Apple TV Explained

4/21/2012 3:58:20 PM

What does the latest upgrade to Apple's TV box has in store for the end user.

The Apple TV Explained

At Apple's March 7 event held at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, the third iPad model was announced. However, Apple's CEO Tim Cook also revealed the third iteration of the Apple TV - a set-top box that was long considered merely one of a Steve Jobs' hobbies. Unlike the previous models, this one can finally stream true HD content in 1080p.

Description: Apple TV Explained (Part 1)

However, the 1080p resolution support wasn't the only thing that Apple added to the set-top box. A completely new interface was also shown off by Apple's Eddy Hue. This new interface really changes the way users can interact with the now-released third model of the Apple TV. It is much more intuitive with icons representing a variety of media. These icons can be easily selected and are represented by images of the different types of media that users are accessing. The third Apple TV model also starts at only $99, like the previous models.

What the Apple TV means for end users

The Apple TV is a set-top box, but is also often called a digital media receiver. Although it has TV in its title, it is based on a conglomeration of media. It also comes with no display of its own. It is a piece of hardware designed to go hand-in-hand with other Apple devices and requires a separate TV set. It can also be described as a network appliance, in a small form factor, designed to play a wide range of media in the living room.

The idea behind the Apple TV is to take all of your iTunes content - whether it is TV shows, movies, music, or multimedia – and bring it to your living room's TV set. You can access certain iTunes content directly from the Apple TV now and without the need for a Mac or iDevice connected to the TV set. The Apple TV does it for you. However, you may not be able to access music and images directly without streaming from another device or putting this content in iCIoud. Apple's iTunes Match allows you to access your entire music collection via iCIoud and Photo Stream allows you to access your image collection just the same.

Although the Apple TV does feature internal components or hardware specs matching other iDevices, its purpose is quite different. It doesn't currently allow you to use the App Store and run apps off of it. You will need another iDevice to mirror those apps to your TV set. Apple TV acts like the hub between the two mediums in this regard. It also comes with a small remote, unlike other iDevices that rely on touch interfaces. The remote may remind you of the original iPod models and is quite sleek in appearance.

Apple does allow for certain apps to run on the device, but they are built-in. This means you can't access the App Store to download new ones from the device. For instance, Netflix is available and runs directly from the Apple TV. There isn't any sort of streaming required from external iDevices or even iCIoud for you to run Netflix. YouTube also runs directly from the device, as does the Safari Web browser. General iTunes content, like movies and TV shows, can be rented or purchased directly from the device though. This content can also be stored in iCIoud and accessed from there on different Apple devices besides the Apple TV. Other services are also available directly from the Apple TV, including Vimeo, Flickr, and certain live sports. However, so far, some services like  Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and Pandora radio aren't available on the Apple TV -- for they are on the competing Google TV and Hulu platforms.

One benefit Apple TV has over other TV or streaming services, in regards to movies and TV shows, is that it runs commercial-free software. The multimedia you purchase or rent off iTunes and run off the Apple TV is commercial free. Also noteworthy is its small and sleek form factor. The Apple TV is so tiny; it probably won't stand out in any living room. This also makes it a great alternative to Blue-ray players with multimedia and Netflix streaming built-in. If you love digital content and don't play many Blue-ray discs, the Apple TV is the likely alternative for you to consider. Keep in mind I am talking about the latest two models and not the original Apple TV, which was quite bulky in comparison.

The idea of moving the set-top box away from other devices wasn't part of Apple's original plan for the device. When looking at the many features and offerings available on the latest model, it is evident that Apple took user feedback into consideration. Steve Jobs once said, "Apple TV was designed to be an accessory for iTunes and your computer. It was not what people wanted. We learned what people wanted was movies, movies, movies."


AirPlay lets you either stream or mirror the same content you are accessing from another iDevice onto your TV set. The Apple TV acts as the hub or medium between your iDevice and TV. For example, you could be playing a game from your iPad and mirror the image to your TV set. This way you can play like a console and use your iPad as a controller. This means that you won't have to worry about your fingers covering a section of your gameplay screen. You can also use your iPad as a storage device with other movies or media being streamed to a friend's Apple TV. I imagine this will be particularly useful at parties or family gatherings.

Description: Your iPhone to widescreen Apple-TV or other AirPlay-enabled devices

An AirPlay icon will appear when your iDevice(s) and Apple TV appear on the same Wi-Fi network. The difference between streaming and mirroring is that mirroring essentially shows you the exact same thing on your large display as what you are seeing on your IDevice. It basically allows you to use iOS on the Apple TV, but in an indirect way. The hard drive that the content comes from is on the device being mirrored to the Apple TV and not the set-top box's hard drive. Streaming is more reserved for multimedia running from your iDevice like videos and photos.

The Latest Version

The current latest Apple TV model or third version thus far, was released on the same day as the latest iPad - on March 16. Besides the new interface and 1080p support, it also features beefed up hardware specs. This time around Apple decided to equip it with a single-core A5 CPU. An HDMI cable is, however, required to connect it to an HD TV set, which is sold separately. The original model had component cable support, but the latest two models don't.


Despite the new interface being added to this third iteration of the Apple TV, the device is still missing a key component to most other Apple products ~ an OS like IOS for users to operate is the main drawback. There is a difference between a functioning OS users have access to, and an interface running on a basic OS in the background. This is where Apple's greatest potential lies with the device; however, the potential may not be realized anytime soon.

If Apple puts a real operating system, say iOS, inside the box for users to access, it would undermine other Apple products. Think about it, if you only have to purchase an Apple TV for $99, how likely would you be to purchase a Mac Mini? Heck, how likely would you be to purchase an iPad if you own an Apple TV and a MacBook Air? Some of you may still purchase your Mac Minis or iPads for other reasons they excel in. However, for many customers. It may save them money to just use the Apple TV over other products.

This Is why Apple isn't likely to put iOS in an Apple TV anytime soon. What Apple is allowing though is for greater flexibility of the type of content It supports. There is talk of broadcast TV channels being available as apps for instance. Of course Apple has to secure those rights first, which won't be easy. There are also more sports channels or games that will become available to watch from an Apple TV over time. We may see more pay-per-view content as the platform matures. Think of live UFC events, boxing, or other entertainment. This is a huge potential for Apple.

However, the one arena I see the greatest potential In the Apple TV is with gaming. I see Apple expanding its hardware to offer gamers a cheaper alternative to gaming consoles than what Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo offer. I imagine iCIoud features will continue to be expanded for every Apple product, especially the Apple TV. Apple could partner with OnLive or produce a similar cloud-based gaming service, where big companies can put titles up on the platform for gamers to stream. However, real gamers will also need a controller and Apple would need to provide them with one.Description: Apple TV


Although the Apple TV is a great digital media receiver and set-top box, there is competition out there. The Google TV platform, for instance, is an alternative – as is Roku. If you live in the Apple ecosystem, regularly use iTunes content, have access to other Apple products and devices, you should definitely consider the Apple TV. However, if you need a real operating system with the flexibility of running native apps, you may consider Google's alternative (not Roku either). It all comes down to what you need out of a set-top box and how you plan on using it. The Apple TV is a great bargain though at its $99 price tag.
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