Even though only one computer can be synced to the Apple TV, up to five more can supply content to it. Figure 11 shows the "Sources" menu where other instances of iTunes can be selected.
Figure 11: Sources Menu
Once a content source has been selected, it behaves exactly like a synced source. The only difference is that since the media has to travel over the network, you can expect to have some lags and perhaps an occasional stutter on large videos. The initial release of Apple TV didn't support streaming photos, but an update to iTunes adds this capability. I had hoped that I could select one of my iTunes servers that I have running from a Network Attached Storage device on my network, but evidently Apple doesn't support foreign servers.
Each new iTunes source you add has to enter a unique five-digit key that is used in an encrypted handshake. It's not likely that other servers will be able to support this handshake. I had also hoped that I could "push" music to the Apple TV, much like you can with an Apple AirportExpress, but this was also not supported. You can only "pull" content using the on-screen menus.
It may seem a bit strange, but I feel that the one killer feature of the Apple TV is its screen saver. Most of these products that I test have a simple screen saver—usually just a black screen with the manufacturer's logo crudely bouncing around. This isn't the case with the Apple TV. Several screen savers are available, but the one I've settled on is a photo screen saver as shown in Figure 12.
Figure 12: Photos Screen Saver
It's about impossible to capture the behavior of the screen saver in a still-shot, but basically photos from your library (or your album art collection) slowly scroll up the screen in different 3D planes, and then every 30 seconds or so, they do a quick 3D "swirl," ending back in their original location. A low-quality video of the screen saver in action can be found on YouTube.
I've had people come to my home who stop and watch the show, almost become mesmerized by it. Select your favorite music playlist, let the screen saver come on, and enjoy the show. As an example of Apple thinking of little things, if the screen saver is on as a new song starts, a little album art and title display fades in down in the left corner, stays for about five seconds, and then fades back out. The "pause" and "play" buttons on the remote also kick off the fading album art display, without interrupting the slide show.
The Apple TV is the first device I've worked with that supports the draft 802.11n wireless protocol. If you have 802.11n devices on both ends of your connection the maximum theoretical speed (raw data rate) is 248 Mbps. Bit even if you only get half that speed, you'll still be in pretty good shape for streaming video.
In my case, I'm still on the 802.11g protocol, so that's what I checked out. Setting up for wireless was pretty easy. Figure 13 shows all the access points that the Apple TV found in range.
Figure 13: Wireless network selection
When I selected my access point, I was prompted for an encryption key, which I entered using a nice on-screen keyboard. A few seconds later, the network connection was established, and the Apple TV was operational just like on the wired network. I tried streaming a few files and everything worked well. The access point I was connecting to was only a few feet away, so it wasn't much of a stress-test.
To check it out a bit further, I moved the Apple TV to the far corners of my house and tried again. In this location, I normally have a weak signal, so it wouldn't be surprising to me to have some dropout, but in my short amount of testing, I saw no problems. However, in general, I would recommend a wired connection for streaming any kind of video.