Apple TV 160GB

I’ve had this little beast for a few months now, so it’s probably time for a quick report.

You know, I really wasn’t going to get one of these. The plan was that I’d get a bigger and more powerful Mac to replace the Mini, then make the Mini perform as a media centre. Well, that hasn’t worked out quite as planned. I may still get the bigger desktop Mac, but it may not be for quite a while. And even though I really like my Macbook, it can’t fully replace the Mini. So, even though I hadn’t actually got the Macbook at the time, I succumbed to temptation and bought an Apple TV.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s something like a media centre PC with a stripped down, if not minimalist interface. Mac users will recognise the interface as being that of Front Row – it even uses the same, very simple apple remote control, though I use my Harmony One, of course. It looks much like a flattened MacMini, or indeed like Apple’s Time Capsule external hard drives. It has assorted connections for the TV (HDMI being preferred), and connects to your home network, either through the usual ethernet port, or wirelessly. I found the wireless tended to drop a lot, though that might have been my old router rather than a problem with the device itself. I used Homeplugs[1] to connect the Apple TV to my network, avoiding the wireless issue.

Once it’s plugged in and can see the internet, it updates itself to the latest version of its software, and it’s ready to play. If you have a computer with an iTunes library on your network, you can set it to automatically synchronise with the Apple TV – this took a while the first time (there were thousands of songs to move across), but now it just happens in the background when iTunes is running on the Mac Mini. If you wish, you can connect to the iTunes store directly on the Apple TV and buy content that way, but personally, I find the minimal interface and on-screen keyboard to be a little too awkward for this, so I stick to using the computer. Music then plays through your TV, or in my case, through my sound system, which sounds a lot better.

The upshot if this is that I can keep my music in digital form (leaving the CDs packed away rather than eating up shelf space), and still play anything I want through my proper sound system rather than through the computer speakers, which is quite useful now the computer lives in a separate room.

Another good thing is that movies and TV shows that I download[2] can be enjoyed on my TV from my comfy chair rather than watched on the computer. And there are some good things to be found at reasonable prices – I got the first two series of Lewis for a great deal less than the DVDs would have cost me, for instance.

And there’s more! Leafing through the latest MacUser magazine led me to look at Airfoil, a nifty utility that allows you to stream sound from just about any application on your computer to, amongst other places, an Apple TV. So I can use Spotify though my real sound system, which is quite seriously cool.

[1] Nifty things, I may write about them later
[2] Legally, of course…

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