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Apple TV media player now available in UK. But why?

by Bob Crabtree on 26 March 2007, 03:37

Tags: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)

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HEXUS.lifestyle's take

Apple's hard-disk-equipped network media player, Apple TV, is at last available in the UK, priced at £199 all up from the Apple Store. But why the company has decided to launch the product at all remains a mystery.
The player, which features wired and wireless connectivity, looks likely to appeal to a relatively small number of people - only those that own high-definition TV sets.

Yet Apple hasn't even made the product attractive to them by having available any HD footage to play - not through the iTunes stores nor anywhere else.

Users are going to be restricted to watching low-res 320x240 pixels or 640x480 footage bought from Apple or have to find and repurpose HD footage acquired elsewhere.

They may, of course, have some source of HD footage and be able - and willing - to go to the bother of repurposing it into an iTunes-compatible QuickTime format that can be played out at either of the two prime HD resolutions that Apple TV supports - 1080i (60Hz or 50Hz) and 720p (60Hz/50Hz).

Indeed, there's been some suggestion on the net that Apple's own inexpensive (£20/$30) QuickTime Pro 7 software might be suitable for repurposing but we've tried a variety of HD files with the very latest version (7.1.5) and met with utter failure.

The QT 7 player can't even play the stuff, so we weren't surprised that QT Pro couldn't transform it nor to discover that there's no suggestion in QT Pro 7's tech spec that it should be able to.

Apple TV and handset

And Apple TV can only be aimed at those with HD sets since the only video outputs it has are HDMI and component. There is no Scart socket and no output for S-video, composite video or RGB.

Apple TV - rear

Consequently, although the Apple TV does support a number of standard-def resolutions - some not listed on the official spec page but detailed over on Rogue Amoeba - there is no way to connect it to a standard-definition TV set without splashing out a lot more cash.

What you need to buy on top of the £199 for the Apple TV is a component-to-RGB converter. These range in price from about £90, as with this offering from Keene, to as much as £150 for a version that also offers VGA output, such as this one available from Cyberselect.

A far cheaper alternative might appear to be using an HDMI-to-DVI converter that's highlighted on the Apple TV specs page as an optional accessory and costs £17 from the Apple Store

Trouble is, there are very few TV sets - HD or SD - that have DVI inputs and don't also have component-video or HDMI inputs, so this is an unlikely avenue.

Presumably, therefore, the HDMI-DVI converter is aimed more at folk who want to pair an Apple TV with a digital computer monitor.

Oh, and Apple does also sell HDMI and component video cables as optional extras - and that's just as well because neither is supplied in-box.

It is true that a great many more people in the UK now own HD TV sets than they did a couple of years ago - and even more in the USA - but, since standard-definition is still the norm, Apple's HD-only stance means it's ruling out sales to a huge proportion of potential buyers.

Furthermore, Apple appears to be assuming that owners of HD TV sets are willing to buy the product without having much or any HD footage to play from it.

That's not very likely in our view. Our experience is that owners of HD TV sets - especially models of 37in and larger - are already far from happy watching SD footage and are the driving force behind the growth of HD TV transmissions on cable and satellite.

They're wanting HD broadcasts largely because, after buying into big, flat TV sets, they rapidly become disillusioned watching SD material on these expensive sets.

That being so, we reckon that they're not going to be happy watching the Apple TV's SD output - especially in the UK. The best possible resolution, at 640x480, is signicantly inferior to the PAL SD standard of 720x576.

Apple TV does has optical and analogue audio outputs, so it's possible that some music lovers without HD sets might take the plunge regardless, thinking to use the box to bring music from their Mac or Windows PC to their hi-fi systems.

But, if they do that, they're also going to have to accept missing out not just on the video side but also on the opportunity to view on TV their collections of digital stills - images that will almost certainly be of a resolution that's as good or better than the best HD standard (1080i) that Apple TV supports.

Apple isn't making it clear on its site the true situation for would-be buyers. The specs page for the Apple TV, for instance, makes no mention of what sort of TV is require, as well as wrongly reporting the output standards.

The system requirements section on that page says only:

    * Mac or PC
    * iTunes 7.1
    * Mac: Mac OS X v10.3.9 or later
    * PC: Windows XP Home/Professional (SP2)
    * AirPort Extreme, Wi-Fi 802.11b, 802.11g or 802.11n wireless network 6 (wireless video streaming requires 802.11g or 802.11n) or 10/100
      Base-T Ethernet network

Another Apple UK page, headed, Connect Your TV, also fails to make clear what's required.

All it says that you need are:

    * A widescreen TV (and even that's wrong, according to Rogue Amoeba)
    * A Mac or Windows PC running iTunes 7.1
    * A wired or wireless network
    * An HDMI cable or a component video cable used with L/R analogue audio cables or an optical audio cable

Presuming you have got an HD TV set and are willing to considered the idea of only watching from Apple TV the low-res footage that's currently available - something we think highly unlikely - what else does the product offer that might make it worth buying?

Frankly, very little that we can see! The key features take in:

* A built-in (40GB unformatted) hard disk
* Support for 802.11n wireless networking, along with slower 802.11b/g wireless standards
* 10/100-BaseT Ethernet
* A USB port - but, seemingly, one that doesn't let you directly connect an iPod, a stick drive or a hard drive
* A tiny remote handset - as supplied with new Apple Mac computers
 * Undoubtedly best of all - a very lovely on-TV user interface based on the Front Row media-player GUI that's also now standard with new Apple Mac computers

Apple TV interfaceClick for larger image

The hard disk seems to be there mainly to cache footage so as to make practical the viewing of low-res video over a wireless network. It's a 2.5in laptop drive and, being just 40GB unformatted, has too little room to hold much HD footage.

According to the specs, the available disk space lets you store up to 50 hours of H.264-format 640x480 standard-def video or 9,000 music tracks or 25,000 still images - resolution unmentioned, wouldn't you know.

Like we said at the outset, why Apple decided to launch this product here or anywhere else is a mystery to us.

Perhaps, though, you can can think of something that Apple might have up its sleeve that we've missed. If so, we'd delighted to be educated in this thread over in the HEXUS.lifestyle news forum.

But, before you give us the benefit of your wisdom, you might care to gather more clues by checking out the Apple TV home page and reading Apple's press release on page two, then, perhaps, taking a good look around inside the Apple TV box, courtesy of Photobucket.


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Apple UK - Apple TV home page
Apple UK - Apple TV specs
Apple UK - Apple TV - Connect Your TV
Apple Store UK - HDMI-to-DVI converter
Apple USA - QT Pro 7 tech spec
Apple UK - home page
Apple USA - home page
Photobucket - Apple TV pulled apart (literally!)
Rogue Amoeba - Apple TV Surprises and Impressions
CyberSelect - JST Component (YUV) to RGB/VGA Converter
Keene Electronics - Aptus 2 component-to-digital converter