A Weekend with the Apple TV 2 and AirPlay

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This weekend, thanks to a private project I had worked on, I was able to upgrade my old Apple TV to the new, tiny, Apple TV 2.  The new and improved Apple TV loses the ability to cache video files on the device, but makes some gains in many other areas.  But let me first give you the reason why I even own them:  my sons are both very adept at damaging DVD's.  That, and I am often left wanting more when it comes to current traditional television programming.  So I started looking for better ways of managing my video entertainment.

The Apple TV provided a way for me to stream my iTunes video collection to my TV.  And by using various tools, I can rip the DVD's I already own and make them iTunes compatible (and as such not infringe copyright law by stealing media someone else owns).  I spent a lot of time since first getting the Apple TV ripping all the DVD's we owned so we could watch them through a single interface.

The Apple TV 2 improved in a lot of areas.  First, it's smaller and takes up less space.  Second, it doesn't pump out a ton of heat (which the previous did, to an alarming amount).  Third, it provides an interface to Netflix and other content media, which I will get to in a minute.  The size makes it easier to place in a small corner and have it be less conspicuous.  Add to that the ability to control it remotely using WiFi and an iPad/iPhone, and you could even hide it within a closed cabinet.  The display is great, though not at the full 1080p that the TV can support.  Instead it manages with 720p, which is incredibly crisp.

One difference that took some getting used to was the location of the shared library.  Shared libraries are now in their own menu, which actually makes it simpler to move from a movie to a TV show without drilling all the way out.

Another difference is the inclusion of three apps:  Netflix, MLB.TV, and NBA.

Netflix has always been an interesting concept for me.  I'm not big into watching content on the computer (unless it's the only option), and would prefer to be with the family in front of the TV, sharing the experience.  So streaming services like Netflix didn't make any sense to me, unless it was part of a set-top solution or built into the TV itself.  The Apple TV (along with other solutions) makes that possible, with the Apple TV 2.  For $7.99 a month, you have access to an incredible list of TV shows and movies that you can stream, as much as you want.  Some even include seasons that are currently running, and not yet released on DVD!  Needless to say, I am now a Netflix convert.

But what interested me was the inclusion of MLB.tv and the MVA channel as apps.  These are web streaming apps, similar to what Netflix has done, but specifies a category or "channel".  It's a beginning, and one I think ultimately has the best possible result.  Instead of having to work with current Network and Cable schedules, it's possible to watch and pay for only the channels you want.  If I want to watch the San Diego Padres and the Chicago Cubs game, I can.  If not, I don't have to pay for it.  It limits my channel surfing, but lets me see what I want to see when I want it.  Google wanted to do this with Google TV.  I think this could well be the future of Cable, and it's something that Cable and Satellite companies would want to pay attention to and embrace.  Let us decide when we want to watch our shows, and you will have happy costumers.

Airplay was another really neat feature, one that I really wanted to have and the main reason why I wanted to upgrade to the Apple TV.  When we travel, I don't want to have to lug a laptop or a computer with me just to watch my own videos.  I have an iPhone and an iPad, as does my wife, and together we could potentially carry all our content we normally watch.  Airplay lets me push my video up to the TV without having to have a computer with me.  And with the latest update, I can use Airplay for some third-party apps, though that list isn't very long right now.  I can use it for Air Video, YouTube, and Netflix, and a couple of others.  But I can't use the PBS iPad app (though it works for the iPhone app), the ABC video app, or the Xfinity app.  For PBS or ABC, it just Airplay's audio.  for Xfinity, nothing.  It would be nice to see all three of these get video Airplay, so I have additional entertainment options while traveling.

Integrated Home Sharing is wonderful when using the Remote apps for the Apple TV, as well as streaming.  It makes it easy to use your Remote for the Apple TV which was previously a complicated setup.  The new setup takes a lot of the complication out.

So, do I think it's the future of home entertainment?  That might be a bit of a stretch, but I think it definitely has the potential to being all we need.  Right now it's a great offering from Apple, and one that I really enjoy.  I'd like to see some games for it, some additional services, and more individual "channels" start to explore this method of subscription programming.  I think that alone will make or break any set-top box like this.  Only one thing:  if I'm going to pay for my content, I don't want commercials.  Thank you.

So that was my experience this weekend, and it was a blast.  I would definitely recommend the Apple TV 2 for anyone with a TV that supports HDMI input, particularly if you have an iOS device.  It works great, looks great, and feels less cluttered than the earlier Apple TV.