Following rumours that Apple was planning to launch its own TV to revolutionise yet another media industry we all waited to see what size this game-changing, super-slim, iOS-Connected device would be: 40 inches, 50”, 60”..? See also: Apple TV: useful and simple to use

Actually, and to the disappointment of industry disruptors everywhere, it measured less than an inch in height and under 4 inches in width and depth. Indeed it was the same shape and size as the previous Apple TV, and not so dissimilar in features either.

The Apple TV, you see, isn’t a TV at all. It isn’t even a TV tuner for free-to-air channels, or a digital video recorder to catch shows while you’re away from home or watching another channel.

Instead the Apple TV is a cool-looking little box that sits alongside your television, and lets you download TV shows and films from Apple’s online iTunes Store, stream music, movies and photos from your computer or iCloud, and connect the media on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch via AirPlay.

See also New iPad review.

What’s new about the new Apple TV?

There’s not much new with the new Apple TV but maybe just enough to tempt existing second-generation Apple TV users: namely full 1080p HD resolution downloads. New users will find lots to like, but a wall of limitations as well.

Note that not all HD content on iTunes is 1080p; much remains at the lower-resolution 720p. And it might be only real screen buffs who can tell the difference between 1080p and 720p anyway.

Of course 1080p videos are pretty large so you need a fast internet connection to stream them; Apple recommends at least an 8Mbps connection.

The Apple TV’s processor has been given a boost to cope with the higher-res HD, up from an A4 to an A5.

The £99 Apple TV box itself is cute but ultra cool in glossy jet black. It doesn’t distract from your TV itself (after all, the TV screen is the most important part of any television set up) and takes up next to no space. We simply placed ours on top of the Blu-ray player and Sky+ box.

Connecting Apple TV

The Apple TV is super simple to connect and configure – even easier than setting up the other iOS devices (iPad, iPhone).

You can’t use Apple TV with any old telly, though. You need an HDTV television (either 720p or 1080p) that connects via HDMI. You need to buy an HDMI cable (from about £5) to connect the Apple TV to your telly, as there’s not one included in the box.

Apple TV back ports HDMI television iTunes

The Apple TV box has one HDMI port, and also an optical digital audio port for real home cinema sound buffs (for most the HDMI connection will suffice). There’s also a Micro USB port for service and diagnostics, and an Ethernet port if you really don’t want to use Wi-Fi.

Most homes are set up with a wireless network, of course, and wireless video streaming requires 802.11a, g or n; nearly all modern Wi-Fi routers conform with these standards.

You also need to upgrade to iTunes 10.5 or later on your PC or Mac.

Apple TV remote control

You navigate the setup menus and input Wi-Fi network and password via the included Apple TV remote – yes, another ruddy remote control to join your TV, Blu-ray, DVD, DVR, etc controllers…

Configuration is easy but isn’t as slick as you’d expect from Apple’s UI boffins. It’s as clunky a process as on any Sony internet-ready HDTV. Surely Apple could do better…

Apple TV user interface

Apple TV’s user interface is simple and intuitive, as you’d expect from Apple, and will be familiar to all iPad and iPhone users as it utilises the bright and bold iOS looks.

Apple TV User Interface television iTunes

The main screen delivers big icons for Films, TV Programmes, Computers and Settings, plus a small range of third-party options, including Netflix (see below).

The inclusion of Apple’s own MobileMe is a sad reminder that this excellent photo and video-sharing service is heading for the exit in the near future.

Next page: Movie and TV downloads via Apple TV

Movie and TV downloads via Apple TV

Access to all the iTunes Store content is easy with Apple TV. There are most of the latest HD movies and TV programmes and series to download.

But iTunes movie/TV content isn’t cheap.

Season 1 of House costs almost as much as a minute in American healthcare: £26.99. You can buy that DVD via Amazon for under a tenner. Season 7 of House on HD is £39.99 on iTunes; but just £17 on DVD. Catching up with the first six seasons of House on iTunes will cost you £179.79. You can pick up the DVDs on Amazon for £57.52, and resell them on eBay for at least half that if you don’t want to keep them.

Movies are cheaper. The Adventures of Tintin is £9.99 to buy on iTunes, or you can rent it from iTunes for £3.49. District 9 is £7.99 on iTunes HD. Via Amazon you could buy the DVD of Tintin for the same £9.99 (£15 on Blu-ray), and the District 9 DVD for £3 (or £6.49 on Blu-ray).

There are lots of iTunes movies at 99p and a range under £5 so it’s worth looking around for bargains when you’re unsure what to watch.

Citizen Kane costs under £4 on DVD. On iTunes, it’s … not there.

And that’s another fault with online downloads – the range of what’s on offer is miniscule compared to standard DVD and Blu-ray formats.

But it can’t be beat for immediate gratification. Missed the latest episode of Alcatraz? Bing, it’s there on iTunes and therefore on your TV in minutes.

