Archive for April, 2007

Next Entries »

What the Apple TV got right and wrong

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

Apple TV

As I’ve previously mentioned I’m pleased with my purchase of an Apple TV. Now that I’ve spent a little over a week with it I have more formal opinions on the little white wonder. First off a couple of things that the Apple TV got right:

  1. Fantastic out of box experience. As always the Apple TV provides an experience when opened. It’s neatly laid out in it’s packaging and practically begs to be unwrapped. Setting it up was a breeze – I had ordered an HDMI cable in advance, so all I had to do was plug in HDMI and the power cable and I was up and running. Right away it asked me for my language preference, and then let me select my wireless access point and enter my WPA password. Within a minute of plugging the thing in I was at the main interface and ready to sync with iTunes. Setting up a sync partnership is almost as easy as with an iPod – you type in a 6 digit code from the Apple TV and then your files start to sync over right away. I was watching TV shows from the iTunes music store within 2 minutes of plugging the Apple TV in.
  2. Movie trailers! Having 720p streaming trailers from the internet is a major feature in my book. You can scroll through new and upcoming movies and select any trailer to have it start within seconds. You can do the same thing from any computer with Quicktime installed but having HD movie trailers on the big screen and sound system really does change the game. The Xbox 360 has had this feature for a while, but not nearly as polished requiring more clicks and a full download to display HD trailers. The inclusion of 720p streaming also hits at possible on-demand hi-definition services from Apple in the near future.
  3. iPod like simplicity in the on-screen user interface. The AppleTV comes with a standard Apple remote which offers a 5 way direction pad and a back button (technically ‘menu’). Regardless of if you are an iPod user or not figuring out how to watch TV, listen to music, or browse your photos is brain dead simple and all wrapped in the usual layer of Apple interface bling.
  4. Simple syncing and streaming. Having content local to the Apple TV is handy for anyone who turns off their computer on a regular basis and setting up syncing is as easy as setting up syncing for an iPod. The default settings are good enough for most users, and for power users very granular control is possible. For me I’m just putting unwatched Podcasts and TV shows on mine and streaming everything else, but having the opportunity to do both will make a much wider audience of users find both features useful.
  5. Sleek design – with a form factor like that of the Mac Mini, but less than a third the height it’s hard to beat the Apple TV’s form factor. They get bonus points for it being nearly silent while in use, an internal AC adapter (no power brick needed – just a cord), and it’s the smallest component in my AV system. Check out some of the photos I took for a size comparison of the Apple TV to the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 or take a gander at the below image.
  6. An attractive screen saver. While playing music or idle the Apple TV presents you with either your photos or album covers slowly flying up the screen. Every once in a while the pictures rotate around the screen to add a bit of visual flair. Having old photos from my library streaming by is a great way to use the Apple TV as an a nearly infinite picture stream evoking memories of fun times past. Given how advanced some of the transitions in the slideshows are I would expect a much flashier screen saver – more on that in the next section.

The Apple Wii360
Size comparisom between the Apple TV, the Wii, and the Xbox 360

Next come a couple of things Apple missed the ball on:

  1. Why can’t my Mac automatically open iTunes when I try to browse it from my Apple TV? Having local content on the 40gb HDD is very handy, but I have over a terabyte of media in iTunes on my main desktop machine. I don’t always keep iTunes open so when I am in the living room and want to watch something streamed from my main computer I need to get up and go open iTunes on my desktop. Either moving the streaming functionality into a system daemon or setting up a launchd trigger for opening iTunes would be ways for Apple and greatly increase the usability of the streaming functionality.
  2. I want a better screen saver! Don’t get me wrong – I’m in love with the memories brought up by old pictures scrolling past, but with so many cool effects in slide show mode when I’m browsing images I would love it if the screen saver pictures did something a little fancier than spin around every few seconds. That kind of sizzle sells and makes for great eye-candy to showcase on the HDTV in the living room. With Core Animation just around the corner let’s see some flashy effects for what is now the default idle state of my TV.
  3. Enable plug in support out of the box. Websites have reported that by opening up your Apple TV and connecting it’s internal HDD to another Mac you can install the Perian plugin set to greatly increase codec support. Since the Apple TV is basically running a stripped down version of OS X this kind of thing is easy to do. I can understand Apple not wanting to provide customer support for 3rd party plugins, but at least put a feature into iTunes to allow me to manually copy over codecs at my own risk
  4. Why can I browse top movies and TV shows on the iTunes Store and watch trailers, but not purchase the media from the Apple TV. I could understand if they required iTunes to be open on the syncing computer, but at least let me initiate the transaction/sync from the Apple TV directly.

