Forget all the comments about backwards operating systems (PCs) and elegant simple to use interfaces (Mac); I wanted to see for myself if this extremely well-hyped device could do all the stuff that it was supposedly able to do. Things such as levitate objects, create food (“Earl Grey tea hot”; the Enterprise PC had to be Mac-based, no?) and other feats of magic.

Seriously this device had to live up to a lot of hype, not the least of which involved super-easy setup and use. I actually used Macs off and on over the years, from the Mac Classic back in 1991 to PowerMacs in the mid-90s to even a super-powered (at the time) G3 to do video editing and other tasks around 2000. I have also had a bunch of PCs as well (seems like everyone was using them.. and still is). My latest PC is about 5 years old and is in need of replacement, but now I am seriously thinking about going to a Mac. But that’s another story, for another post.

This is about my installation experience with the AppleTV box. When I heard that they were creating this product back in 2005 I thought that this would be a fantastic addition to a home entertainment system. I mean think of it; the ability to play all that stuff that is locked up on your computer without having to physically bring it down to wherever your TV was sitting seemed pretty attractive. I thought that they’d announce it at MacWorld in ’06 but there was no mention of a product that people had started to call iTV. So still had to wait, and wait and wait.

So when it was announced along with the iPhone I thought that it would be a great opportunity to try finally get to try out something that would make this type of whole home “cross-platform” media experience a reality.

I confess that I was not quite as well informed about the requirements for the product as I thought. In fact (cue the inspirational music) I thought that I could just bring it home and hook it up to the flat panel in the basement with the many cables I have on hand from other devices/installations that I have put in over the past few years. Turns out that after I unboxed the unit, (kill the music), I realized that the only video connections were HDMI (not a chance) and Component. Crap; I didn’t have any of those cables on hand.

So it sat for a day uninstalled and unloved on the shelf on top of my Satelite box waiting for me to go out and get the component cable. Home depot to the rescue. So brought the cable back, hooked it all up to the flat panel and then tried to insert the power cable. Guess what? Due to some sort of manufacturing problem, the cable doesn’t properly seat in the unit. It just falls out. So I had to resort to good old painters tape to hold the cable to the unit so at least I could do the setup.

Don’t try this at home kids

After taping the cable temporarily, I looked in the box for the remote and nearly had to tear the damn box apart to get it out. This remote is so tiny that for sure it will get lost on the coffee table or eaten by a hungry animal out looking for snacks inbetween the cushions.

Finally getting the remote out allows you to choose the language, and pick the resolution. Weird but none of the higher res options work for this monitor, even though it does support higher resolutions. I’m going to to worry about that later….

The tricky part was trying to get it to find the iTunes client running on the network. I had this running but apparently there is an option in the Firewall section to share iTunes that has to be enabled or it won’t find the AppleTV box. (Good to know; I found this on the Apple site.)

But the box does find the network and I can put in the WEP key (slowly using the remote and picking each character one by one), so it does go out and find a short teaser version for Feature Films and TV. [Note that I am in Canada which sucks from an iTunes perspective as we are a third world country when it comes to getting video. The short answer is that we really have nothing, except some trailers and some music videos. Get with the picture Apple/Studios and let us get the content that we want!]

So finally got everything to synch after fooling around a bit with the menus and content looks surprisingly good. There still are some jagged edges and some blockiness in the blacks but in my opinion I only notice this because I am comparing it to higher resolution video. I really like the way I can access the video podcasts on this device to check out the previews for all the upcoming movies, so I can at least pretend that I know what’s going on and delude myself that I’ll actually have time to see them when they come out.

So overall, not a bad user experience for installing what could be a really complicated device. I think Apple has done a few things right: limit the number of options in setup (so as not to confuse the user); use wireless to synch content from the PC as well as connect to the iTunes service for the most up-to-date previews of shows and films (too bad we can’t see them here); made the user interface really simple with a few clicks of the (too small) remote.

I also have hooked up our Media Center PC to this flat panel and will try to get that back online in the next few days… but not really a fair comparison as the AppleTV is a purpose built unit and the MCPC is more of a PC with the TV client grafted on. But I think that the AppleTV unit looks waaaay better anyway.

Update: Last week I finally got the power cable to stay in the socket; basically by shoving it in waaay to hard for my comfort level. So now I am just waiting for Apple to sign more content in Canada…. (still waiting…)