First Look: The Apple TV 2

The new Apple TV is out, and thanks to a friend of mine who works for Apple, I got my hands on one on Friday. Here’s the ceremonial unboxing, shot and uploaded to YouTube with my iPhone.

As you can see, the packaging is Apple’s typically spare yet arty approach to moving and presenting product, and Apple TV 2 is tiny. It's about the same length as my iPhone, and maybe as thick as three of them stacked.

Just so you know where I’m coming from on the Apple vs. PC divide, I don’t care much about it. I’ve spent most of my career around video and graphics production, so I’ve worked with both Macs and PCs and I’ve worked with products like Avid and Photoshop that live on both. I’ve also spent enough time on Apple that I’ve been an Apple Certified Pro on DVD Studio Pro.  These days my main blogging computer is a Windows 7 HP dual monitor system, but I am an iPhone 3GS user and I also have a Macbook Pro. The machine I probably use more than any other for email etc. is the iPhone. I guess you could say that I like the freedom of Windows while I also appreciate the elegance and security of Apple. I never went for the original Apple TV, so this is really my first look at this product.

Simply put, the Apple TV is a very nice and useful piece of hardware. One of the first things you’ll notice is that it’s about half the size of the original Apple TV, and that unlike most of Apple’s brushed metal family, it’s black. This box was meant to be set up and not seen – only a tiny blue-white LED on the front even tells you that it’s powered on. Setting it up consists of a) getting it out of the box, and b) plugging it in. I used the HDMI interface, and within a couple of minutes I had it logged into my wireless network and accessing YouTube on my main home LCD TV. About a minute after that, I had iTunes fired up on my Win 7 PC, and Apple TV was soon showing me my full music and video library on my downstairs TV. The remote, a tiny brushed metal number that’s about as long as your hand, comes with the familiar spare Apple look and feel, and the Apple TV’s interface is the typical clean and solid Apple navigation. Right out of the box, the whole experience just works. With Apple TV and iTunes with Home Sharing turned on, you can watch your iTunes compatible videos, listen to your music, rent movies and TV shows from the iTunes store, check out any photos you’ve elected to share, check out your iTunes, MobileMe and flickr content and listen to thousands of streaming radio stations worldwide. It seamlessly accesses content on multiple computers without regard to their operating systems, as long as they’re running iTunes. It instantly plays any podcast you can find on iTunes, so if you’re a podcaster, Apple TV opens the living room audience up to your content. And after doing a couple of additional things, it gets even better.

Netflix is built into the Apple TV, but I didn’t have an account so I set one up. And with that, the Apple TV gives you instant streaming access to thousands of movies and TV shows. Netflix streams at 720p, and for the Apple TV, its online interface goes away in favor of the cleaner Apple experience (likewise YouTube). The quality is to a large extent dependent on the quality of the original source material, but I found that shows like Firefly look and sound outstanding. We had a movie night on Saturday night, and watched Up and G.I. Joe (quick reviews: Up is great, G.I. Joe is weak). My cable internet plus 802.11n router stood up to the streaming demands just fine, and the Apple TV never faltered for a frame. The Apple TV box is just rock solid.