PROS / Apple TV’s excellent video and audio quality, along with its access to the iTunes Store’s continuously updated content, put this home media server at the front of the pack.
CONS / It doesn't support Pandora and it is somewhat limited in its capacity to access your personal digital content.
VERDICT / The sleek Apple design, a great user interface and a rich features package make this device a winner.
The maximum benefits of the Apple TV will be reserved for people who own other Apple devices – and if you’re an Apple geek the chances are you probably already have one – but, anyone can benefit from owning this quality home media servers. With great video and sound quality, an easy-to-navigate user interface and access to the iTunes Store, the Apple TV lands at the top of our home media player reviews and earns our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award.
One of the great things about Apple is the company continually upgrades its products, so the Apple TV stays on the cutting edge and remains competitive with the best media players on the market.
This device is a powerful addition to any entertainment center, and it and keeps getting better. It has the sleek but simple design you expect from Apple, but more importantly, it functions as well as it looks. The Apple TV, which already has the best user interface on the market, recently got a facelift to look and feel more like an iPad or iPhone, and it is even more user-friendly.
A nice selection of apps is available directly through the Apple TV, such as Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, MLB.TV, NHL Sunday Ticket and Hulu Plus among many others. But there are some significant omissions such as Pandora, though it has acquired such important apps as HBO Go and WatchESPN. It also has a nice selection of family-friendly channels such as the Disney Channel and, Disney XD, and there are apps and on- demand options for kids.
Apple is always updating its app and channel selections. While, overall, it doesn’t have the sheer volume of apps available through some of its competitors, its selection of apps is substantial and ever-expanding. With the addition of the iTunes Store, you have access to just about anything you would want.
With the addition of WatchESPN app makes this an ideal media player for sports fans, offering live access to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 and ESPN Buzzer Beater/Goal line. Everything from Monday Night Football to NBA, MLB and grand slam tennis (specifically all four major events) are available to be watched live.
Play Personal Media
It’s easy to wirelessly sync up the Apple TV to your iTunes account on your Mac or PC to start playing music from your personal music library. Your favorite songs and albums sound stellar on a home theater sound system. Plus, the iTunes LP gives you a virtual and interactive version of the album. You can play music as well as watch videos and view artist features on select albums that have the iTunes LP feature.
You can use the AirPlay Mirroring feature to display exactly what is on your Mac, iPhone or iPad touch screen on your HDTV, and share it with everyone in the room. If you like to create iMovies on your Mac, this is a great way to show your friends and family the projects you’re working on. It’s also easy to view personal photos from your iPhoto library.
The Apple TV is designed to work well with Apple-specific media, but it is somewhat limited in its ability to access other personal media files. For instance, if you have MKV or DivX files you would like to access, you would first need to convert them to an iTunes-friendly format, which could be time consuming. Nonetheless, it is nice to have that option.
Video & Sound Quality
The video and sound quality were terrific on Apple's home media server when we used it to play back HD movies. The sound was also impressive, coming through clear and distortion free. You don't necessarily need Apple products to take advantage of the Apple TV's features, either. We were able to enjoy great video and sound quality on non-Apple devices.
Purchase & Rent Content
What would home media servers, such as the Apple TV, be without the ability to purchase or rent movies or TV shows, or browse and buy music? With access to the iTunes Store, the Apple TV is a great device for renting and buying movies, music and TV shows. If you aren't already on iTunes, setting up an account is quick and easy, and the store provides a world of entertainment.
The iTunes Store is the key to the Apple TV’s strengths. It is one of the biggest online retailers of music and other media content. You have a choice of HD or SD (standard definition) content, and most films are available to buy or rent as soon as the DVD is released. TV shows are usually available to purchase (not to rent) the day after they air, and you can buy a “season pass” and new episodes will be downloaded directly to your computer and Apple TV. The Apple TV is the only home media server that enables you to purchase and playback protected media from the iTunes Store, which is a huge bonus.
Help & Support
Apple’s technical support is quite good, and definitely shines with the Apple TV. You’ll receive 90 days of complimentary phone support, but after that it will cost to call Apple for help, unless you purchase AppleCare for the Apple TV, which gives you full phone support for two years from the purchase date. We called in and got someone on the phone within a couple of minutes.
If you’re having any issues with the Apple TV and your computer’s iTunes (syncing or backing up), the AppleCare plan will provide support for that, too. Other types of support include Apple’s extensive FAQs and knowledgebase found on the website, along with email, a user manual and user forums.
With all the great features, including iTunes Store content, playback of photos, music and videos from your computer and much more, the Apple TV is a fantastic device. Many major sporting events can be watched live using WatchESPN. Apple is always updating its apps, so you will have access to the vast majority of entertainment available through streaming. With a great, easy-to-navigate user interface and full iTunes Store access, it is a unique home media streamer that outshines the competition.