Apple has finally released the AppleTV to consumers. Ever since Steve’s public announcement in September I’ve been looking forward to seeing this device in action. It sounded really cool and now that it’s starting to hit shelves I am getting even more interested in how it works and how it could fit into my existing media center configuration.

Currently I am using a MacMini with iTunes and Front Row. All my media (music, video, photos) are kept on 5-6 external USB/Firewire hard drives. I have well over 1TB of media and iTunes seems to handle it quite well! My MacMini came with the Apple Remote so I can surf through my media at ease and comfortably from my couch. I have the MacMini connected directly to my HDTV and it works wonderfully.

If I was to get the AppleTV I would probably stream all my media to the unit and start using the MacMini as a computer and not just a ‘media extender’. It might be ideal to sync a few TV shows to the AppleTV but from what I’ve been reading it takes quite a while to sync on an 802.11g based network. Of course you could use the Ethernet port and it would go faster.

One major turn off about the AppleTV is that it cannot play DVDs. It has no DVD and streaming a DVD over the network isn’t an option. I’m a Netflix user so I get 3-4 DVDs every week. I pop them into my MacMini and fire up FrontRow, great solution. If I was to get the AppleTV, that would just be another device that I’d need to find room for alongside a DVD player…

On my MacMini I am connected right to the iTunes Music Store. I can purchase movies and songs and play them right on the MacMini. The AppleTV has no direct connection to the iTMS so you need to purchase content from another computer and then you may sync or stream it to the AppleTV. While I understand that it would be difficult to navigate and purchase from the iTMS with just the Apple Remote, Apple should have taken advantage of that USB port and used it for a mouse/keyboard or some type of pointing device. If Apple wanted to have an easy to use, convenient device, this sure would have helped that cause!

The AppleTV pretty much requires that you have a newer television. If you television doesn’t have component, or HDMI ports you’re pretty much out of luck. I’ve also heard that TV shows and other media doesn’t look to great on 4:3 resolution TVs. Fortunately my TV has multiple HDMI ports and component ports. HDTV is starting to become much more common and soon it will be the standard for broadcasters and for gadgets like AppleTV.

When you get the AppleTV you’re locking yourself into Apple’s iTunes Music Store for the most of it. I assume that the people who will get this device already have spent a good amount of money in the iTunes Music Store so it shouldn’t be much of an issue for them. They’re iTMS purchased content will play nicely with the AppleTV. Of course people who get their media from places other then the iTMS can always convert video/audio files you have into something iTunes/AppleTV can use. Some people accept the fact that you can really only use Apple’s specified formats, and it makes no difference to those people, but there are people who do not like being ‘locked’ into select few formats. I myself don’t really care either way, I don’t have other devices (mobile phones, PDAs, Windows…etc) that I need to play my media on, just my iPod and my Macintosh computers. Easy for me!

I find it even a bit hard to compare the AppleTV to the MacMini because they’re really 2 totally different devices. The MacMini is a full-featured computer that happens to have a nice media-front end. The AppleTV is just a media extender, you need a computer to use the device, it doesn’t do anything more then playback your media on your HDTV.

As a conclusion I feel the AppleTV is for someone who already has another computer with purchases from the iTunes Music Store and is looking for a way to view their content on their TV. The AppleTV is an easy to setup and use device that will enable them to view their media on their TV. They can use their already existing computer to sync their media to the AppleTV or stream it.

For someone who already has a MacMini or another device and is using it to serve up media onto their TV, I would probably just stick with that solution. It’s likely that that other device and definitely that MacMini will have a DVD player too.

That being said, I probably will not get an AppleTV myself. At least not until it supports external hard drives, has a DVD player…oh wait, that would pretty much be a MacMini… 🙂

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