Updated with new channels 8/27/2013!
Just about every technical or gadget blog has already written about the Apple TV. What I found missing was information as to what it really is, step-by-step instructions to set it up, and how it compares with other competing boxes. This article’s focus will be to guide you through what this amazing little box is and what it can do. Along with way I’ll show you how it compares to its leading competitor, the Roku. My guide to the Roku can be found here.
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So just what is the Apple TV? (skip if needed)
The Apple TV can connect to your HDTV and provide you with some of the best entertainment available on the internet today. From the massive iTunes collection of movies, TV shows, and music to some great content from Netflix (now with original programming such as House of Cards with Kevin Spacey), YouTube, Hulu Plus, and more. Access to many live sports in HD as well. With AirPlay you can show everything that’s on your computer, iPhone, iPod or iPad on your TV too. All in a shiny little black box the size of a hockey puck.
First let’s go through the features of the Apple TV:
- Connect to virtually any TV (HDMI cable)
- Access your purchased movies, TV shows, and music with iTunes Match right from iCloud
- Stream video, games, and more from iOS devices using AirPlay; music, videos, and photos can also be streamed from PCs and Macs
- AirPlay Mirroring: you’ll be able to display what’s on your iPhone 4S or iPad screen
- Stream everything you watch over 802.11g,b,n Wi-Fi (or wired Ethernet connection)
- Optical audio out. (not available on Roku 3)
The Apple TV can be placed just about anywhere due to its size. You connect with an HDMI cable to your TV and plug it in. There is no cable included so you’ll need to buy one. And remember since the connection is digital, any cheap cable is good enough unless your cable length is more than 15 feet or so. This affordable cable here is one option. Connecting to your home network through the user interface is really straightforward through the settings menu.
You will first connect to your home network using either WIFI or directly through the Ethernet connection. If needed, enter your network password (remember it’s case sensitive).
Some models may not have this option, but if yours does: Choose whether you want your Apple TV to report diagnostic information to Apple or not, and continue. If you say yes, don’t worry, the Apple TV isn’t sending personal information per their Terms of Service.
Be sure Home Sharing is enabled on your home computer iTunes. This allows you to stream content from your iTunes library directly to your Apple. You can use the Apple TV without turning on Home Sharing, but you’ll get more use from the Apple TV with it on.
Here’s how to set up Home Sharing in iTunes:
- Open iTunes on your computer
- Choose Advanced – Then turn on Home Sharing
- Enter your Apple ID and password, then click Create Home Share
- Repeat steps 1 through 3 on each computer you want to use for Home Sharing.
Set up Home Sharing on your Apple TV:
- On the Apple TV select Settings – Computers
- Select Turn on Home Sharing and enter the same Apple ID and password you entered on your computer.
Included and selectable from the main menu:
- Netflix: From classics to recent Hollywood blockbusters, Netflix on Apple TV lets you watch even more movies and TV shows in 1080p HD and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound when available.
- Hulu Plus Watch current and previous seasons of TV shows from ABC, Fox, NBC, Comedy Central, MTV, The CW, and Univision. Choose from award-winning movies from Miramax, classic movies from the Criterion Collection, movie trailers, and original programming from Hulu.
- Internet radio
- MLB.tv: Have an MLB.TV subscription? Watch games live and in HD on your TV. Or replay any regular season game on demand from the archives. Don’t have a subscription? You can still get team schedules, real-time scores, stats, and standings — free.
- NBA: NBA.com League Pass Broadband subscribers can access their subscriptions to see every dunk, free throw, and rebound live from your couch, or replay regular season games on demand. Nonsubscribers can access real-time scores, full-season stats, standings, and video highlights.
- NHL Gamecenter: Subscribe to NHL GameCenter and watch live games in HD. Follow your favorite NHL teams and see their schedules, games, and stats. And don’t worry if you miss a game — you can replay it anytime you want.
- WSJ Live: Stay current on late-breaking business, international, and financial news with Wall Street Journal Live.
- Smithsonian Channel: Documentaries in high definition and a vast assortment and vast assortment.
- iTunes movies, TV shows and music
- Disney Channel: (requires cable or satellite subscription to view)
- Disney XD: (requires cable or satellite subscription to view)
- The Weather Channel
- Vevo TV: Unlimited music videos.
- All of your favorite iTunes podcasts!
How does Roku compare? Roku’s channels include all of the above, with a few exceptions:
- There is no Youtube channel currently. Roku indicates they are working on it and to “stay tuned” however there is no date specified.
- iTunes: Roku can get you access to your iTunes podcasts (via a private channel), but not your library of purchased movies, TV shows or music.
- For a list of suggested channels on the Roku see my earlier article here.
With this uniquely Apple feature, you can wirelessly stream music and video stored on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to your HDTV through the Apple TV. They connect through your WIFI network and once connected you’ll see the AirPlay icon automatically appear on your device. Tap it in Photos, Videos, Music, Safari, or any other AirPlay-enabled app, and you’ll begin streaming your device’s content to your HDTV.
Additionally, with AirPlay Mirroring you’ll be able to display what’s on your iPhone 4S and above or iPad screen to everyone in the room. It’s perfect for presenting spreadsheets in meetings, class materials, and web pages. And it’s a great way to bring your iOS game apps to the big screen. Some games even offer dual screen control capabilities, enabling you to access all controls on your iOS device and watch all the action on your HDTV without it being crowded out by the user interface. This feature is exclusive to Apple products currently and is not available with the Roku.
What are others saying?
Amazon reviewers currently rate the Apple TV at 4.5 stars with more than 1750 reviews!
If you already own an iPhone, iPod or iPad and/or a large iTunes collection of movies, TV shows and music, the Apple TV may be for you. Its interface has a polished feel that’s quick and simple to use, typical of Apple products. Its lack of additional channels, such as those mentioned in my previous Roku article (found here) may be the deciding factor for decision making. Amazon Prime streaming, CNN, Fox News, Crackle are just a few you may miss. This may be a non-issue if your TV already includes Apps for those channels. In addition, some of these can be viewed via airplay directly from your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad. The Apple Airplay feature is unique and only some of its features can be duplicated on the Roku with a few available third-party apps. Dual screen control capability games are a nice added feature with the Apple TV. To conclude, I would need to say it’s a close race between these two. Why not own both?
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