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Apple Tv review

by RustyDallas / September 1, 2008 12:38 PM PDT

It's installed and I've been playing with it over much of the long weekend. Happy Labor day by the way. I bet you all deserved the long weekend. Set-up was routine. I only have a cable modem and didn't realize that I would also need a router. That slowed me down a little but I bought one on sale at Fry's for 20.00. You can hook it up via either HDMI or component cable and SPDIF cable. In my case, I was out of HDMI ports on my receiver so I went with the latter. Another set-up stumper for me was that after programming my universal remote to enable my zone 2 on start up, I didn't get sound to my second room speakers. Upon re-reading my Onkyo owners manual, I realized that it was because I was sending a digital signal to the receiver and the zone 2 needed an analog signal. Fortunately, there is an RCA analog out on the back of the Apple and it sends a separate analog signal through those ports along with the digital signal. Hooked up the RCA's and the problem was solved. As soon as you turn it on, the menu's come up and are self explanatory. All in all set up was pretty easy and remember, if I can do it, anyone can.

The Apple remote was a big dissapointment. You get "up", "down", "left" (rewind), "right" (fast forward), play and pause. That's it, not even volume control. I had no problem programming my universal but because there's no volume buttons, I have to switch it from the Apple TV Activity to the Apple TV menu to use the on screen menus. Then, I have to switch to the receiver button to control the volume. I guess, on the bright side, all of that extra button pushing with my left thumb is going to really improve thumb conditioning.

I loaded my CD's into my computer and I-tunes immediately found and imported the music (I chose to use WAV files). After that, I just built play lists and hit the "Synch" button. Presto, it downloaded everything to the Apple TV hard drive. Very easy and very slick. I did A/B tests listening to the CD's on my OPPO and then again from the Apple TV. Pretty impressive. I could hear only a very slight difference. One thing the Apple does need though, is a built in, on screen equalizer. I had to tinker with my receiver speaker levels a little to get the sound stage right. In true Apple fashion, I-tunes went out and found cool album artwork to add to all the songs I imported into it and they sort of slide show through the music menus. The display is as pretty as you would expect from Apple. I also easily added some digital photo's that you can set up slide show's with or use as your screen saver.

Speaking of screen savers, you are limited to the one that Apple gives you which is a slide show of flora and fauna. I would like them to enable me to download the screensaver of my choice to run while the music is on. In particular, I want a video screen saver rather than a slide show.

You're limited to I-tunes radio right now. Even with that, you have to create a play list and drag the stations you want into it. After synching with the Apple TV, you can then play those stations from the folder even with the computer off. There is no icon on the Apple TV's menu's to click on for radio. I now have many stations that aren't available to me in Dallas including some that I have been wanting. Unfortunately, I cannot get any local stations. In particular, I'd like to have my local sports radio station and can't get it. Picking any station I want on the net is something else I hope Apple gives me in future updates. That would be a big plus and would put it on par with the Squeezebox.

