I picked up an Apple TV on they day they were made available.
In short, my family loves it. For me — the “technically proficient” one in the family — I understand the limitations and still totally enjoy the Apple TV. Since the addition of the Apple TV, the Mac Mini — connected to the same TV — has gone unused for media playback.
Dave Winer says:
If you’re technically proficient enough to read this blog, AppleTV is not for you.
For me, the true value of the Apple TV is the sheer simplicity of it. It is Front Row with Client/Server capabilities wedged in a tiny little box whose media output is optimized for home theater devices. The Apple TV has an elegantly simple user interface that anyone in our family can use.
Better yet, by dropping a bunch of photos into a folder and syncing them with the ubiquitous sync UI in iTunes, I have this awesome HD slideshow of photos running on the TV screen during music playback. It blows people away!
Dave also writes:
Most important to me is that it won’t play the AVI files I create when I scan DVDs using Handbrake.
Yeah — that is my one major complaint, too. Not that the Apple TV won’t play files created with Handbrake or Mediafork. It does that just fine, if you set up the settings correctly. Look absolutely gorgeous, too! Tons better than the Mac Mini or the Playstation 2.
No, my complaint is that iTunes doesn’t rip DVDs the same way that it rips CDs; that I can’t simply add my movies to my iTunes media library and simply be done with it. Obviously, this isn’t something Apple controls. The MPAA is to thank for the locked down nature of DVDs. I show my thanks by generally not buying DVDs (we have still amassed a collection anyway — but nothing like the multi-thousand CD collection that we have). If the iTunes store ever supports DVD resolution encodings, I will buy movies through the store.
Instead, the consumer that is willing to bother transcoding their DVDs into something compatible with their media library is an assumed criminal by the MPAA and made to feel like an idiot while trying to use the incredibly crappy user interfaces of the various tools used to transcode DVDs. (VisualHub’s UI is pretty good for everything but DVD).
But I digress…
I don’t find the 40GB hard drive to be a limitation. There has never been an iPod large enough to hold my entire collection (currently north of 200GB, mostly the music ripped from my CD collection). Like the iPod, effective use of the Apple TV is just a matter of setting up some smart playlists to automate content selection. iTunes makes it even easier by having some “sync last N episodes” features.
If you are expecting the Apple TV to be a general purpose media playback device, then you will be disappointed. It isn’t that. Not yet, anyway. The Apple TV is obviously a general purpose computing platform with a network connection and a software update mechanism and, as such and barring SOX stupidity, the Apple TV’s future is quite open.
If you are looking for a way to access your iTunes managed media collection(s) via your home theater capable media playback system(s), then the Apple TV is perfect. Easy to use, manages to navigate tons of media with a simply UI very well, and the images on screen are gorgeous (barring video playback of content purchased through the iTunes Store — still a little bit blocky, but obviously improving over time. I hope that trend continues.)
Awesome device. I’m looking forward to hacking it once I can do so without taking a paint scraper to the box!