Customer Review

1,687 of 1,896 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great at what it does but perhaps too limited, March 19, 2012
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This review is from: Apple TV MD199LL/A (Electronics)
This is an elegant and easy to use little box. The interface is pretty, setup is dead simple (took less than 10 minutes from start to finish), and it's fairly intuitive to use. The problem comes in that it doesn't serve a great deal of function, at least for me.

Apple TV is essentially 3 main functions in one package. iTunes front end, content/channel provider, and wireless display.

On the face of it, Apple TV is a front end for iTunes and allows you to buy or rent content and view it on the box along with previously purchased content. The usefulness of this is based on where you buy content. If it's not iTunes then you can ignore most of it. All the magic from this perspective is essentially gone for videos and even music doesn't work without iTunes Match. You can alternatively access your media from another computer currently running iTunes, but only the content in iTunes (not a huge issue) and again, only when the computer is on and running (think of it like an iTunes extender). The interface is lush and a joy to use but it's dependency on iTunes purchases or iTunes running on a computer diminishes the usefulness. It'd be nice it it could access a network attached storage or something similar.

The other content means are provided through channels/apps, like on a Roku box, but are limited to only 13. Missing are the normal heavy hitters: Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, etc. Only Netflix is present really, but what device doesn't have access to that? I have 3 other devices connected to my receiver that can do it already and personally prefer the PS3 Interface. The general feel of the channel/apps is also very smooth and works fast but some of them feel a bit long in the tooth, as if it could be better but in order to fit the overall design scheme it's not (again Netflix is an example).

The final feature is AirPlay. This is a feature that allows you to stream music and video from your MacOS and iOS device. There's also AirPlay mirroring which takes what you see on your device (or computer once Mountain Lion is out) and puts it on the Apple TV. It seems, based on the packaging, Apple is trying to play this up a lot and I'd agree with that goal. It's really simple and amazing to use where it works (certain applications don't support it or actively block it). If you're familiar with Intel's WiDi it's a very similar thing, especially with AirPlay mirroring. Certain things work better with Airplay though (Slingplayer and Netflix, for example, display the controls on iOS while the video is on the TV) and others not so well (Hulu, for example, doesn't support video out - only mirroring. HBOGo is blocked entirely, mirroring or video out). It works really well and is very smooth with minimal lag with audio and experiences only occasional minor choppiness with video provided you're on 802.11N or have the apple tv wired (had bad problems with quality over two G routers). The same, however, can't be said for AirPlay compatible games like Asphalt 6, which due to lag/stuttering is near unplayable (the jittering and stuttering mean you'll miss too much with fast paced games, e.g. In Asphalt you'll crash).

Your enjoyment of this device will depend directly on the amount you give yourself to Apple, more specifically iTunes. If you don't use iTunes for content purchase at least 1/3 of the functionality is right out the window. And if you own a PS3, Xbox, TiVo, Wii, Roku, Google TV, certain Blu-Ray players, or even a smart TV then there's no point to the channels/apps really. No MacOS or iOS devices and there's no point to the AirPlay aspect. However if you're a diehard Apple fan and have lots of money spent in iTunes, this will be amazing, I'm sure of it.

That's not to say it's not without its pleasure, the device is a joy to use. I find myself wanting to listen to music from my TV just to look at the lush interface that's so simple and yet gorgeous. But, for all of Apple's shine and improvements to the device, they've failed to address the largest issue - lack of content options. Without more channels/apps like Netflix (looking at you Hulu, HBO, etc) Apple TV ultimately suffers from limited usability unless you're a big iTunes fan. While it's fair that a good percentage of people looking at this device will have some content in iTunes, Apple simply cannot rely on that to support this product alone. Features like AirPlay are a welcome addition but likely aren't enough. Especially considering that video playback is a bit choppy and mirroring, especially with games, has too much lag.

For me personally, I'm really only left with the AirPlay feature as a big feature. Which alone might be worth the price, especially if Apple can improve the performance. The content/channels/apps are, even objectively, poor. And the dependency on iTunes either running or being used for content purchases diminishes the utility of the media for me leaving the "Movies", "TV Shows", and "Music" features as empty. Yes it does everything the previous Apple TV did but better, but that's also it's flaw - it doesn't do anything new.

