Cut to the core

Cliff Joseph still isn’t won over by Apple’s revamped rental box

The new-look AppleTV replaces the original 2007 model. It’s smaller than its predecessor, measuring a mere 3.9ins wide and deep, and just 0.9in high. The reduction in size – and price cut from £200 to £100 – was made possible by removing the hard disk. This means that the AppleTV can only be used to rent and stream video now, as there’s no way of buying and permanently storing anything on this model. However, you do still have the option of buying content using iTunes on your Mac/PC and then streaming them to the AppleTV over your home network.

All that’s left inside the smaller box is a processor and a handful of connectors, including HDMI, optical digital audio output, and both Ethernet and Wireless-N networking. Output via HDMI is limited to 720p.

The hardware may have changed drastically, but the onscreen interface looks more familiar, with the same straightforward setup procedure and attractive menu system. I had no trouble streaming some rented HD films from the iTunes Store via a Wi-Fi connection, and it was a snap to stream both audio and video from my desktop Mac to the AppleTV, too.

ITunes doesn’t hack it

However, Apple still hasn’t addressed the AppleTV’s real weakness, which is that it only enables you to view video content that is available from the iTunes Store. Although iTunes is the dominant force in the music download market, it’s just one of many outlets for film and TV content on the ‘net. Without access to other non-Apple video services, the AppleTV is simply too limited in scope for users in the UK.

The company is being a bit cagey about this, but it’s thought that the new model now runs the same iOS software that also powers Apple’s iPhone and iPad. It was hoped that this would allow the player to run iPhone apps, such as BBC iPlayer, and in so doing would open it up to a wider range of online video services. In the US, the AppleTV can access the popular NetFlix online rental service. However, NetFlix is only available in the US, and UK-based services such as the BBC iPlayer, 4oD, or LOVEFiLM are nowhere to be seen.

This means that UK users are restricted to the limited and expensive selection of material that is available via the iTunes Store.

A new HD release such as Kick-Ass costs a hefty £4.50 to rent with other recent releases averaging £3.50, and older, standard-def titles going down to £2.50. The pricing isn’t attractive – especially compared to the amount of films and programmes I can watch online with my £13 monthly LOVEFiLM subscription.

I’m also shocked to see that the UK version of the AppleTV is limited to film rentals only. The ‘TV Shows’ option available on the US version is missing here.

It is still possible to rent TV programmes using iTunes on a Mac or PC and streaming them across your home network, but a device that doesn’t enable you to directly rent or buy TV programmes hardly seems to merit the name AppleTV.

Limited appeal

If the rumour that the AppleTV will, indeed, get its own version of the iPhone App Store comes true, then this box’s appeal will grow, but right now the material available to UK users via iTunes is too limited and too expensive for me to recommend the AppleTV in its current form.


HCC VERDICT

Apple TV 2nd Generation
Price:
£100 Approx

Highs: A breeze to set up and use and features an attractive graphical interface
Lows: Limited content available via iTunes in the UK; rentals are comparatively expensive
Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 2/5
Overall: 2/5


Specifications

Storage: no The HDD has been removed for this second-gen box
DLNA Compliant: no But it will stream iTunes from your Mac/PC
Connectivity: HDMI; optical-digital audio; 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11n Wi-Fi
Dimensions: 23(h) x 99(w) x 99(d)mm
Weight: 0.27Kg
Features: Online film rentals from the UK iTunes store; also connects to YouTube, Flickr, and a selection of online podcasts and radio stations; audio and video can be streamed from a Mac or PC running iTunes