Apple TV (2012)
Price Range: $92.99 - $280.06
CNET Editors' Rating: 4.0 / 5
The good: The Apple TV lets you stream all the video content in the iTunes Store to your HDTV, with purchases stored in the cloud. Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, 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, if you have a newer Mac running Mountain Lion. And the Apple TV's user interface is one of the best there is.
The bad: The competing Roku 3 offers more content sources (including Amazon Instant), cross-platform search, and a remote with a headphone jack. The Apple TV is less of a standout streamer box if you don't own other Apple devices.
The bottom line: While it's still a step behind the Roku 3, the Apple TV is an excellent streaming box, especially for those invested in the Apple ecosystem.
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, HBO Go, Watch ESPN and Sky News, 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, 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: The Apple TV was originally reviewed on March 16, 2012, but has been updated to reflect recently added apps and changes in the competitive marketplace.
Design: Same sleek, black box
The Apple TV still has the best design of any streaming video box. 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, with support for dual-band Wi-Fi. 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. The simplicity makes it easy for anybody to pick it up and get the hang of it, and for the most part its simple controls are enough for everyday use. On the other hand, it can't compete with the Roku 3's delightful remote that adds a built-in headphone jack, Wi-Fi direct control, and a few handy additional buttons like "skip back."
The Apple TV can also be controlled with an iPad or iPhone using Apple's Remote app. Like most smartphone control apps, there's an onscreen "remote" that you can use and the ability to navigate menus via gestures. For most uses, it's not all the useful, especially since you can't actually browse streaming content on your iPad a la Google's Chromecast. What is cool is the remote apps lets you remotely control music from your iTunes collection on a PC, which can be easier than using the remote. And 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 an app store?
The Apple TV user interface got an overhaul in 2012, adopting a more app-centric design that kind of makes your TV look like a giant iPad. Apple's own services are pinned to the top, including rotating cover art for top TV shows and movies. Below are all your other apps and you can rearrange the order so your favorites are toward the top. The icon-driven design works well enough, but it does beg for a true "app store" for the Apple TV.
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. Selecting a title brings up a synopsis, Rotten Tomatoes ratings, cast info, and more. The layout is excellent for browsing content. While I personally use Amazon Instant for most of my video content purchases, I'm always impressed by how nice the iTunes Store experience is when I use the Apple TV.
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
The traditional knock against the Apple TV was that it was short on apps, but that's not fair anymore. In addition to iTunes content, there's support for most major streaming video services, including Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, YouTube, MLB.TV, Watch ESPN, NBA, NHL, Crunchyroll, Qello, and Vimeo. There are even a couple live TV news apps: Sky News and WSJ Live. There are still some notable exceptions -- particularly Amazon Instant -- but I get the sense that most buyers will be perfectly satisfied with the Apple TV's current slate of services. And it's easy to miss that the podcast section actually includes quite a bit of web video content, including content from TED Talks, NASA, PBS and CNET.
The Apple TV is noticeably light when it comes to streaming music apps; there's no dedicated support for popular apps like Spotify, Rdio, Amazon Cloud Player and Pandora. That's not a problem if you own an iPad or iPhone -- since you can easily access those services using AirPlay -- but anyone intending to use the Apple TV as a standalone device won't have many music options.
For your personal media collection, the Apple TV's capabilities are mixed. In some ways, it bests its competitors, as it's exceedingly easy to view photos, listen to your own music, and watch home movies saved on your computer, as long as your content is managed by iTunes. But if you lean toward the geekier side, you'll be disappointed that you're limited to files that will playback in iTunes, which means often-downloaded file formats such as MKV and DivX won't work without doing some conversion. If you're looking for a box that can playback anything you throw at it, the Apple TV isn't for you, but for mainstream buyers it's better with your personal media than competitors like the Roku 3 and the Chromecast.
AirPlay: The Apple TV's killer feature, now with mirroring
AirPlay is such an excellent feature that if that the Apple TV only did AirPlay, it would still be enticing for Apple fans.
The basic idea is AirPlay lets you stream any music, video, or photo from your iPhone/iPad right to your TV. It works with nearly every third-party app, so you can load up Spotify on your iPhone, hit the AirPlay button and it will stream straight to your Apple TV, while your phone is still used for control. It also works with your personal media, so it's dead simple to browse photos or videos you shot on your smartphone on the big TV.
The Apple TV can also be used with AirPlay mirroring, which let you broadcast exactly what's on your screen -- including Flash video and free Hulu content -- to your TV. There's a few catches, though. One is that only relatively recent Macs (running Mountain Lion) 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).
You should also be prepared for not-quite-perfect image quality. In my testing, AirPlay mirroring tends to be a lot more reliable than Chromecast's mirroring, but it still doesn't look nearly good as HD video straight from Netflix or Amazon. When you add in the clunkiness of having to fumble with a laptop to watch videos and pause playback, I find myself using mirroring less than I thought I would. (Others may have more patience than me.).
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 theoretically 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.
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, and I personally have had some difficulties with the services, but the interface on the Apple TV is a pretty slick way to listen to your digital music once you get it working properly.
The Apple TV will also support Apple's new iTunes Radio service when it launches along with iOS 7. The service will be ad-supported, but becomes ad-free if you're an iTunes Match subscriber.
What are the alternatives?
The Apple TV has two main competitors: the Roku 3 and Google Chromecast.
The Roku 3 remains my favorite streaming box. (Read my full review here.) It has more channels -- including Amazon Instant and a Time Warner Cable app -- excellent cross-platform search and the aforementioned remote with a headphone jack for private listening. Still, if you're invested in the Apple ecosystem, there's a strong argument that the Apple TV is a better buy. AirPlay is flat-out excellent, plus purchased iTunes content flows nicely between all your Apple devices. If you already own quite a few Apple devices, the Apple TV might be a better buy for you.
The main thing going for Google's Chromecast is its irresistible $35 price. Beyond that, there's only support for two dedicated apps (Netflix and YouTube), plus Android users get access to Google Play Music and TV & Movies. There's also no true onscreen interface, so you need a tablet or smartphone to serve up content. Chromecast also has the ability to mirror content from a PC, but the image quality and reliability is worse than the Apple TV's in my tests. The Chromecast has a lot of potential, but at the moment it's not a worthy alternative to the Apple TV and Roku 3 unless you're on a tight budget.
Conclusion: An excellent streamer, especially for Apple fans
The Apple TV is an overall excellent streaming box and well-worth $100 if you're heavily invested in iTunes content and the rest of Apple's ecosystem of content. But if you don't have ties to Apple's devices or services, 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: 14
4 Star: 5
3 Star: 1
2 Star: 7
1 Star: 2
AirPlay is the killer feature.
Rating: 5 / 5
on March 19, 2012
4 out of 6 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.
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)
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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