Apple TV – Day One

June 12, 2008

Yesterday I decided to pick up an Apple TV (160gb) at MicroCenter. I didn’t get to do much with it until this evening, but I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

First – and completely unrelated – my new DirecTV DVR…the one that replaced my previous box that was hanging…was hung up this evening when we went into the family room. I called DirecTV to log my problem and went ahead with a reset, which seems to have fixed things…for now. DirecTV == Crap. In a perverse way I hope that the unit dies again so I have good cause to just quit DirecTV entirely.

Anyway, back to the Apple TV. First off, there is no cable in the box (other than power), so I grabbed an HDMI cable after work and proceeded to hook the unit up to our receiver. Plugged the Apple TV into HDMI 2 (DirecTV is on HDMI 1) and then ran the receiver setup (which is an on-screen menu, very cool) to assign HDMI2 to “Aux.” I think I can relabel the Input but I don’t think the relabel will show up on my Logitech Harmony remote.

Apple TV setup is a breeze. Choose a language, then it detects Wi-Fi networks in range. Found mine immediately and I entered my key. Bam, done. The system gave me a 5-digit code to use in iTunes on the Mac to pair the Apple TV with my iTunes library. So I came upstairs and opened iTunes and sure enough – Apple TV now shows up in my devices list. I enabled the device and ran back downstairs.

First off, the interface is cool. I don’t use Front Row on my iMac, so this was a first time experience for me. I don’t have a whole lot of video on my iTunes (yet) except for some things I’ve downloaded from the store, and a bunch of those didn’t sync yet because the Apple TV was interrupted on the network…probably because I was busy watching HD movie trailers. Nice. I’ll re-sync tomorrow and get those cleared up.

Some pretty cool things that I’d thought I’d observe on:

  • The iTunes store video rental selection doesn’t seem to be that bad. Considering that I don’t have a Blu-Ray player, the ability to watch HD movies is quite cool. Jen and I want to see National Treasure 2 and what do you know, it’s right there as a top pick. Lots of other HD movies are out there. I think we’re going to throttle Netflix back to a single movie at a time, Apple TV just took a front row seat for us.
  • When is NBC coming back to iTunes? Soon, I hope, I really would like to be able to watch The Office and Earl on Apple TV. Of course there are probably other ways to do this, but I wouldn’t know about that.
  • The ability to link out to Flickr and view pictures was an unexpected surprise. The first thing we pulled up was our own gallery and it’s really quite cool. Of course you can also look at pictures on your own machine, but you have to configure Apple TV to sync with iPhoto through iTunes. It’s a little confusing to me, but I managed to get it done.
  • I’m not a video podcast fan, but I might just become one yet. I download a number of audio podcasts which will remain my companion for drive time listening, but the ability to download tons of original video content immediately at little or no cost is awesome. Onion News Network? Diggnation? Totally Rad Show? DONE.
  • Downside: I need to keep iTunes open to have access to the library, I guess. I don’t know if that’s just until my initial sync is done or if that’s a “forever” thing. I can live with it, but I’d rather not have to stay logged in all the time. I’m still learning about this thing, so I’m hoping I can eventually close iTunes and not stay logged in all the time.
  • Conversions are quick and easy with iSquint. Google it if you’re interested in converting AVI files to an Apple TV compatible format. I’ve got a ton of AVIs from places like TheForce.Net and the like that I would like to be able to expose through iTunes (TROOPS! Ha!) and this little utility is quick and easy. For some reason the “Add to iTunes” option doesn’t seem to work. Ah well.

So far I really think I love the Apple TV. If only – ONLY – there was a seamless way to use it as a real DVR. An OSX based HTPC would be “da bomb,” but I’m not really up on the whole Mac Mini HTPC conversion thing. It all seems a little too homebrew for me. Perhaps when the whole CableCard mess gets figured out…I hope.