Forbes recently declared the Apple TV the “iFlop,” asking the question, “How did the storied Steve Jobs and Apple botch it so badly?” However, despite the low sales figures, constant flow of criticism and even Steve’s relegation of the box to the status of “hobby,” I still think Apple TV is an amazing product—if you accept it for what it is: an affordable, user-friendly tool to bridge the gap between your PC and your TV. Here’s why I like the Apple TV, and now use it far more than my DVD player (and even the non-HD programming on my cable box):
- It’s cheap. No, not cheap like a $50 DVD player. But at $249 for a refurb of the 40GB version, it’s cheaper than some of the other boxes Forbes raves about, like the $399 Vudu. It’s even cheaper than some popular audio-only options, like the Squeezebox or Roku Radio.
- It works. I’ve tried other devices designed to stream music, photos and video from my PC to my TV, and none have worked as well as the Apple TV. Getting photos on is a breeze, syncing with iTunes is effortless, and adding videos is a no-brainer. Apple’s trademark ease-of-use translates well to the living room, where you’d rather kick back and relax than dig in and hack.
- It’s hackable. Of course, when you do want to dig in and hack, it’s great to know that you can. There are hacks to do everything from turn the Apple TV into a full-fledged (though underpowered) Mac, to open it up to just about every video format. The first Apple TV hacks are what convinced me to take it seriously as a platform, and I wouldn’t have bought one otherwise.
- It can play DVD video. While Forbes and others carp about the limited amount of programming available via iTunes, I don’t really care about that, since I have plenty of other sources for video in my own DVD collection. Years ago, I ripped all of my CDs to digital files and banished the discs themselves to the basement. I’ve always wanted to do the same with my DVDs, but was held back by not having an easy way to get the files to play in the living room. Apple TV solves that problem. Even without hacking the actual box, ripping DVDs to Apple TV-supported formats is fairly simple, thanks to good ol’ DVD Jon, and the dozens of free and low-priced programs that can copy DVDs. And ripped DVDs can be saved at higher resolutions than those supported in the vids for sale in the iTunes store.
- It does YouTube. Forbes dings Apple for not including the Tube out of the gate, and I have to agree. I didn’t buy mine until Apple added it (and the refurbs hit the market). Now that it’s there, though, it’s one of my favorite features. Sure low-res YouTube videos look even worse on my 42-inch plasma than they do on my 19-inch desktop LCD, but that’s not the point, is it? The sheer volume and variety is what keeps me coming back to YouTube, and so far Apple and Google have done a pretty good job of porting videos from Flash to H.264.
No, Apple TV isn’t perfect. The 40GB model is way too small (though you can upgrade that if you’re willing to do a little hacking). It doesn’t stream Internet radio (at least without hacks). And Unbox-style rentals would be nice. But it does everything it claims to do, and does it simply, cheaply and elegantly. And for my living room, that’s enough.