While it’s easy to point fingers at Apple for these ‘bugs’ they are all things that should be quite possible to fix. Given the OS X like architecture and inclusion of Software Update functionality I’m hoping to see future software versions for the Apple TV and iTunes address some of these issues.

All in all I give the Apple TV an enthusiastic thumbs up – I love mine and use it every day as a clean and simple to use bridge from my iTunes media collection to the HDTV and stereo equipment in my living room. Apple has a major competitor on the line with the Xbox 360 Live experience: plain and simple the Xbox 360 with the Live online service does more (gaming, hi-def movie and TV downloads, works with portable hard drives via USB), but in typical Apple fashion their reduced feature set is extremely well implemented, marketed, and aimed at a targeted market. Seeing how the two services evolve in the coming year is going to be an interesting experience, and hopefully one that is highly rewarding for the consumer market!

El Capitan

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

El Capitan

A quick photo of the El Capitan Apartments, Capitol Hill, Seattle. I’ve been spending so much time combing through iPhoto of late organizing photos that I’ve found a lot of great gems in the rough like this one from my early Lensbaby days that I can edit up and post.

El Capitan” by sparktography

The Pizzazz pizza cooker

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Pizzazz process

After discovering its existence a mere week ago on Boing Boing I decided I had to purchase Presto Pizzazz Pizza Maker from Amazon. It’s the best of “Buy now from TV” come to life – nearly instant pizza, with no muss, no fuss. It’s designed to cook 7 to 12 inch pizzas from start to finish in under 15 minutes and does a damn fine job of it.

How sad is it that I cook frozen pizza frequently enough that it’s worth spending nearly $50 on a device aimed at cooking pizza faster (and better) with less cleanup when I have a perfectly servicable oven. Heck – as you can see from the above in-process photos I even put the Pizzazz on my oven to cook it.

I wrote a review of the Pizzazz on Gear Live if you want to learn more about my experience.

Pizzazz process” by sparktography

Content everywhere

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

My weekend was very content driven: just the way I like it. I finally got my delivery of Children of Men on HD-DVD and ended up watching it several times. It’s a fantastic movie with simply stunning cinematography – I highly recommend anyone who is into movies, sci-fi, or sfx watching it. Aside from having a great story it has epic levels of detail in the world they created. It’s as grandiose as Blade Runner was, but not nearly as in your face, being shot more like a documentary than anything else.

I also spent quite a bit of time futzing with iPhoto and cleaning/organizing some of my 65,000 photos. I’ve come to love my AppleTV for a number of reasons – not only does it get all of my iTunes content into the living room, but the smallest of features has ended up being my favorite: the screen saver. While idle or playing music the AppleTV shows photos from your computer in an attractive flyby slideshow. I’ve become addicted to this as it brings up fond memories to see photos from my past flying by at idle moments.

I spent a good 8 hours organizing my existing collection so as to archive really bad photos (for instance anything completely out of focus or unrecoverable under/over exposed) and driving cool photos from years back into albums that I can sync out to the AppleTV. I now find myself leaving the TV on and tuned to the AppleTV whenever I’m home, even when it’s not doing anything specific – it’s turned my TV into an interactive photo frame and done a damn fine job of it.

Bravo Apple for making such a great device. While it’s does far less than it’s biggest competitor (the Xbox 360) it manages to do what it sets out do very well. It’s got a high level of polish and really stands alone as a simple to use set to box.

P.S. BSG Season 3 is amazing. I had dismissed it when the crew landed at the end of Season 2.5, but now realize the err of my ways and am catching up fast!

Next Entries »