Apple TV: is the third attempt the right?

Alongside the new iPad, Apple launches the new generation of Apple TV. The Apple multimedia box evolves in that on one main point: the support for 1080p, permitted by the transition to an A5 processor. The opportunity for us to return to a case that has struggled to convince us here ...

apple logoIt was more or less a surprise: the new iPad is not the only novelty launched by Apple for spring. The Cupertino company also took the opportunity to review its Apple TV, with changes far less radical than the 2nd version of the case, since nothing has changed ... almost! The "almost" is all the same size since after years of clamping 720p, video ecosystem iTunes finally goes to 1080p, to offer, in theory, comparable image quality that offers Xbox 360 ... e.g.

Apple took the opportunity to review two aspects of his little pad, offered 109 euros: the processor, up from the A4 at heart a simple version of the A5, and its user interface, which is undergoing yet another overhaul. Rather limited new then, but this new Apple TV does give us an opportunity to take stock of the place the box in the ecosystem of Apple and its real interest in our market, where supply Apple video remains down compared to the United States ...

Design and Connectivity


If the Apple TV "2" was a complete overhaul, the 3rd generation ... is distinguished by its resemblance with the previous model. The new Apple TV is still a small black plastic pad 252g, pretty well finished, although easily taking fingerprints and scratches on the wafers. No display, except a small dot of white light, as usual filtering through microscopic holes.

Apple TV

No not regarding connectivity change: 1 HDMI output, 1 optical output for audio for amps that do not support HDMI audio, 1 Ethernet port and ... that's it! Although today the home cinema amps have become common, it is still a shame not to have an analog output for audio, complicating the shot using the box on an extra screen (any not everyone has a speaker kit with optical input or an amp in his room ...). And do not look for the usefulness of the Micro USB port full connectivity: as always, it is only used for customer service.

Apple TV

That is the case: it does not change, and indeed that's good: the Apple TV is a miniaturized model, and an apparatus that can be discreetly slipping below its TV.

However, where one would like a bit of innovation is at the remote. Sure, the Apple Remote is pretty and discreet: a nice sleek aluminum object as Apple likes to do. But minimalism has its limits, and this poor directional pad along with a central button and two peripheral buttons (Play / Pause and Menu) has had its day. In addition to being limited, the Apple Remote is also very ergonomic, the directional pad being very conducive to accidental pressing, and based on technology infrared certainly cheap but unworthy of Apple at a time when most of the latest generation of RF box start, it is time to upgrade the remote control remains the primary means interaction with Apple TV. Note that Apple still offers the options of a learning remote control functionality, which will retrieve an unused remote control to associate the functions of the Apple TV, if you do not already have a universal remote Harmony type.

Apple TV

components


Apple A5 processorAs usual, Apple does not disclose in detail the components of the Apple TV. We must therefore refer to iFixIt site discoveries that obviously was quick to reverse the case. Unsurprisingly, there is a SoC close enough that had the previous generation but several difference. The first is obviously the processor pass from A4 to A5, A5 but a simple heart, unlike that which equips the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2.

The "storage" is itself still consists of 8 GB of flash memory. Storage in quotes because it is not possible to store anything there: this memory is used only for putting content in cache.

Finally, Apple TV supports WiFi N ... But unfortunately, not Bluetooth. The wireless part is ensured, according to iFixit, by a chip BCM4330 Broadcomm, while a further antenna has appeared over the previous generation.


Interface


The 3rd generation Apple TV has a new interface, well not quite, since it also benefits the previous version ... In 720p. In fact new interface, it is mainly the home screen who is revised and corrected. The menu system and submenus gives way to a mosaic of colorful icons reminding ... The iOS springboard. The top of the interface still provides access to the latest rental, or listened to the latest albums.

Interface Apple TV home movies

This overhaul is pretty good view. Already, it is much more pleasant to the eye than a little sad menus of the old version. More importantly, it allows to directly available to the user the main content: movies, music (via iTunes Match), the computer running iTunes content, and some additional content such as YouTube, Vimeo, the podcasts, or the radio. Failing Netflix which is still and always private in France ...

