Apple TV and Me
October 29, 2011 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about Apple TV.

I'm interested in buying a small device, for around $100 or so, for watching digital media on my TV. I'm leaning towards an Apple TV, largely because I'm an Apple guy (Macbook Pro, iPod Touch, hopefully an iPhone soon). However, I also like the Apple TV because it will let me watch both Netflix and—both of these are essential for me. The trouble is that I would also like to be able to watch the divx files that I already have on my computer, and I gather that you can't do this on an Apple TV, at least without jailbreaking. I also have had trouble finding current reviews of the things. I was reading one, and then realized it was from 2007.

So, I'm interested in hearing people's experiences with the current model of Apple TV. Is it worth it? Is jailbreaking easy to do and worthwhile? Anything else? I was investigating Roku boxes but can't seem to find a retailer in Canada and really don't know anything about them.
posted by synecdoche to Technology (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't jailbroken mine, but I'm quite happy with it. I pretty much just use it to watch Netflix and as a way to get my music from my iPhone/iTunes into my stereo, and the very occasional movie rental. It can stream content from your iTunes library, which probably means you'd need to convert your DivX files into something more Apple-ish if you want them streamed over.

This is one recent review of the current model; searching for "apple tv review" gets me plenty, especially if I also filter by "2nd generation" or "2010" to filter out the first generation, which was very different.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:35 PM on October 29, 2011

The dealbreaker for me was the fact that some of the stuff I access for free would become pay-for in iTunes, under Apple TV.

Seems like a nice interface though. A guy at a campus Apple store demonstrated it for me.
posted by Danf at 3:39 PM on October 29, 2011

I have one.

This is what I did:

1- Jailbreak
2- Install XBMC
3- Connect to my server that holds all my video and music. But you can easily put your media on a PC.
3a- You can also install Plex/Plex Media Server instead of XBMC
4- Enjoy whatever digital media I have on my server.

I've removed MLB/NHL etc... from the menu bar but you don't have.
I haven't had cable TV in years and I rarely watch live OTA TV. New version of XBMC (not released yet) looks even more promising than the current one.

Let me know if you have any more questions.
posted by eatcake at 3:57 PM on October 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

I love my Apple TV, but I've never tried Divx or jailbreaking.

Pros: I love the small, minimal remote, and the interface is easy to navigate. It's easy to set up, and it works pretty consistently. It's almost magical to be watching a YouTube video on my iPhone or iPad, and to then send it to the television through the Apple TV. It streams Pandora, and anything in my iTunes library.

I do buy some TV shows through iTunes, and since the introduction of iCloud, I have access to all of them from the cloud without having to stream from the copy on my computer.

I also like the convenience of renting or buying movies from iTunes, if they aren't on Netflix. It's nice to be able to watch the trailer of any movie before renting or buying it.

Cons: Like all things Apple, it works best when you play in their playground, so if that makes youn feel confined, or like you're missing something then it may not be the whole solution for you. It may not support some formats that are important to you.

Entering text through the onscreen menu (for searches, password entries, etc.) is a pain, but that's typical of devices that don't have a keyboard, such as video game systems.

I've occasionally had issues with a purchased or rented movie stalling at the start of the streaming, and I haven't found a consistent solution. It's fine over 90% of the time, and it always eventually works itself out, but it does happen.

Overall, once I got the Apple TV, I wondered why I had waited so long.
posted by The Deej at 4:22 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at the Boxee Box yet?

It's got Netflix,, Pandora, etc., and it can play just about any file format you can throw at it.
posted by BobbyVan at 4:31 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have had both generations of the Apple TV (old with hard drive and new). I've also had a Roku. My experience jibes with The Deej's. I strongly prefer the Apple TV Netflix interface to the Roku interface, if that's a question/factor.

I use Handbrake on my MBP to get all my videos that don't come from Apple into AppleTV format and haven't had any trouble with that.
posted by immlass at 4:38 PM on October 29, 2011

Got one for my birthday. So far we like it a lot, although we spent one frustrating evening trying to watch something on Netflix, only to have it not work over and over. Turns out that's a common problem for a lot of people, although it only happened to us that one time.
posted by briank at 4:39 PM on October 29, 2011

Entering text through the onscreen menu (for searches, password entries, etc.) is a pain, but that's typical of devices that don't have a keyboard, such as video game systems.

You don't use the remote app on your iphone/ipad? It lets you type in on the keyboard on the screen.
posted by empath at 4:43 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can push pretty much any type of computer-hosted file, divx included, to the Apple TV using Airplay and Air Video Server, through an iPad/iPhone 4/Macbook (with Airflick), no jailbreaking necessary.
posted by lhall at 5:02 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have the Apple TV. I mainly use it to stream music from either the internet radio stations or my itunes directory on my computer. I also use AirPlay to mirror Hulu from my iPad to the television, but it is sort of letterboxed when you do so. And it's also strange to do that because you then are watching Hulu both on the iPad and the television and you can't do anything else with the iPad while you're doing that. I guess if you had other people with you the ability to mirror Hulu to the television would be more important.
posted by winna at 6:09 PM on October 29, 2011

I considered getting one but was put off by it only outputting 720p, not 1080p. I don't think it supports the HD audio formats either.
posted by JonB at 6:42 PM on October 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone.

