Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: Apple TV, streaming your photos from your computer, and much more!

This is another one of my "real world" reviews where I provide feedback about what a product does for me in every day use, and what I like (and/or don't like) about it.

The latest great thing to enter my family's life is Apple TV.  Talk about a magic little black box!  This is the best $99 that I've spent on home entertainment in a long time.

You can search the internet for all kinds of exhaustive technical reviews of Apple TV that detail every feature and specification of the device, but that's not what you'll find here.

What you'll find here is a short article about why this product impressed me, and why I hope that Apple continues to build on this platform in the future for home entertainment.

Let's get some essential links out of the way right now:
  1. Link to the Apple website for all the information about Apple TV
  2. Link to the Remote app in the iTunes store for your iPhone and iPad
And now the background information on why I went out and bought Apple TV...

As anyone who has tried to do it knows, streaming your media (photos, music, movies) from your computer onto your wireless network and around your house for watching and listening on your stereo and TV's is a giant pain in the neck.  I've been trying to find an easy way to do this for years, and every approach that I've tried ends up running into problems or limitations.  I've tried stand alone software to do it, Windows Media, Player, and other mechanisms, and every one of them had a problem that made the solution fall short.

The Digital Living Network Alliance was supposed to make this a lot easier, and it has in some respects....but it still falls short because its standards are not keeping up with the expanding technology that it was meant to work with.  I'll give you a perfect example of this....

My blu-ray player can stream photos from my PC to my TV using the DLNA standards.  Although the streaming was painfully slow, I did eventually get this to work and was thrilled to finally see my photos appearing from my computer on my widescreen high-def TV.  Or so I thought.

One night when looking at photos using this setup through my blu-ray player, I noticed that all of the photos from one of my cameras were not showing up.  The problem?  The DLNA standard only streams photos up to a certain size.  So, advanced cameras that produce large image files are out of luck with DLNA devices.  The photos will not get streamed.

Damn.  Back to the drawing board.  After doing more research on this, I was not able to find an easy and cost effective way around it, so I gave up.  To this day, I'm amazed that someone didn't come along and solve this problem before Apple.  Companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Netgear, Sony, etc, are all right in the middle of this dilemma, but none of them offered a holistic solution.  So, as has been the case in the past, Apple came along and kicked them in the butt and offered up a great solution.

I went to the Apple website and read all that Apple TV can do.  It can stream photos, music, video, internet content, etc, through my internet connection to my TV.  Plug it in, and go.  I wondered if it could really be that simple, but knowing Apple I figured that it probably was, so I went to the Apple Store and bought one.

I bought it home, took it out of the box, spent ten minutes setting it up, and my photos appeared from my computer on my TV.  I was blown away at the ease of it!

I then tried to access my iTunes music library from my couch using Apple TV to play it through my stereo.  It worked.  Easily.

I also tried to access my Netflix account to stream some HD content through Apple TV.  It worked.  Easily.

After installing the Apple Remote app on my iPad and iPhone, I can now control Apple TV and my music streaming, etc, from anywhere in my house.  Fantastic!

There are other set top boxes that also handle these functions, namely those from Roku.  The issue there is that I'm not sure how tightly integrated they are with iTunes or the iPad/iPhone.  I doubt that Roku would be able to harmonize with the Apple iTunes entertainment paradigm as easily as Apple TV does.  This is why I purchased Apple TV.  I wanted an easy environment to handle all of these things seamlessly.

What doesn't Apple TV do?  For one, it doesn't stream content from services like Amazon Streaming and Hulu Plus....yet.....but Apple could probably add those services in the future if they want to.  Apple has to walk a fine line between working with their competitors to make their own Apple products more appealing, but they can't cross the line too far and let their competitors sneak too far into Apple's domain.

In summary, for $99, Apple TV is hard to beat for the specific purposes that I mentioned above.  I encourage you to visit the Apple TV website to see if it's a match for your needs.  If not, then check out Roku as a next option, but as I cautioned above......I don't think Roku will work as nicely with the Apple iTunes environment.

In any event, the main benefit of these boxes is to liberate your photos, music, and videos from your PC in an easy way, and I can say for sure that in that respect Apple TV highly succeeds!

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