Apple TV interface applications

However, navigating the remote is always tedious, especially to browse long lists of content from your iTunes library. If you have an iOS device, it is highly advisable to go through the Remote application offered by Apple. Once installed on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, it will allow indeed to browse your library via a user interface of the application iOS Music, and prevent you from falling asleep in front of the endless list of your artists or albums that scroll. The latest version of the application is even compatible iTunes Match (see below)

Apple TV Remote HomeApple TV Remote iTunes Match

Another advantage of the application, valid for all sections require input: a virtual keyboard automatically opens on the screen of your device, dispensing you from having to laboriously enter your search letter by letter. Remote also allows replacing the remote control with a virtual touchpad, but it is ultimately not much more convenient to navigate menus ...

Apple TV Remote Search iPhoneApple TV Remote iPhone

As for the general impression left by this interface, we will obviously have a tendency to say that if Apple was seeking an interface for navigating iOS apps on TV, they do not take it better ... But that's not certainly very premature!

Features ... and limitations!


What can you do with an Apple TV? Cynics will say it's just the question that all buyers in this case arise since its release. Before reviewing what an Apple TV, remember that it does not:

  • Store videos to play locally
  • Play videos in formats other than H264
  • Broadcast or record live TV (with some exceptions, which we will detail)
  • Read DVDs or Blu-ray (logical given its size) or rips said discs
  • Connect a hard drive or USB key to read its contents

That already eliminates a lot of uses that are generally ready for this type of housing. To be clear, we could say that the Apple TV is an extension of the Apple ecosystem, which can give it a destination to a TV and a home theater amp, and nothing more. If you are looking for a versatile housing, will instead see the side of a WDTV Live.

Movie rentals


The main feature around which Apple has redesigned its case, is renting movies. This one has, in theory, an outstanding innovation: support film in 1080p. It is also necessary that the proposed definition movies offer this, and it will probably have to leave a little time for it to Apple.

Apple TV film catalog

At the time we wrote this test, only a handful of titles were actually 1080p, which is indicated separately in the film presentation page. If only the term "HD" in the description, the film is in 720p.

Apple TV 1080p movies rentApple TV movie rentals 720p

Rentals conditions retain the principle inaugurated by the previous version: once the transaction is completed, the In User has 30 days to begin playback of the film, and can watch as many times as they want for 48 hours after the reading started. We remember that at the output of Apple TV 2, this period was 24 hours, which was frankly too short. However, rates are still too high hair. Most HD movies are offered at 4.99 euros, some older movies down to 3.99 euros, which is also the price of SD rentals. Note still a nice initiative: a film former, but on the film current events is proposed every week to 0.99 euros (again, in SD on the examples we have seen).

Obviously, it will take a fast connection to benefit from 1080p: do not try to release the film on a Wi-Fi with a weak signal, constant buffering guaranteed! The quality seems to us however quite satisfactorily tested on the film (Twilight 4, we do not look like that was about the only film in 1080p color at the time of the test, the other being ... The Artist!). A visible compression at times, but overall, it is rather seen: a simple and efficient shopping experience, and image quality to go. Not bad ... (NB: the catch, for technical reasons, were conducted in 720p)

Apple TV Twilight rentals 1

Navigation is also nice: long press the center button provides access to the chapter list as thumbnails. It's clean and much less intrusive than the menu of a DVD or Blu-ray. However, research and the path of the film catalog still favors the discovery and impulsive choice at the expense of rank: even in the genre browsing, movies are available in bulk in the form of a poster mosaic. We still note a small interface improvements, unfortunately reserved for rental of movies: pressing the button on the remote menu displays a shortcut bar for direct access to the kinds, the best sellers or to the research.

Interface Apple TV movie chaptersApple TV movie playback interface

Where it gets complicated is the level of device management and catalog. First, imbroglio agreements with studios and media chronology force, all movies are available for rental and purchase. Now on the Apple TV, only the films available for rent are displayed: it is not possible to buy a movie and watch it on the box.

