Overview: The newest version of the Apple TV is a great device for streaming content online to your television, especially if you’re firmly in the realm of Apple products — iPads, iPhones, Macs and iTunes. However, compared to its competition, the Apple TV is sorely lacking in features and options.
Features: At a cost of $99, the third generation Apple TV hit the market in 2012, with an upgrade to the processor in 2013. The device allows you to interact with media from iTunes and stream video content from YouTube, NBA, MLB, Vimeo and WSJ Live. You can also view photos and listen to your music and podcasts. Finally, you can also use AirPlay to wirelessly stream and interact Apple products with the device.
Design: In a small black box about 4 inches by 4 inches, the Apple TV has a sleek design that does not take up much space alongside your other media players. It’s beautifully simple and nonchalant, unlike say the failed gaudy Nexus Q that flashed and changed colors. The box does have a white LED indicator light that flashes when loading, but it’s generally something that doesn’t stand out.
The rear of the box has a few necessary ports, including the power input, LAN port, audio output, HDMI and Micro-USB. The Apple TV excels in Apple’s minimalistic tendencies.
Interface: The simplicity of the design also extends to its interface. The home screen has movies at the top with a grid of built-in apps you can browse. The playback on video is clean and simple. It has large cover art for media.
Ease of Use: In typical Apple fashion, the setup of the device is simple and works straight out of the box (as long as you have an HDMI cable that connects to your TV).
AirPlay: This is by far the best aspect of the Apple TV and what ultimately led me to buy the device. In the recent update to Mountain Lion, the Mac OS system enables you to stream anything you can pull up from your computer. Even though you might not have access to an Amazon Prime app, you can easily pull it up on your computer and stream it wirelessly to the Apple TV. If you have acquired videos that aren’t integrated in your iTunes for various reasons (iTunes doesn’t support the file, for example), you can still stream it on your TV.
The second aspect of AirPlay is streaming from iOS devices. You can bring up videos from the CNN iPad app on the Apple TV by clicking the option on your iPad. Or you can use your iPhone as a remote control for games with AirPlay support.
Lack of options: The Apple TV has a lot of great apps, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus and NBA, but when you compare it to its competitions, the Apple TV looks woefully inadequate. With the Roku box, you can get Amazon Instant Video, Fox News, Facebook, NBC News, Disney, HBO Go (though it’s coming to Apple TV in the near future) and much more. Apple has a tight control over the apps and there aren’t many when you think about the range of options with its competitors and the countless apps in iTunes.
Remote: This is probably not a big deal, but the remote is really awful. It’s a bit too simple and is difficult to fast forward, browse and search for text. This is a moot point if you get the Remote app for the iPhone or iPad, however.
Leaves non-Apple fanatics dry: If you don’t have any iOS devices or a computer with Mountain Lion, the Apple TV is basically just a Netflix or Hulu Plus box. You could buy a lot of videos from iTunes, but a lot of the functionality that makes the Apple TV worth it will be taken away.
By itself, the Apple TV is a great device that works seamlessly with other Apple devices, but if you’re truly looking for a ton of options in your viewing, the Apple TV falls short.