Apple TV 2 Page 4
Almost Perfect… Except
I only had one major issue with ATV2: It’s excruciatingly slow to stream HD content from the iTunes store. In my test, it took upwards of a couple of hours to buffer enough content so a movie could start streaming. To watch a movie, I had to choose it earlier in the evening, before I was ready to watch it. As someone who loves immediate gratification, I found this to be less than convenient.
Apple recommends a continuous data rate of 6 megabits per second or more for streaming HD movies in iTunes, and there seems to be no tolerance there. That’s because Apple doesn’t adjust the streaming rate based on the connection, which is how Netflix works. If your Internet speed is slow or varies during transmission, the Netflix stream adjusts. This makes sense since you can find Netflix on virtually every kind of device. When Apple streams an HD movie, it wants to ensure that you’re always getting the full resolution and quality.
I tried to download with both a wired LAN and via Wi-Fi. The results were virtually the same, so it has to be the connection speed and not the Wi-Fi signal in my case. In fact, the Wi-Fi signal on the Apple TV (in Network settings) registered a full five bars. While my ISP hasn’t changed in several years, the 6Mbps speed I’m supposed to be getting is closer to 4.5 to 5 Mbps according to speedtest.net. During peak hours, it might be even less.
This prompted me to start paying closer attention to the differences in the HD streams from iTunes and Netflix. I watched some movies from beginning to end, and there’s no question that I was getting some serious artifacting on Netflix. Motion artifacts were apparent when large areas of the image were in motion, such as wind blowing through trees or grass. I also saw lots of blocking, particularly when there was a predominance of a singular color. This was most noticeable in dark scenes, such as a night sky. Some films seemed to have more noise than I would expect from a quality stream, too. While it’s generally superior to SD, I wasn’t always getting a good-quality HD image.
Coincidentally, I was looking at some new options for my Internet service, particularly with regard to the speed. This situation made it clear that current residential broadband speeds will be inadequate as we start depending more and more on the Cloud. Little content is streaming at 1080p now, but when it happens, bandwidth will be the crucial element. You’ll want the fastest broadband speed you can get, and you might want to seriously consider using a wired connection for greater stability.
Unlike HD movies in iTunes, all of the Netflix content I demoed started streaming within just a few seconds. There was an interruption in the stream on a few occasions, but it caught up quickly. Since this has happened on other devices, I think this could be a Netflix issue. When I downloaded SD content from iTunes, it cached within seconds, and there were never any interruptions. I should be able to expect the same from Netflix movies in SD.
Apple TV’s simple and unified interface, iTunes integration, and AirPlay really set it apart from the competition. While I liked the unified interface on the Roku XDS, Apple TV’s is more refined and graphically sophisticated. The one thing I like more in the Roku’s interface was the visual scrubbing, which provides a more accurate way to rewind or fast-forward. The Roku provides hookup options for legacy A/V components and includes a USB slot. A USB slot isn’t necessary on the ATV2 if you use iOS devices and AirPlay. However, both the Roku and the Apple TV are high on my recommend list, in large part because of their ease of use, available content (though different), and low price.
Google made some noise about being a serious contender in this space, but in our February issue, I gave Google TV a failing grade for a variety of reasons. Even before that review hit the newsstands, Google was asking manufacturers to delay their Google TV offerings until they could tweak the software. Just a tweak here and there? I say go back to the drawing board.
If you don’t care about iTunes integration or AirPlay and don’t really want another device taking up your HDMI slots, upgrade to a 3D-compatible (futureproof) Blu-ray player with Internet-connected apps. It will definitely have Netflix and a video-on-demand service like Amazon or VUDU. Different manufacturers partner with different services, so you should do some comparisons of the Internet services and widget apps provided.
If you own other Apple products, Apple TV is a no-brainer, as you can now integrate all of your devices with Apple TV via AirPlay. Naturally, the iTunes integration is flawless. If you’re a PC user and depend on iTunes to organize your music for your iPods and other iOS devices, you can take full advantage of this fast and convenient integration, too.
Setup couldn’t be easier, navigation is simple and intuitive, there’s lots of content to access, and AirPlay is a blast. While there are certainly similarities between the first Apple TV and the second incarnation, there’s enough new technology in this latest version to give us a glimpse of where Apple is going. It’s not likely that this model will sit dormant for a couple of years like the previous model, and Apple TV apps have to be in the future. I have the distinct feeling that this is a new beginning for Apple as it ventures back into our media rooms with a renewed sense of purpose.