Under The Covers
Opening the case of the Apple TV destroys the foam pad it rests on, which I wanted to avoid, but fortunately, other people out there have taken the plunge. This picture shows the main board of the Apple TV. Digging around a bit, I find that graphics are provided by a GeForce Go 7300. The product contains 256MB of RAM. The wireless chipset is from the Broadcom BCM4328M Family. RealTek provides two chips, the 8139C for Ethernet, and the ALC885 for audio.
The only real secret is the main CPU, which appears to be a non-standard Intel chip manufactured for Apple. Most accounts say it's a Pentium M derivative. When I got shell access (more on that in my next article) I could see that it's running at 1 GHz.
Software-wise, Apple had already specified that the Apple TV runs a stripped-down version of OS X, and my poking around verified that it is. I was also interested to see how much power this little unit would draw. My meter showed it used 14 Watts when idle and around 18 when in use.
I'm enjoying having the Apple TV on my network. Unlike a lot of other products I've tried, this one is fun to use. The user interface is well thought out, with impressive graphics and animations. All of my music, including songs I've purchased from the iTunes store, is playable using the complex playlists I've specified. The photo slide show capabilities are head-and-shoulders above anything else I've seen. Syncing media between my computer and the Apple TV is seamless and easy.
However, there are also downsides that limit my enthusiasm. The video codec support is weak, meaning that the majority of my current video library is unusable unless I take the time to convert it. The storage in the product can't be expanded, and as I found out, most of mine is unusable, since the hard drive in the computer I sync with is smaller than the drive in the Apple TV.
Apple has said that they will be adding functionality to the Apple TV, and maybe some of these concerns will be addressed, but until then I'd have a hard time recommending the product if your main use is for displaying your existing video library. If you mainly want to display your photos and listen to your music while viewing an occasional video from the iTunes store or from YouTube, I think you'll be very happy with this product.
Or, if you're willing to void your warranty and get your hands dirty with software modifications, you can address the shortcomings in the Apple TV. In my next article, I'll show how you can increase storage, add video codecs, and generally customize the unit to meet your needs.