Pros:
++ Simple set up
++ Very pretty and smooth interface
++ AirPlay (for music and video)
+ 1080P

Cons:
-- Very limited channels/content
-- iTunes only for content, even for in network
- iTunes match dependent for music
- AirPlay lags and stutters a bit too much with mirroring and games

Things I'd like to see:
1) Support for network storage for content streaming. You can jailbreak and put plex or xmbc on to do this, but why do I have to?
2) More channels/apps. I've got all the missing channels on my iPad but why not on the Apple TV? Especially annoying since this is based off iOS 5 and has hardware better or on par with the original iPad.
3) Stronger AirPlay performance. (yes it's wired in, but it still stutters for games)

In the end it does really well at what it does (most of the time) but it's a very shallow pool.

COMPARISON TO ROKU 2:
I also own a Roku 2 XS, so I figured I'd update with some remarks in comparison. The Apple TV is notably easier to set up. The Apple TV interface is also generally better, however certain apps (specifically looking at Netflix) while smoother on Apple TV are better laid out on Roku. Specifically with that, I mean Apple TV forces a text list strong interface at front whereas Roku shows you the box art. The remote on the Apple TV feels better but is more limited than Roku (Roku XS is RF as opposed to IR on Apple TV) and also lacks the instant replay (10 second) button found on the Roku XS - very handy at times. Both are limited with text entry but have smartphone/tablet apps for use (although Apple Remote is only on iOS devices, whereas Roku Remote is on Android and iOS - a point to note, but not likely a deal breaker). Image quality is comparable, Apple TV works better wirelessly than the Roku though (especially at start). While Apple's interface is generally better/faster/smoother, it still ultimately lacks in content when compared to Roku. Roku has Pandora, HBO Go, Hulu, Amazon Instant, Crackle, and many other options. Aside from iTunes content (either from your computer or iTunes cloud for movies/tv or iTunes Match) there isn't anything I'm aware of that Apple TV has that Roku does not. Apple TV does have AirPlay, which again makes it nice.

While Apple TV interface is generally better and smoother, the cost of the Roku (I got the XS for $80, so 20% less) and the instant replay button make it a better option for streaming. It's not as refined but it offers the heavy hitters missing from Apple TV. Streaming options are just better with Roku.

Unless you own an iOS device or will be upgrading to Mountain Lion (for AirPlay) or are heavily invested in iTunes store purchases - Roku is better hands down as Apple TV's use will be very very limited. Conversely if you already own a gaming console or a TiVo or something similar then the streaming options of the Roku may not be unique (between my tivo, ps3, and 360 - there isn't a thing I use the roku for that I can't do on one of those - mainly the PS3). If you're interested in a streaming device and don't already own a gaming console, Roku is likely better. If you are only interested in Netflix, MLB, and NHL and/or you're really in love with iTunes or AirPlay, then Apple TV is better.

Personally? I'm keeping the Apple TV, for AirPlay alone, hooked up to my TV in the living room. The Roku is going in my guest room. The Roku is a better device in my opinion, but it doesn't do anything unique like AirPlay. Perfect on it's own though where I don't want to buy several devices again. Apple TV though is much much limited on its own though.

UPDATE:
I've tried other AirPlay games (Real Racing 2, NFS Shift 2) and the performance is better on these games. It's still not what I'd expect or really want to deal with but it's playable for sure. Lag/stuttering happens less often and when it does it's less severe as compared to Asphalt 6. I'll note as well that the performance doesn't have an appreciable difference when the Apple TV is wireless vs wired, so it's unclear what's contributing to the lag. But the fact that some games are doable gives me hope for the future.

UPDATE 2:
Hulu was added - Huzzah! We're getting closer and closer.

I'd recently bought a MBA and have used the Apple TV for AirPlay when trying to show a video to someone. It works well but occasionally refuses to work correctly - either the video is funny or there is no audio. Requires a restart of the MBA to get working (so it's possible the error is on the MBA side).

All in all I still enjoy and use this device but it's only used for AirPlay for me. If you don't own other Apple products or don't intend to use AirPlay I still say your money is better spent on an Roku. I'm still going to leave this as a 3 star review for me. Again it's gained more features but not enough in my mind yet. It's close to a 4 though, but the dependency on iTunes and other Apple devices to be anything unique keeps it down. Feels more like it's supposed to be an accessory for Apple products, not a device to itself so much. Which is fine, but then I'd expect better performance.

