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And the Winner Is: Apple TV

February 2011

As we finished Christmas dinner my host headed straight to the Christmas tree, picked up his new Apple TV device that was under it, and began connecting it to his 46-inch TV.

Within minutes it was in operation and he was cruising through the Netflix menus, sampling this movie and that. And I was sitting there thinking, “This is so cool. I believe I’d like to have one.” And just about that time, my host’s brother–in-law said, “I think I’m going to get one.” A while later, the third guest in the room said, “I think I’m going to get one, too.”

And now we all have them. This gizmo sells itself.

Part of the appeal was the simplicity of setting up this small $99 gadget called Apple TV, part of it was Apple’s typically elegant and simple interface, and part of it was the charm of movies on demand.

Netflix, as you likely know, is a service that offers unlimited streaming of movies via the Internet for $8 per month. They have over 20,000 movies and TV programs (though the movies available for streaming aren’t typically the most current). My host, Ken, says the great thing is that you can quickly sample them to see which you might like.

Many TVs now ship with Netflix, and I heard that some will even be coming out that have a Netflix button on the remote. As you know from my previous two columns in this series, most of the Internet TV boxes that you buy these days, including Bu-ray players, come with Netflix.

But these devices will often also come with an option for renting more recent movies. Some partner with Amazon’s streaming movie service. My Apple TV accesses the movie and TV rentals available in Apple’s iTunes Store. They have a selection of movie rentals for $2, but the better, more recent movies are typically $4.

What else does my Apple TV offer? It can also access the vast (and free) repository of podcasts in Apple’s iTunes store. There are many video podcasts available, including a fair number in high definition. You can do a keyword search or browse by genre. My favorite is the NBC Nightly News.

I can also wirelessly access all of the iTunes content on my computer via my TV — music and videos, as well as my photos. Any playlists, for example, that I have in iTunes will appear in the Apple TV menu structure such that I can listen to my favorite music on my HDTV.

Since the Apple TV device doesn’t yet itself have a way to subscribe to my favorite podcasts, this ability to play content on my computer is the best way to access my favorites (which automatically download to my computer on a regular basis). And it also gives me ready access to all the great free videos in the iTunes University area of the iTunes Store — content that doesn’t seem to be directly available to Apple TV.

Other content offered by Apple TV includes a ton of streaming music genres, Flickr access, and YouTube.

Setting up my Apple TV was simple. I connected it to my TV with an HDMI cable, connected it to amywireless network via the TV settings menu (one can also plug Ethernet directly into the Apple TV rather than use wireless), and then plugged it into the power outlet.

I then had to switch the Input setting on my TV to HDMI, and I was in business. The Apple TV menus appeared on the screen. The Apple TV directly accesses the Internet via my wireless network, and feeds that to the TV.

I haven’t a clue how it’s able to access the content on my computer. I first had to turn on Home Sharing in iTunes, and then the content became available on my home network to other devices that also have Home Sharing: Apple TV and the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Also, another neat feature is that I can stream content from my iPhone or iPad directly to my TV. If I have a movie on my iPad, for example, I can simply direct it to play on my TV screen instead of my iPad. I can even use my iPad to do other things while it’s streaming the movie to my TV.

A main reason I selected Apple TV over the others, though, is that because it will likely soon have apps — opening up yet another world to my HDTV. Love these gizmos.

This month’s hot tips:

Gazelle pays you for your old gadgets. They send you a box so you can easily send it to them, and pay for postage, too. Use Dell Reconnect to recycle old gadgets.

© 2011 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen