Setup - more
To set up the Apple TV, you "pair" it with a single instance of iTunes on your network. Once the pairing is complete, your media will be kept in sync between the Apple TV and this one instance of iTunes. The way it works is pretty much the same as it does for iPods and now iPhones, too. In all three cases, an entry shows up under the "Devices" submenu on iTunes as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: iTunes menu showing Apple TV device
I found it interesting that Apple is leveraging its iTunes application for these devices. Apple has an iTunes installed base of millions upon millions, and appears as if they are using iTunes to backdoor their way into being a home multimedia hub. The iTunes name seems a bit of a misnomer now, since it's handling a lot more than music.
All management and syncing of media occurs from the device menu. Selections can be made as to which media to move over, how often to sync up, etc. Music is fairly straightforward. You pick playlists to move, or you just move everything. Apple supports music in the following formats: AAC, protected AAC from the iTunes store, MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV. What won't work are your Internet Radio Stations from iTunes.
For syncing movies and podcasts, you have a few more options than under Music. You can move unplayed files, most recent files, all files, etc. The supported movie types have been a bit of a sore point for a lot of people, including myself. Apple's format support is very limited. You won't be able to use common movie types such as MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DivX, Xvid, etc. Instead, Apple has chosen to standardize on H.264 and MPEG-4. If Apple has the clout to move the industry toward standardization on H.264, then I'm all for it, but as of now I and many others have a lot of video that is unplayable on the Apple TV.
That said, of the dozen or so network multimedia players I've tried out, none has been able to play all of my videos. Maybe it's a losing battle to try to handle everything and do so poorly. Movies can be converted to an Apple TV supported format from iTunes, but it's a time consuming process that inevitably degrades quality.
The syncing of photos diverges a bit for Windows users vs. Apple OS X users. Under OS X, you can choose to sync your iPhoto library and specific albums, or you can choose a directory of photos. Under Windows, users have the choice of syncing photo albums from a couple of different Adobe products, such as Elements or Album, or as under OS X, a photo directory can be chosen. Supported image formats are JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF and PNG. Figure 4 shows iTunes while syncing my library to the Apple TV.
Figure 4: iTunes syncing to the Apple TV
Note the "thermometer" display on the bottom that shows how much space has been used for the various media files. When I saw this display, I realized that there'd been a bit of a mistake in getting the 160GB version. My primary OS X computer is a laptop with an 80GB drive, and since you can only sync a single system to the Apple TV, I realized that even if I synced my entire drive (not likely) I'd still have a half-empty Apple TV. Oops. (I'll show a way to work around this limitation in a follow-up article.) My initial sync took a couple of hours, so be prepared to wait awhile to fully set up your Apple TV.