Phil Whitehouse said…
I've had loads more advice, the pick of which is as follows.

There are several products out there which let you stream content through another device such as an XBOX 360, re-encoding the content on the fly. This seems a half decent compromise for current content (compressed and downloaded), but usually only works on Windows, and doesn't seem to be HD embracing. Main candidate is TVersity.

There are some network enabled TVs out there, including some announced at the CES, so I'll be looking into those closer to the time.

But I'm now starting to wonder what Apple might do later in the year. They've upgraded the DVD player that will be bundled with Leopard. We know that they've joined the Blu Ray Association. I wonder if the next line of iMacs will come with Blu Ray drives?? Now that would be sweet!
Phil Whitehouse said…
This guy has done a side by side comparison of the Mac Mini and Apple TV device. Useful, and nice to know I'm not the only one barking up this particular tree.