While the industry awaits a full-on attack from Apple in the television world, for now the only offering comes in the form of a box to connect to your existing TV set.
If you already own an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, or use a Mac, the £100 asking price is almost cheap enough to let you just take a punt and get an inexpensive taste of what Smart TVs are all about.
However, while the box itself oozes style and will look great on any TV stand, from a Smart TV point of view, the experience might leave you feeling unfulfilled. The device is pretty much locked down and might not offer enough functionality to satisfy most users.
Most important to note is that there’s no ability to add any new apps, and you won’t find a web browser, BBC iPlayer or LoveFilm supported here.
In fact, if you’re not an existing user of iTunes, or have no plans to begin using it, you’ll find access to music and video is rather limited. There is access to YouTube and Vimeo content, and you can also search for photographs on Flickr, but if your favourite service isn’t supported, there’s no way to add it. At least not without hacking the box and replacing the software completely.
But, less of the negatives. Let’s look at some of the positives instead.
Mac users can share content from their computer over Wi-Fi, but this will require leaving your computer on with the relevant apps loaded, such as iPhoto or iTunes (and this means your content must have been imported into iTunes and converted if necessary).
iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users can also use the AirPlay service to stream content to the Apple TV, while the newest devices supporting AirPlay Mirroring allows the transmission of your iPhone/iPod touch/iPad display on the TV.
AirPlay Mirroring also allows you to output a separate display, so you might use your iPhone screen as a remote control when showing a photo gallery or video, or perhaps see a different screen on an iPad game designed to work with Apple TV.
Besides being tiny, the newest Apple TV offers 1080p HD output, and it comes with a sleek and snazzy remote control that operates using traditional RF (and so, you can set up other learning remotes to control your Apple TV if you prefer).
There’s also both Ethernet and Wi-Fi support, including 802.11n over both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Great news for anyone in a heavily congested area, with multiple hotspots in the 2.4GHz range often causing major delays in data speeds, which could impact on your viewing experience. It isn’t just the networking support that’s fast, as the 1GHz A5 processor ensures the Apple TV always keeps up with your demands – offering a user interface that is every bit as slick as operating other Apple devices.
Also, despite not having many apps included (and many of them being rather too US-centric), you do get access to Netflix as an alternative to using iTunes. At just £6 per month (with the first month free), it’s another service you can afford to try out. What’s more, the implementation is arguably a nicer experience than on some of the other set top boxes on the market.
Anyone that does use iTunes will find that there’s very easy access to the latest TV shows and movies, with free trailers and lots of information about each broadcast. What’s more, the Genius feature will gradually learn your viewing habits and recommend more relevant content to you as time goes on. However, in our experience of using Apple TV, the price for renting many movies was often higher than using the pay-per-view services on Sky or Virgin Media.
Besides rumours that Apple will launch its own range of televisions with Apple TV built-in, the real turning point will come if and when Apple decides to open the Apple TV platform up to third party developers. With the addition of a web browser, catch-up TV services from the likes of the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Five, as well as the ability to enjoy LoveFilm instant, Apple TV could become a lot more useful.
It’s worth noting that there’s a limited amount of storage space on the Apple TV and that could limit how many additional apps you could use – so the chances are, if Apple does open up its TV platform, you may find that you’ll need to purchase a new Apple TV anyway.
Apple TV is probably best reserved for Apple users that can gain the most from the device as it is today, although as a way of getting access Netflix, it might also prove rather tempting.
Apple TV – Key Specifications
|Storage space||8GB internal storage|
|TV on Demand||Yes (via iTunes or Netflix)|
|Catch up TV||No|
|Apps and Games||No|
|USB port to play media||No|
|HD support||Yes, up to 1080p|
|Music/Movie Streaming Services||Yes|
|Remote viewing of content||No|
|Other||Access to Apple iCloud, AirPlay and AirPlay Mirroring support for recent iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices.|