My Take on Apple TV, Take Two

17 February 2008

What a huge upgrade this is! A completely free, brand-new piece of hardware! This is a round-up of little things I’ve noticed that aren’t particularly highlighted elsewhere.

Show Everything or Only Synced Content

Remember how you could connect to another iTunes library and see all that content instead of just what was synced to the Apple TV? You can still do that, but if you uncheck this option, you will see the entire contents of the syncing iTunes library:

iTunes Apple TV Sync All Checkbox

It’s like you’ve suddenly expanded the storage of your Apple TV way beyond the confines of the built-in hard drive. You see everything, but some of it is synced and some is not. This is seamless to the user. If you specify automatic syncing, iTunes will sync as much of the content as it can, then stream the rest.

This is a fantastic feature for 40Gb users and it is really cool to see everything, but personally, I still like the concept of Apple TV only storing a subset, specifically, the next few episodes of TV shows in sequence or unplayed podcasts.

TV Show Display Tweaks

Seasons of a particular show are now separated by a small line of text and episode names are prefixed by their number in sequence:

Apple TV TV Shows Menu with Season Dividers

AirTunes

I think this is a killer feature despite its low-key appearance. It instantly solves the problem of not being able to sync Audible audiobooks to the Apple TV. What’s cooler than Airport Express is the ability to start and stop the content. It’s like getting an Airport Express for free, with more functionality. This feature is so cool it alone warrants a stampede to upgrade.

Select the Apple TV as a speaker output in iTunes, begin playing and after a few seconds, the audio file appears in the Now Playing screen with accompanying artwork, just like local content.

iPhoto Event Support

Apple TV joins the iPod and iPhone in adding support for iPhoto events. You can select a number of events to sync, in addition to all the older options:

iTunes Apple TV Photos iPhoto Events Menu

Here is how it looks on screen:

Apple TV My Photos Menu

Parental Controls

This now matches iTunes. I like seeing international support for country-specific ratings:

Apple TV Parental Controls

Bugs

My Apple TV remembered my Australian iTunes Store setting, but when I go into the TV Shows submenu, the first option is Favorites, which only applies to the iTunes Store and we don’t have TV shows in our store. Bug or unwitting reveal of upcoming launch of TV shows on the Australian store? Also, in Parental Controls, I can’t select a TV rating. The only option is “No”, even though Australia does use TV ratings.

The interface hung a number of times but this could be due to iTunes constantly trying to sync while I was exploring. Now that this process is complete I’m hoping it works better. I’m also starting to suspect that my modem is not providing the speed it should be, so if Apple TV is choking on a slow connection, it could also be a reason why it locks up.

I was unable to buy any music item from the store since I installed on Wednesday, 13 Feb. I’ll be ringing Apple on this one.

Enhancement Requests

The continued lack of support for movies in albums makes the movies menu unwieldy, as you get all of them in alphabetical sequence. Apple still seems to maintain the idea that movies are discrete files that would never appear with related material such as trailers, out-takes, etc. Here I’ve got two movies both named Accident. One is a US Get a Mac ad, the other is the UK version:

Apple TV Movies Menu

I have compiled each region’s ads into albums. These should appear in the Movies menu as albums do in Music.

Summary

Go and get your update. It’s not often that you get a brand-new piece of hardware for free via a software update.

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More YouTube on Apple TV Thoughts

21 June 2007

I’ve read some negative comments about this feature and how stupid it is to watch low-quality video on a large TV. Here are my thoughts.

Sure, a lot of the content looks like crap, but this is not the fault of Apple, Apple TV nor YouTube. Coming from the common user, who is not a quality hound nor necessarily technically proficient, you are going to get a lot of very poor video. I’m sure that this is compounded by the conversion from whatever was uploaded into H.264 (I watched a supposedly high quality clip of Paul Potts and there were a lot of blocky artifacts). Someone said that it’s more about the content than the quality and I think this sums up YouTube most aptly. The content is compelling despite the technical hurdles.

As with a number of Apple releases, it’s all about the potential rather than the actualised. I think the popularity of YouTube, pushed by the behemoth that Apple has become, has the potential to change the whole quality factor and usher in the next stage: higher resolution and hopefully, less compression. I find compression to be a more important factor than resolution in a lot of cases. The current web standard in general still seems to be QVGA (320 x 240). I think it’s inevitable that this will give way to VGA (640 x 480). iTunes could be said to have started this trend. If Apple TV becomes a commercial success, it could be a driving force.

It really is a nice experience to sit on the couch and browse YouTube, much nicer than sitting at a computer. The simplified interface is easier to look at than the somewhat cluttered web version. I’ve used my computer at work to add items to my favourites and then watched them at home instead. Just be aware that you won’t be able to watch everything just yet. This caught me out tonight when I added a video to my favourites and it didn’t show up on Apple TV. Wondered why until I realised that it must be one of the ones that hasn’t been converted.

I’m not a big Web 2.0 guy but I like the very indie nature of a lot of these videos. I’m not interested so much in the music videos and blogs as I am in snippets of events. I did a search for a band but didn’t get anything (obviously not converted yet) but saw an interesting result that was a drum solo. On completion, I was presented with a list of related videos and spent about 20 minutes being entertained by various frenetic drummers. I’ve never, ever browsed YouTube before. My use was limited to viewing embedded video in web pages and clicking links sent to me by friends. This new interface makes it more inviting for me.

For non-US users, it’s possibly even more significant, as it eases the pain that is an absence of movie and TV content on the local iTunes store.

So don’t be down on YouTube on Apple TV. It really is a step up from watching on a computer, even if just for the comfort factor.


YouTube Arrives, with Some Surprises

20 June 2007

Got the Apple TV update tonight. I’ve never had a YouTube account before. Now I’ve got a use for it. I played with it a bit. Good functionality. Not all of the video looks like crap, but you’ve got to expect some poor quality. Some looked quite good.

YouTube isn’t the only new thing. You can now select your country’s iTunes store from a long list. I selected Australia and Top Movies and Top TV Shows disappeared as options in the respective menus. Makes sense. If you’re really keen, you could interpret this as one more step closer to video content on your local iTunes store. You can still view theatrical trailers. It’s also nice to see that iTunes Top Songs and Music Videos are reflecting the Australian store.

There is a new screen saver, which is a simple slideshow of Apple Photos (seems they’ve replaced the flowers) or albums that you’ve synced. Nice update.

Brand new is a parental controls setting, which is a simple four-digit code to control access to YouTube, and possibly future features. There’s enough room in the list for them. If you turn YouTube off, it disappears from the main menu. You can also set it to Ask, in which case clicking YouTube will prompt for the code.

There was a bad cosmetic issue where you would pause on a TV episode, read the description, then play it, after which it would return to the menu and the cursor would still be on that episode. When Apple TV synced, the episode would be removed (set to only new episodes) and the album art and accompanying text would get stuck in the background. If you went up or down the menu, you would always see the old episode behind the other episodes’ details. Moving up out of the menu and back in would clear it. This now seems to have been resolved.

And thankfully that stupid bug where the clock wouldn’t sync and US users would find that anything they played would get time stamped 8 hours in the future (8 hours behind for me) has been fixed.

All in all, a good update. Two annoying bugs stomped, nice YouTube interface and subtle settings adjustments. I’m off to bed now. It’s 2:24 AM. Just had to check it out.