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This review is featured in the latest podcast from The HT Guys

AppleTV Take Two ($225 Buy Now)

When Steve jobs introduced the next generation of AppleTV it took Ara about 30 seconds to decide it was worth buying the device. If for only satisfying his curiosities. So Ara purchased the new AppleTV about a month ago and there it sat until Tuesday of this week. That's because the device is essentially identical to the previous AppleTV but now with a new version of software the AppleTV is a brand new Machine.

For anyone who has been living under a rock for the last month AppleTV is a small device that lets you rent movies, buy TV shows and music, and view your .Mac and Flickr photos right on your HDTV. It measures 7.7 by 7.7 inches (197 by 197 mm) Height: 1.1 inches (28 mm) and Weighs: 2.4 pounds (1.09 kg). Another nice feature about the AppleTV is that it does not have a power brick or wall wart which makes it easy to plug in and move. I am seriously contemplating using an additional power cord and HDMI cable so that I can move it between rooms!

We'll focus mainly on the Movie and TV playback. YouTube, .Mac, Flickr and podcast integration make the device one of the most capable movie rental boxes out there. We'll just say that using the AppleTV is just plain fun.

Before you can start with the movie rentals you need to log in. Its kind of a pain since you don't have a keyboad. It would be cool if Apple allowed remote screen sharing like they do with their computers. That would make it quite easy to enter your user information. Or even allow a keyboard to be plugged in. Even still it took about a minute to enter the information and log in. Then we were off to the races. The user interface is beautiful. Rather than discuss it here we'll just provide the link to the Apple Guided Tour.

TV Shows
There are 63 networks listed at the iTunes Store (for the US). All the major broadcast networks with the exception of NBC are represented. Also missing is HBO. Showtime's original programming is available including Dexter, Weeds, Dave Chappelle just to name a few. Shows run $1.99 and you can buy season passes. Season passes range in price depending on show. For instance a season pass to Hell's Kitchen runs $19.00 while a season pass to CSI runs $45.00.

Movies are available from all the major studios and include new releases. Movies can be purchased or rented. New releases are delayed 30 days from their DVD release. We did see that the Brave One is available in HD which was released to DVD, PPV, and download services simultaneously. Let's hope more studios do this. Prices are $2.99 library releases and $3.99 for newer content. If an HD version is available that will go for $4.99. Some movies can be purchased but not all. Buying a movie runs $14.99

A/V Quality
TV Shows
This week Ara's EyeTV software somehow forgot to change channels and record The Terminator. The whole family was bummed as they really enjoy the program. No problem though, for $1.99 Episode five of the Terminator was downloaded and ready to watch in seconds. The quality is good, close to DVD. The audio was only two channel but clear and easy to understand. Connected to the 65 inch Mitsubishi the AppleTV was able to upconvert to 1080p. For some programming buying a season pass will be completely acceptable. For this series, its nice having Dolby Digital 5.1 as there are a lot of effects. Overall impression, even displayed on a 65 inch 1080p TV the quality was acceptable. Satellite and Cable still have better quality.

But to put the whole quality thing in perspective, AppleTV quality beats what we used to watch as kids hands down! Its amazing how our standards of what is acceptable change with technology.

Movie Rentals
We downloaded Transformers and HD and compared it to the HD DVD version of the movie. We also transcoded the DVD version to AppleTV format with Handbrake. The AppleTV version of the movie was pretty decent. On our 65 inch TV it held up pretty well. The audio was only two channel but clear. Dolby Pro Logic decoding gave us surround. It would have been nice to have a 5.1 track. We're sure the people at Handbrake will have an AppleTV Preset that will give you the DD 5.1 tracks. In the meantime we found an application called Visual Hub that will do this for you now. This application costs less than $25, Handbrake is free.

We then watched the AppleTV HD version of the movie. Ara felt the picture was clearly better than the DVD version. Braden felt it was mostly better. He felt there were some scenes that the DVD version did a better job with. The audio was clearly better than the ripped version of the movies. Overall we were both pleasantly surprised with the quality of the HD versions of movies. DVD versions were good as well.

The HD DVD version was clearly the best, but you knew we were going to say that. The picture was incrementally better but the audio was an order of magnitude better.We felt the sound track came alive with the Dolby Digital+ sound track.

  • Fantastic User Interface
  • Movies ready to watch right away (even HD). Fast Internet connection required.
  • More than just a movie download service. YouTube, Pictures, Music, Podcasts
  • Software upgradeable. The AppleTV 2.0 was a software only update. Many more things will come in the future (Weather, Traffic, News)

  • Pricing
  • While we like Dolby Digital 5.1. We hope they will add Dolby Digital +

If Ara had to do it again he would go with one Mini and two AppleTVs. The AppleTV is a very good product but not so good that Ara will swap out his Mac Mini setup.

Posted by The HT Guys, February 15, 2008 7:30 AM

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About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.