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First Look: A great streaming box, especially for Apple fans

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First Look: A great streaming box, especially for Apple fans

3:40 /

While it's still a step behind the Roku 3, the Apple TV is an excellent streaming box, especially for those invested in the Apple ecosystem.

Hey, I'm Matthew Moskovciak from CNET and we are taking another look at the Apple TV. The latest version of Apple's $100 streaming box actually came out back in March of 2012, but since then, it's had quite a few updates that have added some functionality. The physical hardware is still the same. It's a very minimalist black box which is good since it doesn't call attention to itself and your TV cabinet. Around back, you'll get HDMI, optical audio output, and Ethernet plus there's a micro-USB port, but that's for service only. Inside, there's also dual-band Wi-Fi so you don't need an Ethernet cable in the living room to get it online. The included remote is as simple as it gets. There's a navigation circle, a Play/Pause button, and a Menu button which doubles as a Back button. It's an easy remote to use, although it doesn't quite compared to the Roku 3's clicker which operates using Wi-Fi Direct and has a built-in headphone jack. The user interface was overhauled awhile back, and now, it has a more app-centric design that kind of makes your TV look like a giant iPad. You can rearrange the apps however you'd like and the layout for Apple's iTunes services is particularly nice, offering up lots of useful info including Rotten Tomatoes ratings. The traditional knock against the Apple TV is that it's short on apps, but that's not really fair anymore. Apple has added a lot of services to its box and most of the major ones are covered like Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, YouTube, MLB. TV, and WatchESPN. There are still some notable exceptions, particularly Amazon Instant, but I think most buyers will be perfectly satisfied with Apple TV's current slate of services. The Apple TV is noticeably light when it comes to streaming music apps as there's no dedicated support for popular services like Spotify, Rdio, Amazon Cloud Player, and Pandora. However, you can access those services using AirPlay which is really the Apple TV's killer feature. Basic idea with AirPlay is it lets you stream any music, video, or photo from your iPhone or iPad straight to your TV. It works with nearly every third-party apps, so you can load up Spotify on your iPhone, hit the AirPlay button, and it'll stream straight to your Apple TV. The Apple TV can also be used with Airplay mirroring which works with newer Macs and it lets you broadcast exactly what's on your screen including Flash video and free Hulu content right to your TV. However, in my testing, while AirPlay mirroring does tend to be a lot more reliable than Google Chromecast mirroring, you should note that it still doesn't look nearly as good as HD video straight from Netflix or HBO Go. The big question is, how the Apple TV stacks up to other streaming boxes? And even with the recent upgrades, the Roku 3 is still my favorite streaming box as it has more channels, excellent cross-platform search, and that neat remote with the headphone jack. There's also Google's $35 Chromecast to consider which is irresistibly priced where at the moment, it only supports Netflix and Hulu and its screen mirroring feature doesn't work all that great with standard hardware. So, overall, the Apple TV is an undeniably polished and excellent streaming box. And if you're heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem with a lot of iTunes content in iOS devices, it's well worth the $100 price. But if you're not heavy into Apple gadgets, the Roku 3 is still the better buy, although the two boxes are awfully close these days. I'm Matthew Moskovciak and this is the Apple TV.

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