Apple TV (2012)
Price Range: $95.98 - $260.82
CNET Editors' Rating: 4.0 / 5
The good: The Apple TV lets you stream all of the movies and TV shows available in the iTunes Store to your HDTV on a rental or purchase basis, with purchases stored in the cloud. Netflix, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, and a handful of other online media services are available, plus music, videos, and photos can be streamed from iOS devices using AirPlay. AirPlay Mirroring lets you stream any Web video to the Apple TV, including free Hulu, if you have a newer Mac running Mountain Lion. And Apple TV's user interface is one of the best there is.
The bad: The competing Roku 3 offers many more content sources (including Amazon Instant), cross-platform search, and a remote with a headphone jack. The Apple TV is also a much less useful box if you don't own other Apple devices.
The bottom line: The Apple TV is an indispensable living room companion for invested in iTunes content and Apple hardware, but for everyone else it's a step behind the Roku 3.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
Apple may or may not release a television someday. In the meantime, it offers a tiny $99 streaming box called the Apple TV.
The Apple TV has never felt like a revolutionary product, but consistent updates have transformed it from a glorified Netflix player into a solid streaming-video box. Apple's beefed up its channel selection, adding Hulu Plus, in addition to stalwarts like Netflix, MLB.TV, and YouTube. The Apple TV remains deeply integrated with iTunes, allowing you to stream purchased and rented movies and TV shows, plus with iTunes Match you can get access to your entire digital music collection (if you're a subscriber).
AirPlay remains the Apple TV's secret weapon, letting you push videos, music, and photos from an iPhone or iPad, including content from most third-party apps. And if you've got a newer Mac, you can even pull off full-fledged screen-mirroring in Mountain Lion -- yes, that means you can stream free Hulu right to your TV.
Yet, the Apple TV can't be considered the premier living room box. That honor goes to the Roku 3, which offers up more content options (including Amazon Instant, HBO Go, Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio), excellent cross-platform search, and a nifty remote with a headphone jack for private listening.
If you're deeply invested in the Apple ecosystem, especially iTunes, the Apple TV is a polished streaming-video box that's well worth its $100 price tag. But most buyers are better off with the plucky Roku 3 -- even if it doesn't stream YouTube.
Editors' note: This review was updated April 1, 2013, to take into account recently added features and the competing Roku 3.
Design: Same sleek, black box
The look of the Apple TV hasn't changed from the last incarnation, but it's still the best design around. It's a simple, unobtrusive black box with a small white light on the front that illuminates when it's in active use. Around back are a handful of connections, including HDMI, optical audio output, Micro-USB (for service only), and Ethernet. There's also built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi for connecting to your home wireless network. Note that HDMI is the only video connection available, so if you have an older TV, you're out of luck.
Unlike most other streaming boxes, the Apple TV's power supply is built-in, so there's no separate AC adapter. It also gives the Apple TV a useful heft that keeps it planted even with a heavy HDMI cable hanging out the back.
The included remote is minimalist in a classic Apple way. It has just a navigation circle at the top, a Menu button (which doubles as a Back button), and a Play/Pause button. That may not seem like enough, but I rarely felt the need for additional controls. Skipping forward and backward is intuitively done with the navigation circle, and although you'd think you'd need a Mute button, Play/Pause worked just as well in every instance I ran into. That said, you'll still need your TV's remote to control power, volume, and input switching.
The Apple TV can also be controlled with an iPad or iPhone using Apple's Remote app. You can remotely control music from your iTunes collection, and use swipe gestures to navigate menus. The actual remote is still better for onscreen navigation, but if you already have your iPhone out, it's useful in a pinch. If you're controlling your music collection using the Remote app and the Apple TV is hooked to a separate audio amplifier, you won't need to have the TV on, either.
User interface: Paving the way for more apps?
The Apple TV user interface got an overhaul in 2012. Gone are the old list-style menus, replaced with larger cover art at the top and square icons along the bottom for movies, TV shows, music, computers, and settings. Navigate farther down and there's a grid of icons for the Apple TV's other supported services; it looks more like the screen of an iPad or iPhone than ever before. I'm not convinced that the new home screen is better than the old design, but it's not a huge step in the wrong direction. And if the Apple TV ends up getting its own app store, as has been rumored in the past, the icon-driven design will make a lot more sense.
Selecting movies or TV shows brings you to the iTunes interface. There's a menu bar along the top of the screen by which you can jump to useful features like your purchased content and content you've added to your wish list. Below there's a carousel of promoted content, followed by cover art broken down by categories like new releases and genres. iTunes is still one the best places to buy video content, although Amazon Instant is very competitive these days.
iTunes Store: Movies, TV shows
The iTunes Store has been through many incarnations on the Apple TV, but it's in the best state it's ever been in. TV shows are $3 for HD, $2 for SD (although it's increasingly rare to find the SD option); movies are $5 to rent in HD, and anywhere between $10 and $20 to purchase.
All of the content is streamed (rather than downloaded) and you can access your purchased movies and TV shows to rewatch as many times as you'd like. Your movie and TV show purchases can also be streamed or downloaded to other Apple devices, including the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Macs, and PCs running iTunes.
