I recently got rid of my Verizon FiOS television service (a topic for another post), so when Apple announced the new Apple TV, I ordered one straightaway. At $99, I felt like I had nothing to lose.
I've only been using it for a few days, but so far, I'm very happy with it. We've used it almost exclusively for Netflix streaming, and to confirm what Steve Jobs said during Apple's press event, the Apple TV is probably the best Netflix steaming client. As far an I'm concerned, if I only use it for Netflix and for browsing my Flickr stream, it was well worth the $99.
We haven't "rented" anything yet, and I'm not sure I'll get into the habit of paying 99¢ for a single viewing of a television show, but I'm not ready to discount the business model yet. Although it still doesn't feel quite right, I think it might actually make sense. I only watch a handful of television shows, so even if I pay 99¢ for every one of them, I'll still be way ahead of where I was with FiOS. And most importantly, I'd only be paying for the content I watch rather than the thousands of hours of programming that I don't watch which, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with the traditional television subscription model.
I will probably pay a movie now and then, however as Netflix streaming becomes more comprehensive (which I assume it will), there will less of a need to pay per film. That said, I do think $3.99 is a reasonable price for low-end HD content, so I'm not opposed to the occasional movie rental.
I don't know how successful the Apple TV will be, but I do know that I want to support new business models around media. I'm perfectly willing to buy content, and in fact, I think it's important to back business models you believe in by buying into them, but the models simply have to make sense, and they have to represent good values. Apple TV certainly isn't 100% there yet, but in my opinion, it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Things I really like about the Apple TV:
- Very compact. As usual, Apple really knew what it was doing when it designed this thing. It sits next to my PS3, and is next to invisible. Adding an Apple TV to your collection of consoles and set-top boxes will not require you to rearrange your entire component cabinet. It doesn't even have a power brick, so it won't add much to the jungle of cords and cables behind your screen.
- Great remote. Aside from the battery (see below), I really like the Apple TV remote. Apple knows that the remote is the part of the device that you interface with, so it feels very high-quality and works well.
- Great UI. Traditional television service providers have always had something against simple and intuitive user interfaces. Once again, Apple to the rescue.
- Very responsive. My old Verizon FiOS set-top box was buggy, slow, and unstable. Although the Apple TV's software isn't flawless (see below), it's far more robust and responsive than the FiOS box I just sent back to Verizon. It's also far faster and more robust than the OS and applications built into my Sony Bravia. (Sometimes I wonder why Sony even bothered.)
- Built-in WiFi. To get my TV online (it has built-in services like Netflix streaming, Amazon on-demand, etc.), I had to set up a wireless bridge which cost extra money, time (in configuration), and precious space. The Apple TV is basically self-sufficient, as devices today should be.
- No Netflix activation. For some reason, when I set up Netflix streaming on other clients (like my PS3 or my Sony Bravia), I had to go through a horrible registration/activation process which required having a computer nearby, creating an account with Sony, copying codes and URLs back and forth, etc. Every time I set up a new device, I always wonder why I can't just enter my Netflix credentials and be done with it. That's exactly how it works on the Apple TV. I'm pretty certain Apple wouldn't have shipped a device with the same experience you have to go through activating something like a PlayStation.
- It's cheap. At $99, there's almost no reason not to try it. If you're a Netflix user, you have absolutely nothing to lose.
Some issues to watch out for:
- It doesn't come with an HDMI cable. I know Apple likes small packaging, and I know they were trying to keep the price down, but I was disappointed that I had to poach an HDMI cable off another device. Replacing it will add at least another $20 to the price of the Apple TV — a cost which I think it's fair to call "hidden."
- The remote is great (nice and simple, and very high-quality), but it uses a CR2032 button cell battery. I just recently got every toy, remote, sensor, and peripheral in the house using rechargeable batteries, and now I have to worry about keeping a CR2032 handy (since you can't use the Apple TV without it, you don't want to wait until the battery actually dies to buy a replacement). I'd like to see a rechargeable option, like PS3 controllers.
- The Apple TV remote also controls the MacBook I keep near my TV and use primarily as a stereo. This isn't horrible since I mostly use the Remote application to control iTunes, but I did have to stop the Apple TV setup process to disable the remote on my MacBook. If this happens to you, open System Preferences, then go into Security, and check the "Disable remote control infrared receiver" box.
- I've gotten a couple of errors claiming that my HDMI cable doesn't support HDCP (a digital copy protection protocol) which made the Apple TV inoperable. After rebooting, it worked fine. I imagine this is a bug that will be fixed in a future software upgrade, and really nothing to worry about.