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Apple TV unboxing report

At the risk of taking all the suspense out of reading my column: Yes, I'm working on a review of Apple's newly revived Apple TV. If all goes well, you'll be reading a review of this $99 device -- which plays music and video from Apple's iTunes Store, from such Web sites as Netflix and YouTube and from your own computers -- later this week.

apple_tv_in_box.jpg

Apple's public-relations department shipped out a loaned unit on Friday, and over the weekend I set it up. So far I can report that:

* The Apple TV seems even smaller next to ... well, every other device around my HDTV. I've called it paperback-sized, but only those foreign-language travel dictionaries are that compact.

* The setup had one unplanned detour when this paperback-sized device stopped recognizing its remote. After a waiting a minute or two, it resumed normal operation.

* The video quality of the TV episode I rented, a free copy of Fox's Raising Hope, was tremendous. Unlike a lot of allegedly high-definition footage I've seen online, this didn't have the usual fuzzy compression artifacts in the background.

* Typing passwords or other lengthy strings of text with the Apple TV's iPod-esque remote was more aggravating than expected. It's been too easy to hit its center "select" button when you mean to move left or right to "type" a character on the onscreen keyboard.

* The Apple TV's Web-radio feature seems like some kind of a joke. Without a search function, you're limited to browsing lengthy lists of stations in such unhelpfully vague categories as "Alternative Rock" (with 237 sites listed). And four of the five stations I tried did not provide the title and artist of the current song playing.

* Its Flickr search doesn't seem capable of finding groups on Yahoo's photo-sharing site, while its YouTube front-end was far more useful, allowing find-as-you-type searching through that site's vast catalog.

* The rest of the Apple TV's interface shows the high degree of polish you'd expect from this interface-obsessed company.

* Getting access to the iTunes library of another computer does not rely on that program's traditional sharing option (the one accessible via the Preferences window's Sharing tab). Instead, you have to hit iTunes's Advanced menu to switch on a separate, less-obvious "Home Sharing" feature.

I'll be trying out this device throughout the week, so now's your chance to help make the review better. Are there any specific details you'd like to know about the Apple TV? If you've bought one already, how do you like it?

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 4, 2010; 8:50 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets, Music, Pictures, TV, Video  
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Next: Google airs more details about Google TV

Comments

And unboxing report without pictures? Dude, it's 2010...if you are going to narrate how you unboxed a piece of electronics, you absolutely have to include pictures.Otherwise, we'll just wait for the review, thank you very much.

Posted by: tundey | October 4, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Still waiting on mine.Thanks for the tip on home sharing...

The web-radio feature is awful in iTunes, so at least Apple is consistent in keeping it awful in AppleTV. One question: do playlists sync? Because you can make playlists of favorite web radio stations.

Posted by: wiredog | October 4, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Any word yet on what changes, if any, will be coming to the first generation Apple TV software?

Are these older device essentially "stuck" with the functionality that they have or will some of the new features be added?

Posted by: Annorax | October 4, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I bought an Apple TV on Friday, intending to use it primarily to display existing computer pics and videos to audiences larger than 2, and in more comfortable settings than in front of a monitor in the basement office. Maybe Netflix will follow.

The thing works well for my specific purpose, once you set up Home Sharing. It was a little confusing to have to enable sharing of specific iPhoto albums via iTunes rather than iPhoto but if you simply read the directions on the screen rather than repeatedly trying the route that you suppose makes sense, this is not a real obstacle.

Once you have this set up you may want to add a 'genre' to your stored iTunes movies, which will assist in finding the right film quickly. (Many of mine, ripped from DVD or downloaded as copyright-free content, lacked this info.) Also be aware that Apple TV does not display certain kinds of photo formats that iPhoto has no problem with - meaning e.g., that if you have any .PSD (Photoshop) files in your iPhoto albums, the Apple TV will simply ignore them. I realized this only because of discrepancies between the # of photos being reported by Apple TV and iPhoto for the same albums. I solved the problem by searching the albums for 'psd', dragging the results over to Photoshop Elements, and then batch converting the files to .jpg to be reimported to iPhoto.

This is all I wanted out of it and it's worth it for $99. Anything else it can do in the future is gravy.

Posted by: JohnDorsey | October 4, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Can you use the apple wireless keyboard to avoid the awkward data entry? Some of us have very unsteady finger pointing.

