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First Look: Apple TV (2010)

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First Look: Apple TV (2010)

5:17 /

The Apple TV's new low $99 price makes it an easy impulse buy for Apple fans looking to bring Netflix into the living room, but many may want to wait until more content is available.

-I'm John Falcone from CNET and this is the 2010 version of the Apple TV. This is the first hardware revision of Apple streaming media box in a few years and the company has made several key changes in its design, functionality, and price. The enclosure has been shrunk down to this incredibly tiny size, less than a quarter of the size of the original model. One way space was conserved is that the unit no longer includes a hard drive. Instead of buying and downloading videos, the Apple TV is now strictly a streaming only affair. Now, instead of the entire iTunes store, you can choose from a rental-only subset of instant streaming content from TV providers like ABC, Disney, FOX, and the BBC. While some at 99 cent HD episode options are included, we were disappointed that some of the most popular shows on those networks like House, Fringe, and Modern Family were not currently available for streaming at this time. The same goes for any shows from NBC, CBS, and most cable networks. Thankfully, there are 2 workarounds, you can buy those other shows and movies from your computer via Apple's iTunes software and then stream them from your computer to your Apple TV over your home network though that's slower and more cumbersome procedure than we'd like. Also, buying them is currently more expensive, up to $2.99 for an HD TV episode. The other new viewing option on Apple TV is Netflix streaming for a huge fan of Netflix's online streaming service which offers unlimited viewing of movies and TV shows for as little as $9 per month. It's great to finally have it available on the Apple TV. But given that Netflix is now available on nearly all internet-connected entertainment products, it's more of a catchup feature than a distinguishing factor. That said, the Netflix is interface is a step beyond what you normally get with animated menus and the ability to search and make on the fly changes to your viewing queue. Apple TV also offers acces to YouTube videos, Flickr photos, MobileMe photos, and several online internet radio stations as well as podcast. You can also stream videos, photos, and music from PCs and Macs running iTunes. It's worth noting that for now, you're limited to services Apple has included on the Apple TV. Unlike the iPad and iPhone, there's currently no app store so you can add new content from third party providers. The box itself is only HDMI and optical audio outputs. Unlike Roku's competing product that means you can't connect it to older non-HD TVs. The Apple TV does have state-of-the-art dual band, wireless, and Wi-Fi and it can also connect to wired Ethernet networks as well. Image and sound quality on the Apple TV were largely superb. We found the picture quality of the Apple content to be competitive with that of most satellite and cable programming. HD content is limited to 720p but most viewers won't find anything to complain about. The key here as with all streaming boxes is making sure you have enough network bandwidth for smooth downloads. Another area where Apple TV really shines is in its superb design and ease of use. Set up is a breeze compared with many home networking products and the interface is downright elegant and responsive unlike Roku's more utilitarian approach. While the included remote gets the job done, we love that any iOS handheld, an iPhone, iPod Touch, or an iPad can also act as a touchscreen remote via Apple's free Remote app. And because these works via Wi-Fi, they double as RF remotes which don't need line of sight to the Apple TV unit, meaning you can hide it away under a cabinet or behind a television. And speaking of Apple handhelds, there's also a forthcoming feature on the Apple TV that maybe a major upgrade. AirPlay will allow medias from selected apps to be beam from Apple handhelds to the Apple TV itself. It's sounds very promising, but it won't become active until the November iOS 4.2 upgrade hits. Perhaps the biggest improvement on the new Apple TV is the price. It's just $99 which is less than half the price of the original model. But if you don't count Netflix, the list of the rent-only content available on Apple TV right now is disappointingly small. By comparison the Roku box includes access to Netflix and Amazon's video-on-demand on channel, a streaming service with far more options than what you can get on Apple TV's rental service right now. Roku will also be adding Hulu Plus in the near future. That said, Apple TV's sure comings are strictly content-based, something that can be fixed in instant with a software update. We hope that Apple adds even more TV content and third party services to the device and we're looking forward to seeing how much the AirPlay feature helps accomplish that in just a few short weeks. Until then, stay tuned. I'm John Falcone for CNET and this is the new Apple TV.

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