Rainy weekend and kids getting bored? Apple TV’s near-immediate downloads could save your sanity.

Apple TV iTunes Store Expensive

You can also watch movie trailers and read user reviews via Apple TV, and even let Genius recommend stuff based on your previous viewing habits – all of which makes renting a dud slightly less risky.

Apple TV offers access to movie/TV renting service Netflix. Netflix costs £5.99 a month for unlimited downloads. The trouble is that the number of telly programmes and movies on Netflix is limited – very much so.

The same is true of the available online downloads from Netflix UK rival LoveFilm, not yet part of Apple TV’s connected services. But LoveFilm (£4.99/month for unlimited online downloads) has an excellent DVD/Blu-ray disc-renting service from £5.99/month (3 discs a month) or from £7.99/month for as many discs as you can watch and post back plus the online downloads.

If you watch a lot of movies at home and don’t need instant access to the very latest films and TV series Lovefilm’s disc-renting service is much better value than iTunes.

Both Netflix and LoveFilm’s online downloads don’t require Apple TV if your telly is Internet-ready. If your TV isn’t Internet ready then Apple TV is a neat solution for adding Netflix.

Sky TV’s Box Office Sky Store also hosts a wide choice of the latest movies at the same price, or often cheaper than iTunes. Nobody ever accused Apple of cutting prices…

What’s on Apple TV

Aside from iTunes and Netflix access, Apple TV offers up access to YouTube (also usually available on internet TVs), Vimeo videos and flickr photos, and a couple of very US-centric services Wall Street Journal Live and Major League Baseball TV.

Apple TV services YouTube Netflix Photos MLB WSJ

(Even if you are a baseball fan you don’t get to watch MLB.TV for nothing: a subscription is required to watch live and archived games.)

What’s missing from Apple TV that might make it really great in the UK (instead of WSJ and MLB)? BBC iPLayer, Channel 4’s 4oD or any of the other UK TV station on-demand services. With these Apple TV would be a brilliant product.

Next page: Apple TV, Photo Stream and your computer, plus AirPlay

Apple TV, Photo Stream and your computer

Downloading movies and TV shows from the Internet isn’t exclusive to Apple TV, but access to your computer-based media is. You click the Computers icon to stream photos, home videos and even your music collection from your PC or Mac.

Apple TV lets you wirelessly access your content from iCloud too.

Apple TV’s photo functions are excellent. Click Photo Stream to see your iCloud Photo Stream on your widescreen TV, and you can use those photos as onscreen slideshow wallpaper or screen saver.

The iCloud-based Photo Stream is a great Apple TV feature, but remember you need to switch on this option on your iPhone or iPad .

You can show off all your iPhoto snaps via Apple TV, too.  And there’s the usual lovely Apple slideshow options to choose from.

First you need to go into the Advanced options in iTunes to allow for Home Sharing of your photos.

Apple TV Photo Stream photos

To play music via Apple TV’s Music icon you need to be an iTunes Match subscriber (£25 a year), although you can stream direct from your computer.

Apple TV and AirPlay

Apple’s AirPlay lets you wirelessly stream what’s on your iPhone or iPad straight to your HDTV via the Apple TV. Or you can mirror exactly what’s on your mobile display to the big screen (a lot of fun with your iOS games). Both your iOS device and Apple TV need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network for the AirPlay icon to appear.

Apple TV AirPlay Mirroring games iPad

Giving family or friends control by passing the iPad around but displaying on a widescreen TV is a more natural way of showing stuff off to large groups than just viewing on the device itself. With Apple TV even the iPad looks a little cramped.

You can do something similar with Apple’s £35 Apple Digital AV Adapter, but this wired option isn’t as impressive as AirPlay’s wireless convenience.

Apple TV: How to use AirPlay

Apple TV: How to use AirPlay Mirroring

Apple TV (2012) Third generation: Specs

  • A5 processor
  • Wi-Fi/Ethernet
  • iTunes account required
  • HDMI2
  • Optical audio
  • Video Formats: H.264 video up to 1080p, MPEG-4, Motion JPEG
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through
  • Apple remote included
  • 23 x 98 x 98mm, 27g
  • A5 processor
  • Wi-Fi/Ethernet
  • iTunes account required
  • HDMI2
  • Optical audio
  • Video Formats: H.264 video up to 1080p, MPEG-4, Motion JPEG
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through
  • Apple remote included
  • 23 x 98 x 98mm, 27g

OUR VERDICT

Apple TV is a sexy little box that sits unobtrusively next to your television, giving you easy access to a wide range of (albeit expensive) iTunes movie and TV series downloads. You can stream your photos, videos and music from your computer, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. Setup and navigation are simple, as you’d expect from an Apple product. There’s much you can do with an Apple TV (your photos on a widescreen TV might be worth the price alone), but there’s also a lot missing (most specifically iPlayer, 4oD, etc) that we could generously call ‘future opportunities’ for this £99 device.

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