To make matters worse, some movies available to rent them out may well disappear for being available to purchase! This is the case of Inception, for example: you could rent it when we realized our comparative iTunes and Zune offers. Not anymore ! Moreover it can not buy in SD, but it is not the subject.

ITunes Inception

We can also mention the problem of VO. Already, it is not systematic, far from it. But beware: for the same film, Apple offers two différnetes rentals. Moviegoers will be careful to hire the UNDUB (indicated as such). And we are talking VO subtitled because the subtitles are simply required (embedded in the video?). For English speakers do not need sub titles down or top of the screen when generic, no emergency solution is VO with subtitles (when available) or VF.

Do you want more ? If you rent a movie from the Apple TV, you can watch it on your Apple TV. You can also rent it from iTunes ... But it will not appear magically in the list of movies for rent this will require turning the computer on which you rented and downloaded, enable sharing in iTunes you can access your movie from the section ... Computers! Logic...

Some of these limitations are supposed to have been corrected with the provision of all purchases of movies from iCloud ... But once again the agreements were signed, for now, only the United States. As for TV series, they are still conspicuously absent in France: the icon is not even present on the host interface. We must therefore be content to buy them on iTunes and then watch them streaming from the computer via the sharing feature (see below).

US Apple TV Main Menu

In general, one can not anyway deplore the poverty of the proposed catalog. It's not an isolated problem from Apple: the entire current offer VOD accuses a colossal behind the variety of musical offerings. And do not even talk about unlimited Netflix VOD type ...

AirPlay: the trump Apple TV


During our test of Apple TV 2nd generation Airplay was still active, and its integration thereafter significantly changed the situation concerning the interest of the case, we must admit.

For latecomers, AirPlay is the evolution of AirTunes feature that allowed to spread his music from iTunes to an Airport Express, which is also still possible and extended to the distribution of videos. Integrated with all iOS devices (with varying degrees of functionality by generation), AirPlay allows to stream photos, video and audio from the device to the Apple TV, without any configuration. The technology was found embedded in a number of amps, but the Apple TV remains the preferred solution to deliver video.

Apple TV Airplay configuration

We can obviously do it from the video section or a picture of a device, but more generally, from any application using the audio source: radio applications, Spotify, Instacast ... HTML5 videos embedded in Safari are also part, like YouTube app (not really useful since YouTube is already integrated with the Apple TV). In short, an immediate solution to disseminate the contents of an iPad or iPhone to TV. Coupled with some applications Airplay can make sense: at the iTunes Festival, could well follow the broadcast live concerts from the comfort of their couch via the application offered by Apple. Not bad...

The 4S or iPad 2 iPhone users can also benefit from the video mirroring feature that does exactly what the title suggests: copy the device screen on the TV. Some games even exploit this feature to spread the image in full screen, such as Real Racing 2 HD. Unfortunately this feature is limited to 720p and displays compression and freezes that make its use too just for games.

Apple TV Mirroring empty? O Airplay

Note that by default, Airplay requires no password. It's convenient, but to protect you jokers of your family that could broadcast anything on your Apple TV, you can happily set one!

iCloud: music and photos ... But no videos!


Another innovation that boosts the appeal of the Apple TV is iCloud! The management of Apple's cloud fills in theory, the lack of local storage: no need for hard drive or flash memory: all your content are available online. That's the theory. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, you can not still enjoy a major announcements from Apple at this level: the ability to have all series and all its movies purchased from the iTunes Store, from the cloud without local storage. However, it is already possible to see the iPhone Photo Stream (or iPad, now that we can use to take snapshots without shame) on an HDTV, without transferring anything. Too bad it does not respect the video, but for this there is always Airplay.

Apple TV Stream Photo

But above all, it has iTunes Match! Available in France since the end of 2011 for 25 euros a year, iTunes Match offers matching your music library, whatever the origin of your songs, with titles available on the iTunes Store. And if the song is not available, and if it meets certain criteria (see our review), it transfers it to the cloud. In short: you have your entire music library streaming, be it songs purchased from the iTunes Store or not, on your Apple TV.

Apple TV setup iTunes Match

One less activity that requires turning on a PC or Mac in the house. Streaming is fast, the songs sometimes start with a few seconds of waiting, but all the songs are cached gradually, ensuring a continuous reading (and "gapless"!) Album after playing the first title launched.

