Media Streamer

Second-Generation Apple TV Media Streamer

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

Ever since Louis Daguerre took the first photograph and Thomas Edison lowered the needle on the first phonograph, media has been a part of our lives. The reproduction of still and moving images and sound is an art form that we are unlikely to see the zenith of in our lifetimes. Since the early part of the twentieth century, sound and video reproduction usually came in the form of magnetic tape, film or vinyl records. Now with the proliferation of digital storage methods, evolution has accelerated.

First we had optical media. The ability to store vast amounts of data on a coaster-sized disc was a huge breakthrough for AV enthusiasts. Now our vast libraries of tapes and records would fit on tiny discs that never wear out and don’t require cleaning. Even as a teenager, I was amazed at the quality and convenience of the first music CDs.

Specifications

  • Video Formats: H.264 up to 720p at 30 FPS, MPEG-4 up to 720 x 432 (432p) or 640 x 480 Pixels at 30 FPS, Motion JPEG up to 720p at 30 FPS
  • Picture Formats: JPEG, GIF, TIFF
  • Audio Formats: Dolby Digital 5.1, HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16–320 kbit/s), FairPlay protected AAC, MP3 (16–320 kbit/s, with VBR), Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAV
  • Processor: Apple A4
  • System Memory: 256 MB
  • Flash Memory: 8 GB
  • Inputs: Ethernet (RJ-45), 802.11n Wireless
  • Outputs: HDMI, TOSLink, Micro USB (for service only)
  • Dimensions: 1" H x 3.9" W x 3.9"D
  • Weight: 0.6 Pound
  • MSRP: $99
  • Apple

Today we have a newcomer in the marketplace: the all-digital player. If the data on an optical disc is merely ones and zeroes, why not do away with the disc entirely? With the advent of dirt-cheap hard disc storage and super-fast Internet speeds, you can stream your media right to your TV or audio system without the complexity of an optical reader. This is a relatively new category and the first product I’ve had the chance to review is the Apple TV.

I had considered adding one of these set-top boxes to my system when the first model came out in 2007. The idea of having a large rental library available at the beck and call of my remote is very appealing. An added attraction is the ability to stream all my iTunes content to my TV and/or audio system with no loss in quality or convenience. In the fall of 2010, Apple started shipping their second-generation box. This product really piqued my interest as it sells for a mere $99. After having the Apple TV in my living-room system for over two months, I can say this is a no-brainer addition to my gear rack. Please read on as I delve into the many features offered by this tiny component.

Design

The first Apple TV was a hard-drive based media bridge and sold for as much as $269 depending on storage. With the second-generation product, Apple has gone in a different direction and the changes are significant. First and foremost, they have done away with any form of on-board storage. There 8 gigabytes of flash memory installed but this is used only for buffering. Anything you play through the Apple TV must reside elsewhere, either in the cloud or on your computer.

The unit itself is roughly the size of a hockey puck with gently rounded corners. The entire base is a thick piece of rubber so it will sit on top of just about anything without trouble. My only complaint is that it’s so small; the cabling makes it difficult to position. The included power cord comes coiled in a circle which means there are no kinks to remove when unrolling it. Any cables will work just fine so long as they’re HDMI or optical. There are no analog outputs whatsoever. The micro USB port is for service only. A 33-page manual is included which gives you just enough information to hook things up, connect to your home network, and start watching and listening. There is also a short troubleshooting guide. You can find more detailed information on Apple’s website and in many Internet forums and websites.

Network connections include a 10/100BASE-T Ethernet and WiFi via a built-in 802.11n receiver. It’s backwards-compatible with b and g and operates on either the 2.4 or 5 gHz bands. There is no external antenna to spoil the clean look and in all my testing, it was not missed.

The remote is a tiny strip of aluminum with just two buttons and a navigation circle. One key is labeled menu and is used to back you out of wherever you are in the iOS interface all the way to the root. The other button is play/pause. Fast forward and rewind are handled by the right and left parts of the nav circle. Select is at the center. Despite its diminutive size, the remote feels like an expensive piece which is typical of all Apple products. It also has very strong IR output. I was able to point it casually and execute commands reliably every time. It’s undeniably sexy and my only regret was putting it away after I’d programmed a Harmony to control the system!