Other streaming services: Improved third-party support
Once you get past the iTunes content, your options are more limited on the Apple TV, although it's getting better. Netflix is the most important, followed by other high-quality sources like Hulu Plus, YouTube, MLB.TV, NBA, NHL, and Vimeo. The podcast section also includes plenty of video content (which a lot of people don't realize), including TED Talks and CNET.
That still leaves several content sources missing, including heavy hitters Amazon Instant, HBO Go Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, plus the dozens of niche video sources that Roku supports. If you don't use those services, you won't be missing anything with the Apple TV, but digital media hounds expect more options in 2013.
The Apple TV is also still limited in its ability to natively play your personal digital media. The basic rule of thumb is that it will play anything that plays in iTunes, but that leaves out a lot of often-downloaded file formats such as MKV and DivX. If you're looking to play that kind of content, you've got two choices. The first is to spend lots of time converting the video into an iTunes-friendly format (with such freeware programs as HandBrake or Format Factory). The second option? Skip the Apple TV and check out competitors like the WD TV Play, which can stream most video formats without the need for conversion.
AirPlay: The Apple TV's killer feature, now with mirroring
The Apple TV's lack of content sources is somewhat made up for by AirPlay. We've covered AirPlay plenty in the past, but it's a killer feature if you own other iOS devices. The idea is you can stream photos, music, and videos straight from another iOS device to the Apple TV. That includes many third-party apps as well -- effectively making them "available" on Apple TV. So while the Apple TV doesn't have a Pandora app, your iPhone does and can stream Pandora to your Apple TV using AirPlay. However, while nearly all media apps support AirPlay for audio, some of the best ones block AirPlay streaming for video, such as Amazon Instant. (However, HBO Go does stream via AirPlay now and a dedicated app is apparently on the the way.) So while AirPlay can substitute for some apps, it's not a panacea.
AirPlay Mirroring, however, gets much closer to panacea territory and solves the question I'm often asked: how do I stream any Web video from a laptop directly to my TV, wirelessly? With an Apple TV and a recent Mac running the new Mountain Lion version of OS X, anything you can see on your computer's screen -- including Flash video and free Hulu content -- you can stream to your TV. That enables you to get around a lot of the Apple TV's content shortcomings; HBO Go, Hulu, and video from major TV networks all worked fine during our tests. It's a flat-out awesome feature and a great tool for cable-cutters.
The catch is that only relatively recent Macs support AirPlay Mirroring: specifically, iMacs (mid-2011 or newer), Mac Minis (mid-2011 or newer), MacBook Airs (mid-2011 or newer), and MacBook Pros (early 2011 or newer). That's certainly a frustrating limitation, especially if you have a Mac that just misses the cutoff. (If you have any older Mac -- or a Windows PC -- and still want mirroring functionality, you can check out third-party applications like AirParrot, which works with the Apple TV, although performance isn't quite as good.)
AirPlay is also great for streaming your personal music collection. It works with any music you have stored on an iOS device and you can also stream your iTunes music collection from a computer. It's one of the easiest ways to listen to your digital music in your living room, although iTunes Match (which I'll get to shortly) makes it one step easier.
iTunes Match: Digital music made simple
Getting your digital music collection to your living room somehow still manages to be a pain in 2013, outside of pricey (but excellent) options like a Sonos player. iTunes Match gets rid of most of the frustrations, letting you store a copy of your digital music in the cloud and stream directly to the Apple TV, iOS devices, and iTunes on a PC. No dealing with hard-drive management or complex network settings.
The downside is the service costs $25 a year, which stings a little considering that's a fee to listen to music you already own. (Google offers its own music storage options for free; Amazon's Cloud Player is also $25 per year.) It can also take some work to set up, but the interface on the Apple TV is a pretty slick way to listen to your digital music once you get it working properly.
Performance: Not enough to upgrade
If you have a second-gen (2010) Apple TV and are wondering whether it's worth upgrading to the latest model with 1080p support, the short answer is no.
I purchased "Hugo" in HD and was able to switch back and forth between the old 720p Apple TV and the new 1080p Apple TV. On a 58-inch 1080p plasma TV, the difference was minimal at best. The opening sequence to "Hugo" should be a perfect torture test for exposing video compression, with plumes of smoke and dark backgrounds. The 1080p Apple TV's picture may have been very slightly sharper and richer, but there wasn't a single moment I could pick out where the 1080p Apple TV's picture was demonstrably better. The image quality from both boxes was excellent; only the pickiest videophiles will be disappointed at typical screen sizes.
Conclusion: A solid, but unexciting streamer
The Apple TV is an easy purchase and well-worth $100 if you're heavily invested in iTunes content and the rest of Apple's ecosystem of content. But if you're not an Apple acolyte, the Roku 3 is the better buy, especially if you'll take advantage of its more extensive content offerings.
|Product Description||Digital multimedia receiver, Apple TV|
|Product Type||Digital multimedia receiver|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||3.9 in x 3.9 in x 0.9|
|Digital Player (Recorder)||None|
|Remote Control||Remote control - Infrared|
|Manufacturer Warranty||1 year warranty|
Average User Rating: 4.0 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 8
4 Star: 5
3 Star: 1
2 Star: 4
1 Star: 1
Use it every night.