UPDATE 3 (Final Update):
So taking a look back on this after nearly two years of ownership. Things have improved content wise - HBO Go is there, Disney and a few other channels have appeared as well. But for all of content improvements they've still ignored the larger flaws while the improvements to competing devices (notably Roku and WD) and the introduction of the Chromecast manage to further highlight the flaws and shortcomings of the Apple TV. There's still no NAS support and most services that could compete with Apple's iTunes (Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Amazon Instant) are still missing and likely will be for the foreseeable future.

The Apple TV interface, while simple, is becoming stale and ugly in a few applications (YouTube and Netflix jump to mind). Roku has drastically improved their interface, bettering Apple as far as I'm concerned. All the while the Chromecast has come on to the scene and for $35 does many comparable things (including whole screen casting similar to AirPlay from laptops - although admittedly not as smooth yet).

Now, more than ever, the value proposition of Apple TV is largely tied to you and your participation in Apple's ecosystem. If you need iTunes access or your need AirPlay, this is the only device to get them on. But if you don't, there's really not any reason I can provide to buy an Apple TV anymore. Even a year ago you could make the argument that if all you needed was Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube hat the Apple TV was as good option thanks to its attractive interface but since Roku has fixed their interface with the Roku 3 this simply isn't the case anymore; the Roku is now the box to beat. The additional content channels provided by Apple TV do help its use, but it seems more apparent that they're deliberately leaving out competing services (or at least that those services have no interest being on Apple TV). So if you use Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Instant, and several other services you have to get something else (for now at least).

I'm not saying Apple TV is a terrible device, I still have mine hooked up in my living room for AirPlay. But if you exclude iTunes and AirPlay there's simply no reason to buy it over a Roku or WD TV or Chromecast anymore really. While iTunes and AirPlay are valuable features I could argue that the absence of Amazon Instant, Vudu, Spotify, Pandora, and Slingplayer are notable weaknesses that other platforms don't have. So in the end it really is based on your ecosystem needs. If you're heavily invested into Apple's world and can do without the missing services then by all means get an Apple TV. But in nearly any other instance your money is better spent elsewhere.
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Comments

Tracked by 17 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 139 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 20, 2012 2:20:38 PM PDT
MajorC says:
Excellent review. Thanks for taking the time to post.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2012 3:03:58 PM PDT
My pleasure, if you have any questions just let me know and I'll try to answer.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2012 6:37:39 AM PDT
JdV says:
A very valuable review. A few questions remain. I have Roku and use mainly Netflix. (no interest in games or music). I have hundreds of DVD Movies converted via Handbrake on my MacBook Pro to M4V for iPad. I was hoping the Apple TV would allow me to watch these converted movies on my 43 inch TV in the bedroom. Roku won't do it. I also have never bought a single movie from the Apple Store but my converted movies work great on the iPad and iPod Touch. The M4V movies also look great on the 24 inch monitors thunderbolt attached to my MacBook Pro using VLC. Will Apple TV let me watch these M4V movies and how exactly? The M4V movies are stored on Western Digital 3TB hard drives attached to the Pro and backed up on a Dell PC XPS external 3TB WD. Even the Dell (Windows XP software) using VLC on it's 24 inch monitor looks great. No lags, no jitter, no stops in video. I just would like these to view on the TV. BTW the entire house is hard wired to internet/routers so wireless connection is not necessary even though I also have AirExpress running for the MacBook Air and the iPad.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2012 8:50:04 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 29, 2012 1:42:31 PM PDT
As best as I recall, Roku boxes aren't really designed to do much more than stream content from the Internet. (there is some support for network storage, I just discovered but haven't looked at it much)

I also have DVDs ripped by hand break, specifically to play on my iPad. From my experience, as long as you have home sharing on you should be able access those movies from the Apple TV provided that one of the computers with the files is on and running. You'll get to it through the computer app on the Apple TV. You can also use AirPlay if you want to control the video from your iPad or MacBook, probably the Dell too (not 100% as I know it will do audio but don't know about video).

It works really well and smoothly. My main issue is that you have to have the computer on to do this, whereas with my Xbox or PS3 I can access my home server directly (or NAS). But if the computer is going to be on for you anyhow, no biggie. The hard wiring will help but the Apple TV does seem to handle itself really well wirelessly.

Hope that helps. In short: you're good to go provided you'll use AirPlay from your iOS device or you don't mind leaving one of the computers up and running.

