Apple Bytes #7 – Tech Review: Apple TV STB

This week: As promised, my review of the AppleTV Set-Top Box (STB)…

 

Okay, I’ve been meaning to get one for ages, but I’ve been holding out for a 1080p version to get the whole HD experience. And like all my other Apple hardware, which is US purchased, I was comparing prices: £99 here versus $99 (roughly £62) over there. Well, I couldn’t wait for my next trip to the US and I was worried about compatibility issues, so I bought a brand new one on eBay for £75 including postage – and now I know how that price is possible. There is only one unit from Apple; basically, people are buying them sealed from the US for @ £60 (depending on exchange rates), adding a UK figure-8 power lead (probably 50p on eBay) and then selling the package at £75 with a full Apple warranty and delivery thrown in. 25% gross margin – not bad! Still, I saved 25% on the UK retail price, so no complaint  from me.

So, the first thing you notice when you get it out of the box is that it’s small – really small. I was expecting something with the footprint of say, a carton of eggs. But this only measures less than 10cm by 10cm and 2cm high. It’s sleek & discreet with a just a couple of ports out the back, and a sliver of aluminium for a remote control (tres nice!). Oh, and note: there is no HDMI-HDMI cable included in the box, but a couple of quid on eBay will fix that. Remember this is digital TV, ones & zeroes – there’s no such thing as a high quality, gold-plated, lo-loss HDMI cable, so don’t pay for one!

Setting up is easy enough: mere minutes and you’re connected to your wireless or PLC network. If you do have your TV set in a wireless weak-spot, it might be worth investing in a pair of PLC (power line communication) adaptors. These mains-adaptors plug into the back of your router and the back of the Apple TV box and transfer up to 200 mbps along your mains wiring. Gamers swear by them for gaming online with a console, and of course being 100% wired on a closed loop it’s completely unhackable (I got mine on Amazon for about £30 – TP-Link AV200).

Once you’re set up wired or wirelessly, you can start playing around with the box. Two or three things jump out at you straight away:

1) NetFlix – I’m just getting into NetFlix, but most people I have spoken to say that it pays for the £6 per month in the first couple of months, usually in watching complete box sets like ‘Lost’ or ’24.’ The films aren’t the most up-to-date, but they do have a very large & respectable back catalogue. Anyway, it’s worth taking advantage of the free month’s trial, and NetFlix recently announced that it just broke the 1M mark in UK subscribers.

2) Air-Play (Mirror-Vision) – my favourite! Using Wi-Fi, you can display what’s on your iPod, iPad or iPhone directly on your TV. My kids love this because they can run around with their Pads & Pods taking photos and making small home-movies and then instantly project them onto a 37″ TV. And if, like me, you get a lot of media content onto your iPad, then you can enjoy films etc beamed directly to your TV. What’s even cooler is that if you stay in hotels a lot and don’t want to pay £15 for Pay-Per-View, you can load up your iPad, carry your (small) Apple TV box & cables in your bag, use your smartphone (in my case a BlackBerry) to create a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, and then beam your iPad’s movies onto the hotel TV (provided it’s got an HDMI socket on the back). For me, this really is the clincher on how cool this little box is!

3) Gaming – you can game onto the TV with the AppleTV box, but even cooler is that the connection turns your iPhone or iPad into the ultimate games controller whilst the action unfolds in front of you on the TV. And if you have a pair of devices linked together by Bluetooth for competitive gaming, you can split the screen using the box.

Why not 5/5? I could say it only comes in black… but as of today, it’s still missing its own App Store, which is rumoured to be coming soon. Once that is there, and you can still get one for £75 (or less), then I think I’ll have one in every room in the house that has a TV or monitor in it!

 

Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: SilverFox

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