Apple TV collects your digital life in the living room
I finally got around to getting an Apple TV and can already see what a change it will make for my family. With so much digital content spread around it's hard to keep track of it all. We have stuff on YouTube, in iPhoto, on MobileMe, on Flickr, etc...and there just wasn't an easy way to access it all. Who wants to huddle around a laptop to look at pictures from out recent trip to New York when we can see them on a 42-inch HD TV in the living room? Or how about playing our holiday music playlist from the Mac upstairs on the stereo downstairs and actually see the playlists, complete with cover art? It's these things the Apple TV does that make your TV the center of your digital universe.
Our TV, a Sony Grand WEGA rear-projection LCD, is about eight years old now and it only has one HDMI port. The Apple TV uses HDMI to connect and we already were using an HDMI cable splitter to connect our Verizon FIOS TV box and the XBox 360. So the first thing I had to do was find an HDMI box with more connections.
I went to Amazon and did a search, finding several options. I settled on the 5-port HDMI Switcher by ClearMax. This little box works just as advertised. It comes with a power supply that you only need to use if you want to use the included wireless remote. The remote really isn't needed because the box automatically switches when you turn on the HDMI device you want to us. So now I have FIOS, XBox 360 and the Apple TV plugged in with two more HDMI ports to spare and it's working flawlessly.
If you're an Apple person and already have accounts for iTunes and MobileMe, setup is very quick. The step by step process is very simple and everything can be set up on-screen using the included Apple TV remote. Other accounts you can enable include Netflix, YouTube, and Flickr.
So now we can access the following all from our TV:
- iTunes library including videos that have been ripped from our DVDs.
- iPhoto libraries
- Various podcasts
- MobileMe photos
- TV shows on demand (billed to iTunes account)
- Movies on demand (billed to iTunes account)
- Digital radio stations
Talk about streamlining your content!
The included remote really doesn't work well and seems to need direct line-of-site to the Apple TV box, but luckily there is an option. The free Remote app lets you control everything on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. We all have iPhones so we all now have our own remotes. Sweet!
The AirPlay feature lets you stream content from your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, including music, photos and video. I gave it a try and wasn't impressed due to a big delay in the display of the content. So that feature doesn't seem ready for prime time yet. Since we have all our music and photos on an iMac on our WiFi network, that feature isn't something we'll likely use. For those who don't have a Mac, however, it's a good feature so hopefully the functionality will improve.
If you don't have a Mac-centric household and want something similar to the Apple TV, try a ROKU box. The ROKU actually has more included streaming content with access to Hulu, Vimeo, Pandora and other services and some reviewers have rated it higher than the Apple TV. I hope to get access to one and review it at a later date.