AppleTV - Too Crippled for a $300 Media Extender

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“What’s on TV? Just about everything you’ve got in iTunes…”

Apple released the final specs on its AppleTV (formerly iTV), and I’m super disappointed.

Its hardware is impressive for a media extender:

  • AV out: HDMI and Component Video, Optical and stereo RCA audio (HDMI audio too?)
  • Network: Ethernet, 802.11 n a/b/g
  • Storage: 40 GB HDD.
  • Intel processor (video on the chip?)
  • Small and slim form factor that follows the Mac Mini’s rounded corner square design and lateral dimensions

Neat, sounds like an impressive media extender that can deliver up to a 720p video signal to your home theater over a robust wireless connection. So why am I so disappointed?

The AppleTV only lets you watch videos synched through iTunes, including: iTunes Store Music, TV Shows, Movies, Movie Trailers and Podcasts. End of list. You can only watch Apple approved and/or DRMed media. The resolution of iTunes store bought TV shows and movies tops out at 640×480. At this point the only HD media is movie trailers and maybe personal iMovie HD projects. If you want to play any video format outside of Apple’s designation below you’ll have to re-encode them to one of the formats below:

Video formats supported: H.264 and protected H.264 (from iTunes Store): 640 by 480, 30 fps, LC version of Baseline Profile; 320 by 240, 30 fps, Baseline profile up to Level 1.3; 1280 by 720, 24 fps, Progressive Main Profile. MPEG-4: 640 by 480, 30 fps, Simple Profile

What we won’t know is if any videos you can play in iTunes (through my short experiments any codec Quicktime supports as long as it is resaved as a .mov file) will also play on the AppleTV or if we’re completely locked in to the listed formats. According to Apple employees questioned at Macworld the latter is true, it will only play whatever an iPod will play.

I’m torn about the AppleTV. The only unique selling point it has is that it is the only media extender that supports the iTunes Store’s protected (DRM) music and video formats. Beyond that, I can only hope that it has an excellent video scaler and de-intelacer so the 640×480 looks good on your shiny new HDMI equipped HDTV. Since I cannot imagine paying $300 for such limited functionality, I guess I’m stuck with my modded Xbox and the open-source XBMC for all my “computer video in your living room needs.”

P.S. One good thing that came of the new Apple TV and Airport product announcements is the reduced price of an Airport Express down to $99. Read my PSP/Airtunes series of posts to find out why you need this wireless device in your listening room.

P.P.S. Apple, please prove me and all the other disappointed geeks wrong, you need this niche filled with a strong product, not a crippled one.

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