As Steve Jobs said during his presentation at September's product launch, Apple TV never really took off. We won't get into the whys and why nots of that, because we're looking to the future with the second generation of the device, which will be available in the UK within the next four weeks, priced at £99.
Physically, the new Apple TV is much tinier than the previous iteration. It's less than 10cm square, it's 80 per cent smaller than the previous model, and it fits right in the palm of your hand. Don't pick it up, though -- the Apple TV's proper place is beneath your telly, plugged in via HDMI and hooked up to your home Internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, streaming video goodness into your eyeballs.
Once connected, you can enjoy on-demand video, navigating Apple TV's various menus using the stylish interface, and slender aluminium remote. Exactly what you get to watch is a bone of contention, however.
In the US, people will be able to watch movies and TV shows streaming in high definition for fairly low prices. They'll pay $4.99 for a first-run movie (available the same day it comes out on DVD) and be able to rent HD TV shows for just 99 cents, from networks such as ABC and Fox. Netflix is also on board, ready to pump its video library into people's brains.
In the UK, however, things are different. When we saw Apple TV, the 'TV shows' tab was notably absent from the menu interface, and there's no Netflix either. These things could change, and hopefully will if Apple manages to secure network deals here in the UK.
Prices are also a little odd here in Blighty. To start with, the whole package costs £99, compared to $99 in the US. First-run movies will also cost £4.49 to rent, which makes us think Apple has forgotten that exchange rates exist.
Both those points could change, and we hope they will because, in terms of form factor and potential entertainment value, Apple TV is an attractive prospect. We found that navigating the menus was an incredibly intuitive experience, and we really hope that the prices and available content can come more in line with those of the US.
All video content through Apple TV is rental-only. That means you won't be able to download anything to any kind of internal storage. That could be good -- it means you don't have to mess about with organising your downloads and videos. On the other hand, it's sometimes good to have a download to keep -- you might not want your paid-for content vanishing into the ether should your Web connection go down.
Once you purchase a movie, you'll have 30 days to start watching it, and, once you hit 'play', you'll have 48 hours to watch it as many times as you want.
You can also access content from sites like YouTube and Flickr, and MobileMe. If you so desire, you can funnel content (music, photos and video) to Apple TV from a computer running iTunes, or an iPad on the same network. Sadly, we weren't able to test this during our hands-on.
One feature that does tickle our fancy is the integration of movie reviews, courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes. You'll be able to navigate through to a movie, and then check out what others have said about it. It's a thoughtful addition that should help you avoid being duped into renting a real stinker.
If you don't fancy bending over to pick up that trendy remote control, you can download a remote app. Free from the App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch, it lets you swipe your mobile device's screen to navigate the various menus on the TV. It might seem pointless, but we reckon using the iPhone's Qwerty keyboard to tap out searches will be far less hassle than painstakingly choosing letters from a grid using the supplied remote (from what we've seen this looks like the default text-entry method).
The second-generation Apple TV is an enticing prospect, but it smarts that the UK version is more expensive than the US one, and there doesn't seem to be as much available content, although that may soon change. The hardware, however, looks really neat, and we're not entirely averse to the idea of streaming-only content.
Edited by Charles Kloet