Posted on Mar 21, 2012 10:01:50 PM PDT
M. Herbst says:
This is one of the most useful and thoughtful product reviews I've ever read. Wow! Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2012 7:43:02 AM PDT
W. Sopchek says:
You can also use the Remote app on an iOS device to control the Apple TV and stream content from the computer.

Posted on Mar 29, 2012 9:59:12 AM PDT
ANB says:
Good review - I agree with almost all points aside from the fact that unless you download everything from iTunes 1/3 of the functionality of this is thrown out the window. I rarely, if ever, download anything from iTunes, I download all my mp3s from Amazon, and only occasionally buy movies - and I find it to be an incredibly useful device. I can watch Netflix, Sports, etc. I own the last model of this and the most current - both have never given me any problems. I can't speak for mirroring or gaming as I don't do those things, but I think this is a much more complete device than this review reads. I don't have cable, I find that there is always something I can find from my subscriptions accessed through this device.

And as for video files converted via handbrake and streaming on this - works flawlessly for me. Have over 300 files converted that way stored on a mac mini server streaming out to the two Apple TVs. If your internet and router are good, you should have no problems.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 29, 2012 10:33:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 29, 2012 1:59:52 PM PDT
I have to respectfully disagree. Yes, I can access non-iTunes purchases but I have to leave a computer on. That's an oversight. Why can it not support network attached storage? I can do it if I jailbreak the device and put XBMC on it, so clearly it's not a technical limitation, just something Apple chooses not to include.

And yes, Netflix is there, but where's Hulu? Where's HBO Go? Where's Crackle? Pandora, Epix, etc? All apps I have access to on my iPad, all apps available on Roku. I understand certain things missing - like Amazon Instant Video, it doesn't make sense for Apple to support a rival content provider, but the other things missing they do support on iOS devices. And many more (Xfinity and TBS for example).

These are all serious shortcomings to me. Yes, it works well for your setup (very well I'd imagine and if I were in your shoes it'd probably be a 4 star product for me), but take the Mac Mini out of rotation the content goes away. Sure you've got netflix and sports, but I have those on one of my other devices (especially Netflix). But on those other devices I get more services and the ability to access network storage. Yes some cost more but I already own them and they do a lot more (video games and blu-ray for example). Even an $80 Roku box has more streaming content.

I'm not saying the device is useless, it's not and far from it. It's just that a heft of its utility is too dependent on content being purchased from iTunes or you having a machine running with iTunes on all the time. Works great for people in your situation, not so great for me. The content channels are, even objectively, lacking (again, Hulu, HBO, Pandora, etc) and the one thing I, personally, would watch (Netflix) I already have on 4 devices.

So I'm left looking at what it does for me. I already own a 360 and a PS3 - they both have Netflix and more and can both access content on my network, granted the interface isn't as nice. For me it's an iTunes extender for when I have a computer on and an AirPlay device. Nice things, but so much more limited than it needs to be or should be at this point. There's no reason it can't support NAS or have more apps/channels. And until it does, it's just a 3 star product to me.

Yes it does what it does very very well and its pretty too (the interface is a lot better than the Roku), that's its saving grace really, but it's all just too little to really be a great product.

To be fair, I'll be keeping the device because it does offer up AirPlay and that alone is worth it to me. If/When Apple improves the quality of AirPlay mirroring or more content is added, I'll update my review to at least a 4 star.

*edited for better clarity, apologies for changes*

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2012 2:32:28 PM PDT
Just Me says:
Am I correct in my understanding that the the tv apps that I have on my ipad like ABC, CW, Crackle, NBC etc. will not work with the Airplay?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2012 3:17:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 10, 2012 3:21:49 PM PDT
Abc will do AirPlay mirroring but doesn't appear to support AirPlay video out, Crackle will do AirPlay video out or mirroring. I don't know about CW or NBC. Differences in mirroring and video out will primarily be aspect ratio. Video out will put the video up in wide screen whereas mirroring will put it up in 4:3 ratio.

I updated the review slightly to clarify that most apps will support mirroring but not all support the video out. Hulu appears to allow for mirroring, but HBOGo allows for nothing. I realize the confusion on my review about that.

If there are any specific app you'd like me to test I can, just if that makes the difference in a buy/no buy situation for you. Unfortunatly there isn't good documenting of what does and doesn't support AirPlay or on what level.
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