Navigation of the menus is as intuitive as you'd expect from an Apple product. If you can drive an iPod then you'll find the Apple TV a doddle, and so too will your mum or - dare we say it - the wife.
Apple's Apple TV: gran-friendly user interface for movies...
The clue lies here, where Apple spells out the list of supported formats which includes H.264 at 1280 x 720 and a data rate of 5Mbps, as well as MPEG 4 at up to 3Mbps. If you want to play movies from the iTunes store the quality is limited to VGA (640 x 480).
Mac users can try Elgato's H.264 USB-connected video encoder - reviewed here - and there's a similar unit for Windows users, Instant Video To Go, from ADS. Both should be able to recode video for the Apple TV in a way that yields better looking pictures.
Then there's the extensive list of formats that aren't supported, which includes DivX, MPEG 2, WMV and Xvid. Take all those points in combination and the list of movies and TV shows that you can watch is limited and will very likely look quite poor on your enormous HDTV.
Of the various movie clips that we watched, the best was a DVD rip of an old Doctor Who from the early 1980s, possibly because it was originally recorded in an analogue format, while modern recordings of CSI which were broadcast in 720p looked less than impressive as the blocks and artefacts were clearly visible.
The other oddity is the Apple TV's YouTube feature, which allows you to watch clips quickly and easily. They're usually shown in a tiny window on your computer screen and here they are, blown up to enormous size on your TV and - guess what - they look absolutely dreadful.
Audio support is less of a shock and you can listen to the same AAC and MP3 files that you have on your iPod but - and this is the question - do you want to listen to music through your TV? I don't, and I can't think of anyone who does. Fortunately, the RCA stereo ports allow you to hook the gadget up to both your TV - for navigation and track selection - and to your hi-fi for amplification. Just remember to mute your TV first, OK?
Unlike previous media extenders, the Apple TV takes Mac- and PC-sourced content and displays it on the big screen, quickly and easily. However, the list of supported formats and bit-rates is so short that its effectiveness is severely curtailed. Bring on the Apple HDTV.
Apple TV 160GB media player
Stuttering D-Link? Not here!
I've got a D-link DSM-520 which plugs into my Panasonic LCD (only 26" I'm afraid). My home router/access point is a G624M, into which is also plugged a G600 ethernet/wireless hard-drive enclosure (also has access point, but I've disabled this). The latter hardware sits in the backroom, at the other end of the hallway, so only two doors & twenty-odd feet of air between the router and the media player. I get 99% flawless playback, the only failing usually being media storage, which clears on a reboot. This rarely happens.
Ripped of (via bittorrent) US shows play back perfectly, whether in XVID or DiVx, and there is rarely any sync problem. HD encodings play back at 720p, looking excellent on the 26" Pana.
As an added bonus, I can use my laptop as a server (any pc will suffice) and playback bot channel 4 and the BBC's downloadable programmes (in wmv format). Two shortcomings there; quality is poor, and there are no discernable titles for the files, meaning that playplack can be a potluck affair.
Gosh, what would I give for Apple TV with no DiVx, XVid etc!?!
Or you could just use an xbox 1
No, not an xbox 360. Get an original xbox (£25 from Game with warantee) and stick xbmc on it.
Sorted. And it does MORE than Apple TV (Divx, etc.)
call me when they can deal with 1080p...
All the rest is just mediocre intermediate format.
when they have a machine that can play back a true 1080p stream then it gets interesting...
MythTV and PS3
I've run a Mythtv Linux box connected via SVIDEO to my TV, Now I've ditched the cables and use a PS3 over WiFi connected to MythTV via UPNP. Its got a high end Freeview (DVB-T) setop box because its great quality. But the PS3 playback quality is the best I've ever seen on a TV and the HDTV upscaling is very nice as well. Only gripe is one or two of the audio streams of the MPEG-2 TS format don't seem to be supported by the PS3 but I expect an firmware update soon.
I'm not rushing to buy a AppleTV as I don't use iTunes to download and view video but that said its pretty easy to turn the Apple TV into a fully fledges Mac and run iLife as well as a MythFrontend package so I guess I'm tempted but not convinced. I think if iTunes (UK) had a better choice (other than Ugly Betty and South Park) I might be more convinced.
Still at the same time it will be interesting to see what Sony do which online services so I suspect the only thing I need to replace my aging MythTV service is PlayTV and a large disk for the PS3.
Freecom SD & HD networked Media Players
I have a Freecom MG35 (HD version also available) with a 320Gb drive installed.
Movies can be dropped on to the hard drive either across my wired network using NDAS or via USB cable. Content can also be streamed across the network from any PC (no synching needed).
Plays every video format I have thrown at it (MPEG, DivX, Xvid, DVD VOB, MP4 ...) Won't do WMV, but that's hardly a problem for me.
No noisy cooling fans inside... just the faint almost inaudible noise from the spinning drive.
The whole set up cost me about £140 12 months ago .... could probably get the same for £110 today.