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Multimedia & VoIP Reviews

Introduction

Apple TV

At a Glance
Product Apple TV (MB189LLA)
Summary Network Multimedia player with Wireless 802.11n support and embedded hard-drive
Pros • Sophisticated interface
• Impressive Music and Slide Show capabilities
• Easy to use
• Standalone YouTube support
Cons • Very limited video codec support
• No storage expansion

The Apple TV has been out for several months now, and I'd been reading the reviews, sitting on the fence trying to decide if I really needed one. I've tried out a dozen or more network multimedia players in my house and they've all had shortcomings. None could play all of my movies, most had annoying bugs, and very few had a user interface that looked anywhere near modern.

The Apple TV is also in a bit of a different category than other products I've tested since it comes with an embedded hard drive, contains a relatively powerful graphics processor, and supports the draft 802.11n wireless protocol. But there are drawbacks too, the biggest being that the unit doesn't support many video formats.

While I was mulling this all over, the choice was made for me. Father's day came and I found myself the proud owner of a 160GB Apple TV of my very own. In this review, I'll check out the base features of the product, and in a follow-up article, I'll hack it to see if I can get it a little closer to my idea of an ideal network multimedia player.

Setup

Figure 1 shows the back of the Apple TV with the various connectors labeled.

Back Panel

Figure 1: Back Panel

As you can see, this is a device designed for HDTV users, as there are no composite or S-Video connectors for older-style TVs. HD users can choose between component or HDMI, but neither cable is included in the box. If you need an HDMI cable, Apple sells one for $20—a pretty good deal compared to the $70 or so that a lot of big box retailers charge.

There have been some complaints that Apple TV isn't "true HD" because it only supports video files up to 720p. But Apple evidently felt that 720p was good enough. For audio, both analog and digital optical output are supported.

The one curious connector on the back is the USB port. Apple's official stance is that the USB port is only for "service and diagnostics", but I don't buy it. My guess is that some sort of USB expansion capability was dropped at the last minute, or maybe the port will be utilized in a future upgrade.

Along with a power connector, you can also see an 10/100 Ethernet port, but no 802.11 antenna connectors. The antennas are internal only. Ethernet is preferred for these devices, and in my entertainment center, Ethernet is available. So that's what I used for my initial configuration. Figure 2 shows the main menu of the Apple TV once it has booted up.

Main Menu

Figure 2: Main Menu

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