Two months with an Apple TV

I bought an Apple TV in an attempt to free my huge home video library from its Mac-shaped prison: I can’t be bothered unplugging everything and moving the Mac downstairs when I want to watch a clip of Baby Bigmouth, and life’s too short to burn your own DVDs. It’s been in daily use since then, so here are a few thoughts.

It’s great if you have kids, and Handbrake
Kids like films; kids also like scratching DVDs. Slowly but surely I’ve been using the combination of Fairmount and Handbrake to copy our various Pixar discs to the Apple TV. It takes forever – DVD ripping, no matter how good the software, is never anything but a pain – but it’s cheaper than having to buy Wall-E all over again.

It’s surprisingly good
720p HD video over Wi-Fi? No problem. If you absolutely, positively have to have 1080p, don’t buy an Apple TV yet. It doesn’t do it. Me, I couldn’t care less. My TV isn’t big enough to tell the difference between HD and True HD.

It’s really good with the iPad
The novelty of watching something on YouTube on the iPad and hitting one button to put it on the TV hasn’t worn off yet. Once iPlayer etc can do it too, things will be fun.

It’s buggy
I’ve never had to reboot an Apple product as often as I have to reboot the Apple TV. If I get two days out of it I’m happy. Luckily the reboot is simple and quick, but we’re not quite in “it just works” territory here.

It can be desperately slow
I’ve had to divide my home movies into individual years, and even then the Apple TV takes between two and five minutes to load details of a 100-clip library – not the video, just the folder listing and thumbnails. To say this pisses me off would be an enormous understatement. I don’t know if it’s the Apple TV or iTunes, and I don’t care.

It needs iTunes
Apple TV is crying out for a media server, I think. Having to leave iTunes running on your Mac is a pain, and I hate to think how much energy the combination of Apple TV and running MacBook Pro is using up. I hope it isn’t too much, but I’m scared to see what my next electricity bill says.

Movies are still ropey
Is there such a thing as a good UK video on demand service? The catalogue on Apple TV (and in iTunes, and on the Xbox, and…) is still very patchy.

It needs iPlayer
If Nintendo can put it on the Wii, Apple can put it on the Apple TV. This one’s right at the top of my wish list.

It doesn’t do many video formats
If you’re the kind of person whose television aerial is bittorrent-shaped, expect to spend a lot of time converting those AVI and MKV files to M4Vs or MP4s.

YouTube is great, but I can’t favourite anything
Anyone else have this problem? I’ve been getting the temporary-error message for two months now.

I can’t see my own Flickr photos
Flickr support is nice. Flickr support without login, not so nice. I keep my personal pics in Friends and Family mode; Apple TV can’t login to display them.

It’s great for music
Or at least, it is if you’re willing to faff a bit. My Apple TV is hooked to an AV receiver, which in turn is hooked to the TV. I’ve got HDMI control on so that when the TV goes off, the DVD player does too; unfortunately that means the process of listening to music without the TV is this:

* Turn everything on
* Turn AV receiver to Apple TV
* Find playlist etc on Apple TV, start playing.
* Turn off the TV
* Turn the AV receiver back on again (it’s gone into standby)
* Take the Apple TV off pause (it goes into that automatically)

It’s not elegant, but it gets there eventually.

It’s worth £101
Provided, that is, you don’t mind swearing at it from time to time and rebooting it every few days. It’s a clever bit of kit but if you want something as simple and as reliable as a basic DVD player, get a basic DVD player.

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