The Apple TV is not actually a TV: it is an “entertainment center” that allows you to access digital content in your actual TV. It can access online services such as Youtube, Netflix, and others, as well as access the iTunes store and content shared by a computer running iTunes on your local network. Let’s see what it can do.
We are actually analyzing the third-generation Apple TV. The first one was launched in 2007 and it was a completely different product, while the second generation (launched in 2010) externally looks like this one, but with slightly different hardware configuration.
Figure 1 shows the box of the Apple TV.
Inside the box, we found the device itself, a power cord, remote control, a pair of Apple logo stickers (you can stick it to your car and pretend you have a Mac), and user manuals. Notice that the use of an HDMI cable is compulsory, but the device does not come with one, so you will need to purchase an HDMI cable separately.
Figure 3 reveals the Apple TV. As you see, it is tiny, measuring 3.9 x 3.9 x 0.9 inches (98 x 98 x 23 mm) and weighting 9.6 oz (272 g). Like most products from the manufacturer, it has a clean, minimalistic look, without any buttons or signs in the front, top, and side panels. There is only a white LED in the front of the device, which glows when it is turned on.
[nextpage title=”The Apple TV”]
The Apple TV uses a single core version of the Apple A5 CPU. It has 512 MiB of RAM and 8 GiB of flash memory. This space, however, is not accessible to the user, being used only as cache, since the Apple TV does not allow the user to download and store data. It also comes with an internal Wi-Fi interface compatible with IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n standards.
Figure 4 shows the back side of the device, where the connectors are located: an AC cord connector, an HDMI output, a Mini-USB connector, an optical SPDIF (audio) output, and a 10/100 Ethernet port. The USB port is for service use only, and cannot be used by the owner.
Figure 5 unveils the bottom of the Apple TV, which is covered by a rubber-like layer.
The aluminum remote control is revealed in Figure 6. It is very thin and ergonomic, and feels very solid and tough. There are four directional buttons with a center “ok” button, a “menu” button that allows you (of course) to enter the main menu and also go back when navigating on the menus, and also a play/pause button (you may imagine what this button is for). The remote is very comfortable to use, but its ridiculously thin shape makes it easy to lose in the slots of your couch.
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Installing the Apple TV is very easy: just plug the AC cord, connect it to a TV using an HDMI cable (as we mentioned before, you will have to buy one), and press any button in the remote control to start using it. You can also connect it to a home theater sound system using an optical cable, if you want. And if you do not have a wireless network, you will need to connect an Ethernet cable, since the Apple TV is just a stylish paper weight if you do not connect it to the Internet.
After powering it up for the first time, you will have to configure the Wi-Fi network, by just choosing one available in your house and typing the passkey using a virtual keyboard.
After that, using the Apple TV is a breeze. We actually put the control in the hand of a seven-year old girl and in a few seconds she was watching her favorite shows without the need of any help.
The first option in the main screen is to rent or buy movies at Apple iTunes store. There is also an option to listen to the music you own at this same store, and browse over content shared by a computer running iTunes (it can be a Mac or a PC).
The Apple TV is excellent to watch YouTube videos, and for watching movies and TV episodes on Netflix, for example. There is also access to several other services, as you can see in Figure 8.
One of the coolest things about the Apple TV is the integration with iOS devices. You can use your iPad or iPhone as a remote control and input keyboard for the Apple TV. You can also redirect the audio output of your iOS device to the Apple TV using AirPlay, which is great if you want to be the DJ playing the music stored at your iPhone while you walk around on the party, for example.
You can even mirror the screen of your iPad or iPhone at your TV, which can be great for presentations and lectures, or to show your photos and home videos to your family at a big screen.
However, there are two big minuses on this gadget. First, it is not a media player in the strict sense. You cannot watch a movie or see photos you have stored in a USB memory stick or external hard drive, since the USB port behind the Apple TV is for maintenance purposes only. Actually, there is no way to store any content (the 8 GiB of internal memory is actually not documented, the user cannot access it) or play stored contents.
It would be great if you could simply remove the memory card from your camera and insert it on the Apple TV to show your photos at your TV set.
Second, you are not able to install (or uninstall) apps on it. You can only change the order of the icons on main menu, but you are restricted to those options, most of them attached to the iTunes store. The Apple TV does not allow the user to browse the web, as most smart TVs do.
It is very disappointing, even more if you keep in mind the device uses a modified version of the iOS. It should not be difficult to include a browser or at least Facebook and Twitter apps, but the reason seems not to be noble: if you could surf the Internet on an Apple TV, you could be less motivated to buy an iPad.
Figure 9 shows the settings menu, which brings a few options, mostly devoted to configure your iTunes Store account, Wi-Fi settings, screen saver, etc.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Apple TV include:
- Dimensions: 3.9 x 3.9 x 0.9 inches (98 x 98 x 23 mm)
- Weight: 9.6 oz (272 g)
- Operating system: Apple TV Software (Based on iOS 6)
- Processor: Single-core Apple A5 (ARM Cortex-A9 core)
- GPU: PowerVR SGX543MP2 (integrated in the Apple A5 chip)
- RAM: 512 MiB
- Storage: 8 GiB
- Memory card slot: No
- USB ports: One Micro-USB port, for service purposes only
- FM Radio: No
- Outputs: HDMI, Optical SPDIF
- Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n
- Network: One 10/100 Ethernet port
- Bluetooth: Yes, version not informed
- More information: https://www.apple.com
- MSRP in the U.S.: USD 99.00
The Apple TV is a well-thought device. It is great if you have an iPhone or iPad, mostly if you buy lots of contents on the iTunes Store. It actually brings your iTunes’ content to your living room (or sleeping room, or kitchen) TV.
If you are addicted to Netflix and prefer to watch it on a big screen, the Apple TV is a great gadget. Of course, as long as your TV is not a smart TV already.
But if you want to play digital content (music, movies, or photos) stored in physical media (thumbdrives, memory cards, or external hard drives), the Apple TV is useless, unless you use a computer to add the content to your iTunes library.
It also does not turn your conventional TV into a smart TV, since most smart TVs provide Internet access, allowing you to browse the web, access social networks, and more.
- Full HD (1080p) HDMI output
- Easy and intuitive to install and use
- Fits beautifully in any media center
- Solid and tough
- Great for using Netflix on a big screen
- Nice integration with iOS devices and iTunes
- Relatively inexpensive
- Does not come with an HDMI cable
- You cannot install or remove apps
- Does not allow web browsing or social network access
- Does not accept USB media or memory cards
- Movie rentals at iTunes Store are expensive