Apple TV is amazing

I recently ordered quite a bit of new gear from Apple including an Apple TV. First, some background:

In the past year we upgraded our old tube TV to a relatively large (40″ and now I wish we’d gone bigger) HD set and it’s been wonderful for the small amount of PBS television and the large number of movies we watch, well, I watch. Anne would rather read but tunes in when she’s interested.

My stepdaughter Jessica gave me a great demo of the NetFlix web site and service a year ago and sold me on it, we’ve been happy subscribers ever since. I rarely stream movies on my computer and had not bought a Roku box for the TV, preferring an Apple product if I have a choice.

So, we had all the ingredients for considering an Apple TV and after doing some research I finally understood what it did. In short, I think it’s one of the most interesting products Apple has ever produced but few people really understand it and it may take a while to take off.

We have an AirPort Extreme router upstairs in the office that easily covers the entire house and yard with WIFI but I also had an AirPort Express downstairs connected to it via ethernet running in the walls. This enabled us to play music and streaming radio from our computers, wirelessly via an optical cable that ran between the AirPort Express and our stereo. It worked like a charm for many years.

Apple TV replaced the AirPort Express which is now sitting in a drawer.

Here’s how it hooks up and how it works

1. Plug in Apple TV (to power).

2. Connect Apple TV to ethernet or use wirelessly to connect to your network.

3. Run HDMI cable out of Apple TV into your HD TV.

That’s it on the hardware side. No router configuration needed, nothing.

4. Turn on TV, cycle to the HDMI input that Apple TV is on.

5. Run through a very short setup menu using Apple TV remote to navigate.

6. Use menus to find NetFlix. Log in with username and password.

You’re now set to browse and stream movies. Four minutes after opening the Apple TV box I was watching a movie.

We’re not dropping NetFlix DVDs even with the recent price increase because not enough of their content is streamable but as more content is digitized more people will opt out of getting DVDs and save some money.

7. Use menus to find flickr. Login to your account.

You’re now set to run slide shows of your work or anyone else’s on your HD TV. Trust me, it looks great.

8. Run iTunes and choose Apple TV as the output and whatever you’re playing will show up on your TV or play out of your connected speakers, wirelessly.

9. Use Apple TV menu to find radio. Steam your favorite NPR station in real time instead of attempting to pick it up via broadcast. Works like a charm.

AirTunes
Now, with iOS 4.2 you can stream both iPhone and iPad to Apple TV wirelessly without going through a computer. This is called AirPlay and it’s one of the killer capabilities of this system.

Start watching a movie on your iPad, decide you want to watch it on your big TV so choose AirPlay on iPad, make sure TV is on and HDMI input is set to Apple TV and your movie appears on the TV. It’s that simple. This can be done from an iPad and iPod Touch or an iPhone. Anne and I just experimented with both of our iPhones and an iPad and it works flawlessly for both music and video.

Holy ####!

Let me repeat, we don’t watch a lot of TV, this is not about TV alone (although Apple and NetFlix have a lot of streaming TV available through Apple TV), this is about getting all of your digital media playing in a central place for everyone to see.

Apple TV isn’t going to be for everyone but I can say without a doubt that it’s a joy to set up and use and it does what it’s supposed to do flawlessly. And, at $99 it’s not so expensive that people who understand what it does will avoid it because of price.

Apple used to have a marketing strategy called “digital hub” which put an iMac in the center of your digital life. Apple TV is like a branch of a more distributed home digital network and it’s going to slowly give Apple a way into the living room.

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