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Robinson_A 02-22-2008 12:32 PM

AppleTV Take 2 Impressions

Good morning. I wanted to open up a new thread to see how many of you 1.) own an AppleTV and 2.) have tried their new rental service.

I have been an AppleTV owner since its release and while my initial thoughts about the product itself were less than positive, I've stuck with the little white box from Cupertino and have had a great deal of success with it ever since.

By using software found on the net I've ripped my entire library of DVDs to my hard drive at full quality and can now stream them wirelessly throughout my home. The quality, usability and reliability has been flawless and the AppleTV interface has made browsing the countless titles a breeze. The only flaw with my current setup has been the AppleTV's lack of HD support...until now.

While many of you may gripe over Apple's 720p/5.1 audio support I can only look at it as a step in the right direction, one that surely will improve over time. I don't want to get hung up over the lower resolution 720p image nor am I suggesting that it is as good, in any way, to 1080p or Blu-ray and HD DVD. No. Instead, I want to focus on what it affords me and if it is, in fact, a viable option for HD source material.

In a word...yes.

The iTunes movie interface through the AppleTV is AWESOME! The categories, while not hugely populated yet, are clearly and cleanly laid out and easily searchable. In fact the search feature is first rate, allowing you to search not only by title but by studio, actor/actress, director etc. The information you get once selecting a title is on par with and a great tool for true film aficionados. And I really do appreciate not having to utilize a computer to access the content from iTunes for both music and movies. If you purchase a film or album via your AppleTV the content is downloaded to your home computer where as rentals are downloaded to the AppleTV you are using itself.

I recently rented two films from Apple each costing me between three and four dollars a piece. The first was the Simpson's movie in HD and the second was Shattered Glass, which was standard def. Both took about a minute to download enough of the film that I could start watching it as it finished transferring. Both transfered directly to my AppleTV located in my reference rig. For HD material I was anticipating a much longer start time however, the AppleTV proved to be faster than both my HD disc spinners. Video and audio quality was superb and at no time did I get the impression that I was watching semi-streamed material. I know animated video isn't the best test of what 720p HD looks like however, it was still remarkably good. There were no "hiccups" in the downloading or pauses at any time. I had a similar experience with Shattered Glass. The viewing process began a little sooner than with HD material and the image wasn't quite as sharp, however, through my Integra DTC 9.8 processor I would say the video quality was on par with that of an SD DVD. As far as audio goes, I did have to utilize a Neural surround sound setting since Glass did not come with a Dolby Digital soundtrack. This was not as big of an issue with this particular film as it most certainly will be others. Both worked flawlessly and were housed on my AppleTV's internal hard drive for a duration of 24 hours before disappearing.

Some caveats. First, I was unable to transfer my rentals to my other AppleTV's in my home which did bug me a bit however, I may be missing something and do not wish to pass judgement just yet. I'll keep you informed. Second, chapter skipping isn't quite as smooth or immediate as when you have an actual disc. The library is still rather small however, it is growing day by day. Last night I noticed I could watch Michael Clayton ( a very new release) now however, the same can't be had from Netflix in HD for a long time or should I say "very long wait". This simple fact is why I think AppleTV and iTunes movie rentals have a real chance at becoming the next big thing. The price is that of a traditional rental only I get it now, no waiting and I can order in my underwear which is always fun. I know a lot of people complain about the rental aspect and that people want to own their content. I think that argument is valid and understandable, however I wouldn't discount the rental thing either for there are some movies we only care to watch once or perhaps twice and Apple's rentals provide you that opportunity. Of course they could serve every customer by selling HD content as well and it's my opinion that they will soon.

So what we have here with the AppleTV Take 2 is a proof of concept design that not only works as advertised but is good fun to boot. The added benefits of 1080p support, as well as multichannel audio and a host of other new additions only makes the AppleTV that much more appealing. Given time products like the AppleTV will become more mainstream and propel us out of discs and into downloads in a whole new way. I for one can't wait. In the mean time, I've found a whole new reviewing tool and expect to see many examples in the future.

What are your impressions? I want to know.

kennyt 02-22-2008 12:48 PM

Re: AppleTV Take 2 Impressions
Funny you posted this, I was just about to contact you and ask your opinion on it, it seems pretty sweet to me, and the 802.11n will solve some of the issues I have using Airport Expresses for remote music servers.

I've got a few more important things on my plate right now, but I foresee having one, or two soon!

Lotus 02-22-2008 12:57 PM

Re: AppleTV Take 2 Impressions
Guys at one of my companies downloaded a title on AppleTV and on the 360 to compare the 720p downloadables. Catalog searching was much easier with the AppleTV version in their opinion.The first thing is the AppleTV lets you start watching the movie shortly after starting to download. The 360 took around 3 hours to download the movie before you could watch it.

PQ they said they could see a difference between the two and that the edge went to the 360. They also said skipping, rewinding, and fastforwarding was much quicker on the 360. SQ they said was better on the 360 too.

The big differences:

AppleTV you rent. 360 you own.

PQ was in their opinion "good," for both units, but when they compared it to an HDM version (I don't know if they used BD or HD-DVD because they didn't tell me what movie it was) the HDM version was a noticable improvement. They thought it had to do more with compression than with 1080p.

IMHO both offer true HD experiences for those who want to go that route. Both units may in the future offer 1080p and high def audio codecs.

With Samsung releasing a $99 (That is the number I've heard but it may have up to a $149 price tag) MS LIVE MARKETPLACE unit this summer combined with the AppleTV offering there are going to be other legitimate HD solutions for the home. With AppleTV and the LIVE unit definately leading the way in convenience if not PQ and SQ and extras.

kennyt 02-22-2008 01:00 PM

Re: AppleTV Take 2 Impressions

It seems logical the FF and Rew would work better if the unit fully downloaded the content prior to playing, I would be willing to give a little on this feature (as I rarely use it during films) to have the near instant access to the movie the AppleTV offers.

Lotus 02-22-2008 01:06 PM

Re: AppleTV Take 2 Impressions

Originally Posted by kennyt (Post 11940)

It seems logical the FF and Rew would work better if the unit fully downloaded the content prior to playing, I would be willing to give a little on this feature (as I rarely use it during films) to have the near instant access to the movie the AppleTV offers.

I agree. The 360's biggest downside is it must download the title completely. I don't know if the Samsung unit will be that way. However it will really come down to people's internet quality. High internet speeds will result in faster downloads.

I think that in MS' mind they feel that internet speeds in 2010 will be at a point that most people will be able to download the movies in less than 30 minutes.

rlpiii 02-22-2008 01:07 PM

Re: AppleTV Take 2 Impressions
To me, AppleTV seems to really be competing with Dish Network and possibly DirecTV (I don't subscribe to DirecTV any more so I am not very sure) for movie rentals. On DISH Network, you can now download movies from their movie server as well, or for newer movies buy them on HD Pay-Per-View. I just can't quite see that big a difference between the two right now for downloading movies.

And also, except for you, I have not heard of/known anyone that has bought one - not even my most adamant apple friends that will buy anything new from apple as soon as it comes out have bought one of these.

I would really like to hear more of what you have to say about it as you continue testing/using it. Right now, from what I know about it, I don't think it's worth buying.

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