Rating: 5 / 5
on March 16, 2012
3 out of 4 users found this review helpful
Pros: 1. Small elegant footprint; 2. Easy setup; 3. Access to everything I purchase from iTunes through the cloud; 4. Easy to use; 5. Only $99.00 (actually $85 for refurb)
Cons: There are no cons.
Summary: Everyone should own one. Very inexpensive and a true joy in every way.
Watched Hugo in 1080P. The picture equivalent = Bluray.
Rating: 5 / 5
on March 19, 2012
2 out of 2 users found this review helpful
Pros: This review is coming from Canada. I didn't notice any issues wrt video/audio quality. With this device, I won't be renting any DVD's.
Cons: None that I can see.
Summary: What can I say, the little device is an excellent replacement for DVDs (and now that brick/mortar Blockbuster is gone, this came at a perfect time)
AirPlay is the killer feature.
Rating: 5 / 5
on March 19, 2012
3 out of 5 users found this review helpful
Pros: Everything - AirPlay/Mirroring, interface, ease of use, picture quality, compact design, silent, responsive, Internet radio, Netflix, affordable, minimalist remote/remote app, build quality and much more.
Cons: No RCA/Component output for older TVs
Summary: I bought the Apple TV 2 primarily for Netflix and the interface Apple TV provides. There simply isn't a better interface available, period. After the update brought AirPlay, that put the icing on the cake. For $99, and iOS device compatibility, there isn't anything better. Streaming music to my home theatre from iTunes on my Mac or iOS device is a fantastic feature.
One of the least noted features of the Apple TV is Internet Radio. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stations available. There are many genres to choose from, and tons of stations for each one. When you find one you like, hold down the button in the center of the directional button to bring up the menu to add to Favorites (the same to remove). It then creates a section for Favorites at the very top of the list of genres in the Radio section. Once you're in a genre with a station playing, you can push forward or back to change to the next or previous station in that genre, just like SEEK on a stereo. With the wealth of stations available, I don't see the argument for Pandora on Apple TV. Pandora seems like too much work. If you want it that bad, just use AirPlay from any iOS device running the app. It works flawlessly. If you have more than one Apple TV and home theatre system (or sound bar), just set them both for the same station and enjoy the music throughout the whole house.
I bought a Roku 2 XS because my bedroom TV didn't have HDMI and I wanted to try out Hulu Plus. Well, it's a joke. You pay $8 a month for a horribly clunky interface that's slow and almost unresponsive AND you have to watch COMMERCIALS! I cancelled it after about 2 months of the same terrible results. The other Roku "feature" was Crackle, but that's easily solved with an iPhone/iPad (or iPod Touch) and AirPlay Mirroring, so that's no longer a valid bargaining chip.
If I really want to watch Hulu, I can be patient until the Mountain Lion update comes later this year. Then I'll use my iMac and RDM Lite on my iPhone/iPad as the remote control for my Mac to watch FREE Hulu.com on my TVs using AirPlay Mirroring through my Apple TV 2 and, now, Apple TV 3. AND I'll be able to watch any other Flash-based sites to my heart's content, though they're aren't really many that I visit.
I'll most likely be selling the Roku, since it's no longer needed. The only big win for Roku, in my eyes, is it can connect to TVs that don't have HDMI. That's the other main reason I bought one at the time. Since my TVs are now all HDMI-equipped, that eliminates the need.
As noted, the Apple TV is fantastic for anyone who's into the Apple ecosystem. Even if it's just a lowly new iPod Touch, AirPlay is a killer feature that opens up so much, even for gaming.
It's apple - so it's obviously a good product.
Rating: 2 / 5
on June 27, 2012
2 out of 3 users found this review helpful
Pros: Does what it says it does. Easy to use, looks nice, HD, it's apple.
Cons: PRICE PRICE PRICE! No HULU, No Amazon Prime. HULU offers ALOT of great shows for 7 bucks a month, most from cable.
Summary: It's apple - obviously it's overpriced. I love APPLE products to the bitter end, and I almost feel bad for saying this since I'm typing from a MacBook BUT this is just another overpriced apple accessory. It offers less and is 50% more than the Roku, so I don't understand why it cost so much more. Honestly your paying $50 extra bucks for the apple logo! I'll just put a apple sticker on my ROKU.
play games, music, movies, tv, and podcasts and more
Rating: 4 / 5
on March 16, 2012
1 out of 1 users found this review helpful
Pros: the air play option with your iphone or ipad
the music movies and tv shows
small and quiet
Cons: hulu plus is not available unless you use airplay on your iphone or ipad
amazon streaming for prime members is not available
needs more apps
Summary: overall we really like the interface and the size and how silent it is
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|J&R Music and Computer World||Yes||$95.99|