Posted by: MEMegowan | October 4, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I purchased Apple TV based more on the concept than actually knowing its features. So far it has delivered, but since we are using a DSL line to download content, we will have to manage how we use it. The actual download time of one program was longer than the running time. I downloaded an entire season of The Wire (via iTunes) overnight, so we're good to do for a while. I haven't tried the streaming video (e.g., Netflix) yet.

Posted by: pdeleo | October 4, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I would love to know how the quality of streamed video (e.g., netflix) compares to that available from the Roku products.

Posted by: rmcd | October 4, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Engadget reviewed the new Apple TV and was pleased with the video quality directly against one of the Roku products (though the distinction seems to be lost on my eyes):

http://www.engadget.com/2010/09/29/apple-tv-review-2010/

Posted by: JohnDorsey | October 4, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Rob -

I will happily stay with my bulky, hot (temperature) original AppleTV unit. I'm actually thrilled that Apple has announced no plans to "upgrade" the software further on the original AppleTVs. It has a wonderful hard drive and doesn't rely on active streaming of material from ITunes - instead it simply keeps the entirety of my library shadowed on the unit.
However, I'm not naive enough to think that Apple won't try at some point to "dumb down" this unit and remove some of the features that we have grown to come and love on the original (such as owning movies and keeping them on the device etc.).
In the several years I have owned the "AppleTV Classic" (as I will now call it), I have LOVED it. Wonderful device. No plans to go out and buy a new one...

Posted by: SabrinaDaddy | October 4, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

How is the interface for playing iTunes music playlists? Does it display the album artwork?

What are the options for viewing photos from a PC (not using iPhoto)?

Posted by: PDodge | October 4, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Rob-

Can you use Apple TV to stream video content from an iPad or laptop to your TV wirelessly? I was specifically hoping to use Apple TV to easily watch ESPN3.com broadcasts on my television without having to hook my laptop up to the TV through an HDMI.

Thank you.

Posted by: brianwohlert1 | October 4, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Hey Rob, I live in the sticks with 5k wireless Internet service and am a customer of Netflix. With the "streaming" I am concerned that I will not have a good viewing experience using Netflix. I have about 2Mb down, 512Kb up. I would rather download overnight and watch at my convenience than irritate my ISP. Enlighten me anyone ?

Posted by: ThomasOfAustin | October 4, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Home Sharing has been the norm for Apple streaming for at least a year. The other aspects you've described are largely the same as for the current Apple TV. Input is done easier with the Remote application on an iPhone or iPod touch. One just glides from selection to selection or letter to letter.

Streaming directly from an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch will come later with Air Play in the next iOS update. Currently, one can connect the iPad, iPhone or iPod touch to an HDTV using the cable or dock from the Apple multimedia kit. I've had mine for years, so it has been great to have another product I can use it with.

Posted by: query0 | October 4, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

I purchased an Apple TV Friday and did the setup Saturday. I am running it through my Denon AVR, so the only thing I had to do is find an open HDMI Terminal on the rear of the AVR. I have watched several movies and TV shows using my Netflix account, the sound and picture quality is very good. Like John Dorsey, I wanted the box to display existing pictures and videos from my MAC; I am pleased with the results.

Posted by: tgaither1 | October 5, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

I purchased an Apple TV Friday and did the setup Saturday. I am running it through my Denon AVR, so the only thing I had to do is find an open HDMI Terminal on the rear of the AVR. I have watched several movies and TV shows using my Netflix account, the sound and picture quality is very good. Like John Dorsey, I wanted the box to display existing pictures and videos from my MAC; I am pleased with the results.

Posted by: tgaither1 | October 5, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Streams video from all our PC laptops at home that have itunes without any problems. Quality of video seems good to me. Awaiting airplay for our itouches which will be coming out in the next few months for according to all the reports, that will make it convenient for playing videos from the itouch without having to boot up computers. Not bad for $99. Considering a second one for the TV in the bedroom.

Posted by: stumpy1 | October 5, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Rob --
I'm not sure if you are a FIOS user or not, but I would appreciate hearing if there are any issues using the new Apple TV with the Verizon FIOS router. I've been reluctant to pull the trigger on Apple TV or Airport Express because of reports I've seen about the challenge of reliably connecting them to the Verizon router. Any comments would be appreciated.

Posted by: mabslf | October 5, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for all the great posts, folks.

Like JohnDorsey, I primarily want to display .jpg pictures now on my PC onto TV. Can I do this without importing my hundreds of pictures into iPhoto or iTunes or a web site, that is, directly from folders in the Windows XP file system?

I presume the Apple TV box talks to your PC over Wifi, allowing for 128 bit WEP encryption ??

Posted by: RobertArias | October 5, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

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