Interface Apple TV iTunes Match artistsInterface Apple TV iTunes Match Albums

Home Sharing


In addition to its functionality based on the cloud and iOS, Apple TV retains its broadcast feature streaming content from a Mac or a PC running iTunes. For this, you need to activate Home Sharing in iTunes ... and therefore have a user account, even to distribute content that have nothing to do with the iTunes Store, which still leaves us pensive. ..

Apple TV share at home 1

After sharing enabled, you can access your music, photos and videos, as well as rent or purchase videos (movies and TV shows) you have made from iTunes, as this is the only way for the viewing on Apple TV in France. Well, it works, and it is well integrated, but this is a bit the least of things, and we always regret the failure to store anything on the case, or connect a USB drive or an external drive, while the video is obviously always limited to formats supported by iTunes, ie ... H264. Any media box or DLNA compliant consoles doing as well or much better, it is still not extasiera these opportunities ...

Apple TV iTunes music

other features


We will not dwell on the additional features of the Apple TV, but a quick run nonetheless. If watching the matches of MLB, besides requiring a subscription, will have no interest outside of American expatriates and baseball fans, we can still enjoy modules on YouTube and Vimeo, the possibility to view and listen to podcasts, trailers traditional QuickTime and iTunes radio, and an information module proposed by the Wall Street Journal.

Apple TV YouTubeApple TV Vimeo

We will not spend his life, but that complete (some) supply, while obviously regretting the main missing: Netflix! No equivalent to unlimited VOD service is offered, not even our heavily slanted services media chronology as CanalPlay Infinity, or catch-up service TV channels.

Apple TV podcastsApple TV radio

Conclusion


Apple TV hard driveLet's be frank, we would have liked the conclusion of the test this Apple TV 3rd name differs from the previous two. Unfortunately, despite some progress, it is not yet the case. still we will start with the positives: If the 1080p movie catalog grows (which was not the case at the time of our review), have finally real HD 720p after years is more than respectable, especially as the quality seems to be at the appointment.

It must also be recognized that the support for AirPlay and iCloud significantly raise the interest of the Apple TV as an extension of the iTunes ecosystem. To access its entire music library from the cloud via iTunes Match, is a real comfort ... But now Apple would sign with studios and TV channels to offer the same flexibility in France in films and TV series. Airplay side, it's just a joy to be able to stream video, photos, or even a picture of an iPad on the TV with a single tap, without any prior configuration.

It nevertheless remains that these small steps, and the new rather nice interface do not correct the fundamental flaws of Apple TV. The case remains more closed, and will frankly not much interest outside of Apple enthusiasts who organized all their digital consumption around iTunes. It still remains a niche that will be enough to pay the price of 109 euros the unit. Other users think twice.

We could also rail against the remote still infuriating and basic, but what saddens us most finally, is that the Apple TV has not really changed in concept as in its functionality, since 2007. There where the iPod, iPhone and iPad have revolutionized their respective fields and created new uses, the Apple TV remains the last wheel of the coach, a box certainly easy to use, admirable as to its quality miniaturization, and which may have an interest as a device, but we expected much more from Apple to implement in the living room the recipe that made its success in music, mobile phones and tablets.

As it stands, Apple can certainly take comfort in the fact that no one has really succeeded anyway. It was believed to be that Google was going to find the solution, but Google TV so far has been a dismal failure. The last update of the Xbox 360 from Microsoft, associated with Kinect seems to be what comes closest to what you would see on our televisions. The Cupertino company will she be out soon we finally his hat a real Apple TV and applications associated with a truly innovative user interface? One can hope, but at present, it always is speculative ...

Apple TV - 3rd generation

The more + Design miniaturization and flawless 1080p + Finally! + AirPlay compatibility and iTunes Match + Totally silencieuxLes depreciation very remote limitée- missing contents in France- Limited compatibility MP4 / H264- Few améliorations2.5Ergonomie / designfeaturesCompatibilityEdited on 28/06/2012 at 9:52