Article: Recommending the Apple TV

by on January 12, 2012

It’s about three weeks since Christmas and I’ve had a number of people who have contacted me about what I would suggest purchasing with extra tech-related gift cards. Obviously, iTunes cards are good for a few things—apps, movies, music, and books, but what should the iPhone or iPad user who seems to have enough accessories get? I always suggest that they check out the $99 Apple TV.

Arguably one of Apple’s most underrated products, the Apple TV is inexpensive enough to be considered an almost impulse purchase. It’s not really advertised and only sold in electronics stores or direct from Apple right now, but has the potential to be a disruptive product. Sure, Roku boxes and so-called “smart TVs” exist, along with the much-rumored actual Apple-branded TV set on everyone’s radar, but the Apple TV works with any HDMI-equipped TV set. Although things like iTunes rentals, Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, and sports subscriptions are often talked about as the big selling point, I think few people realize the most important feature—AirPlay.

I’ve found that AirPlay brings so much more to the table for both techies and non-techies alike. It’s easy to use (simply pick it as a source on most iOS apps or iTunes on a computer), and your content is immediately sent to your TV. iPhone 4S and iPad 2 users can even mirror their devices on the TV, immediately improving the experience of games, or allowing you to load up a video without having to hunch over a 10″ screen. Unfortunately, a few of the TV networks still need to make their apps work with AirPlay—I’m looking in your direction, ABC and NBC. This may be intentional, or might be laziness.

Apple was smart to include an optical audio port on the back, despite minimizing all the other connectors. If you have a receiver, you can even pipe audio through your stereo via the Apple TV without turning on the TV. Forget cables direct from an iOS device—it becomes your remote control and source.

I’ve had a few people ask me the “Should I get an iPad?” question, since it is a product that is hard to justify on paper, but not in actual use. The tough thing is giving my opinion of a $500+ purchase to someone who may barely use a computer as it is. The same goes for the smartphone-versus-not argument, as the data plan comes into play. For those who already have an iOS device, I can suggest the Apple TV without hesitation, mostly because of the price (when you look at what it does in contrast to the $40-$50 cables to get video out of a Dock Connector), and because I know exactly how people will use—AirPlay (if they discover it), Netflix, iTunes, or (less likely) the other services.

Still, with the mix of current capabilities and the new content Apple is adding with each subsequent software update, the Apple TV can only get better. I think with the news about Target carrying more Apple products in some stores and the expanded content, Apple really ought to start pushing this product more. It’s a simple, inexpensive, and well-designed piece of hardware.

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