Lastly, there's video quality. I considered movie and TV show downloads to be just a little bonus since I have On Demand already through Time Warner. This was not a feature I was shopping for but today I downloaded one of my favorite movies (King Arthur-Clive Owen version) to see how good it was. The download, even though 720p, only needed about 70 seconds before I received the instruction that I could begin viewing. After that, the download had no problem whatsoever keeping up. According to CNET, my download speed is 1575 kb/s. I have this movie on DVD and had watched it many times so I thought it would allow for a good A/B test. In the beginning I watched about 5 minutes through the Apple TV and 5 minutes through my OPPO to compare. After that, there was no more need to watch the Oppo. I was stunned at how much better the 720P download was than the upscaled 1080P through my DVD player. I have always been dissapointed with the softness of the picture of King Arthur on DVD but, on the Apple TV, woo hoo...what a difference. The detail was great and the softness disappeared. For instance, I saw grain in the wood of the Cardinals carriage and patterns in his robe with detail that made them look totally different if not distracting that weren't distinguishable before. There were more facial lines etc. The only artifacts I saw were in Arthur's chain mail and the detail was so fine that I bet even Blu ray's would have stuggled with it. More importantly though, the contrast went through the roof. The picture has so much more Blu ray like depth that I couldn't beleive it. It was also far better than any 1080i download I've ever bought from Time Warner's On Demand. I don't know why it's so much better but anyone who watched both would immediately see the difference. Extraordinary! The sound quality for music was on par with my DVD but other audio improved. I heard subtle little sounds like the flicker of flames and birds wings flapping through my left and right fronts that weren't there before. I have always been disappointed that the base in the DVD version barely moved my Buttkickers. That is unique to this particular movie and not a problem with others. The download fixed that, though. I felt every skull cave in from every battle axe, lighting shook my bed, etc. I do think the DVD in question is of particularly poor quality but the Apple TV picture far surpasses any DVD I've ever played or any On Demand HD movie I've ever watched. One other caveat, my DVD is a director's cut and the Apple TV download was not. Some of the missing scenes were good ones but the plusses far outweighed that one minus. It looks like a blu ray quality picture to me but I know it's not. I mean, the numbers don't lie. Nevertheless, it's so good that I'm blowing off getting a Blu ray player (sorry Josten). Given the huge selection of available movies, I've also made my last trip to Blockbuster. Todays 720p movie only cost 3.99. I don't know if they all cost that yet but, in this case, it's even cheaper than Blockbuster or On Demand. All of the other features perfomed about as I expected but the feature I wasn't even looking for, movie downloads, far surpassed my expectations and made this one of my better purchases.

Pro's: Great picture quality, huge library of music and movie downloads, slick menus, easy to use, adequate music sound quality, internet radio, picure slide shows.

Cons: Poor remote function, can't pick any internet radio station not listed in I-radio, no I-radio icon in the menu, not enough screen saver flexibility, needs on screen equalizer.

The I-radio problem and the screen save issues can be worked around. There are many free downloads that hack the Apple TV operating system available to fix many things. There's even one that would give me a web browser. For now, I'm going to wait and not go that route as I don't feel computer literate enough. Apple won't support or warranty the product if you do it for one thing. In February, Apple sent a free software upgrade that made this the cool product that it is. Before that, it wouldn't have been anything I wanted. I'm hoping for another major upgrade during CES next year that will fix some of the issues I mentioned. If not, I might try the hacks. What a cool new toy to play this is. I give it a solid A-.

Man, it'll be a long time before you boys see this long a post from me again (Ok, stop clapping). My fingers are tired. I gotta rest now.

Rusty

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Apple TV
by Dan Filice / September 2, 2008 2:54 AM PDT
In reply to: Apple Tv review

I've been noodling with purchasing an AppleTV, but haven't yet. Two Questions: When you download a movie, do you get to keep it permanently or only for a specific period of time? And, where does the movie get saved? To your computer's hard-disk or in the AppleTV? Just curious in case one wanted to store a collection of movies.

The one thing that's kept me from going this route is that I tend to prefer having a hard copy of the program where I can take the DVDs on vacation, etc.

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Hey Dan
by RustyDallas / September 2, 2008 3:27 AM PDT
In reply to: Apple TV

You can either download straight to the Apple TV or to your computer. You can either rent as I did, or buy. I think buying is more like 14.99 or something but I'm not sure yet. If you go the buy route, I'd say download from I-tunes to your computer and then transfer for viewing to the Apple TV. Wont take but a minute to sync and transfer. After viewing, I'd delete the movie from the Apple TV. I've thought about this myself and may do it someday. HD movies take a lot of storage space but external hard drives have gotten very cheap. Then there's the problem of what happens if your external hard drive gives out? Might lose s lot of money in movies. So, now you are talking about some storage devices on the market that are multiple hard drives where one backs up the other. The external hard drives are fairly portable though so that might not be a problem. Just take the external HD and plug into your laptop or whatever for viewing. I doubt that you can burn a DVD of the purchased movie but, if you can, that would be my preferred back up method. It's on my list of things to check out.

Rusty

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Thanks for the review, Rusty.
by jostenmeat / September 2, 2008 4:22 AM PDT
In reply to: Hey Dan

I'm sure it will help some folks out when shopping around.

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