I am in Canada, so unfortunately Hulu and Pandora are not for me. I also really don't want to spend time converting all of my video files if there is any possible way to avoid it. I have some questions, though:

If I were to jailbreak this, could I still get Netflix on it? and I am playing with XBMC on my Macbook Pro right now and it is pretty neat, but I wonder if running some of the add-ons is different on the Apple TV. (I also can't seem to get it to ask me for my Netflix account information—it seems to assume I am in the US.)

How does it work exactly? Would it just boot into Apple TV as normal, and then XBMC shows up as an option?

Would I have to do any crazy network setup to access video files on my Macbook Pro?

And, does jailbreaking void the warranty?

I am tempted a bit by the Boxee Box, but I don't know if the $80 extra is worth it or not.
posted by synecdoche at 6:55 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like my Apple TV, but I'm strongly considering putting XBMC on it. I have a big library of stuff on my Linux box that it can't access. If your home environment is Mac anyway, there may not be much benefit to jailbreaking. I have had occasional issues with Netflix. I've always been able to clear them by doing a factory reset, but that shouldn't be necessary.
posted by Loudmax at 7:29 PM on October 29, 2011

I jailbroke mine and put XBMC on it. I think it took me about ten minutes to do it. It's worth doing, though you need a micro-USB cable, which you can get for a few bucks at Amazon.

Make sure you add "updatebegone" or whatever it is (you'll find out about it when you go looking for info on how to jailbreak it) or else it will start crashing when it tries to update the Apple software.

You can always restore it to the factory settings, so I don't know that it affects your warranty.

When you add XBMC (or whatever) it just adds more menu options. You can still do everything you can normally do with the ATV but when you want to use XBMC you just run it from the menu.

Adding XBMC made it so much more useful. Before I would "acquire" something, then have to convert it to iTunes with something like MediaHub, add it to iTunes, then sync it (version 1 of ATV) with the Apple TV. Now I just browse my network from XBMC and run whatever I want.

I do find the Apple TV to be a bit buggy for an Apple product. Mine sometimes flickers and it often loses the WiFi connection, requiring me to re-set up the WiFi and put in the password. This weekend I'm hoping to find the time to just add it to the wired network.
posted by bondcliff at 8:12 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

A possibly pertinent question: What sort of media are your non-Apple formatted media? If they're HD videos, I know my 1st gen Apple TV will just laugh at me when I point xbmc at it. I'm not sure that the 2nd gen has any better acceleration for stuff outside of the expected sources, which might point you more towards a Boxee Box or maybe one of the Western Digital streamers, as they play pretty much everything without a hitch.
posted by Kyol at 8:32 PM on October 29, 2011

I jailbroke mine specifically to watch divx/xvid formats with XBMC. They stream from a pc share, so that computer, of course, has to be running. You might want to watch posts at a forum or website that is specifically devoted to ATV2 hacks (like Apple TV Hacks). You'll notice that the newest update of Seas0nPass only supports a tethered jailbreak (you'll want to learn the difference between tethered and non-tethered jailbreaks before you do it). Also, some jailbreaks don't support XBMC yet with the latest Apple software, if that's what you're specifically looking for.

In all, I've found that the ability to stream other file types makes the AppleTV a much more useful device to me.
posted by whatisish at 8:35 PM on October 29, 2011

I am in Canada, so unfortunately Hulu and Pandora are not for me.

With a VPN like this you can be anywhere you want to be.
posted by three blind mice at 9:28 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have an old AppleTV. I wish I had instead bought a Mini for the added flexibility. A Roku box would also be wroth consideration.

If you mainly plan to watch things that you purchased from the iTunes store, the AppleTV is great. Otherwise, something else might be better.
posted by paulg at 11:01 PM on October 29, 2011

Use handbrake to transcode the divx files. It takes just a few minutes. No jailbreak needed and home sharing will work, like magic.
The apple tv is way better than a roku, I have both.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:43 AM on October 30, 2011

Don't know if this will help, but this is what I did. I'm not tech-savvy; I've never used AppleTV, and I've never heard of Boxee or Roku. I simply dug out an old Dell and installed Linux Mint on it. So basically I spent no money, except for a wireless mouse. I don't know if it works with Netflix or not, but it does everything I need. It has a great picture and worked easily without a lot of fiddling around.
posted by ambulocetus at 7:58 AM on October 30, 2011

Take a look at the Panasonic DMP-BDT210 Integrated-Wi-Fi 3D Blu-ray DVD Player. It will do everything you are looking for and much more. I just got one and I love it! No more Cable!
posted by speedoavenger at 1:28 PM on October 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks again.

I keep going back and forth now in my head between the Apple TV and the Boxee Box. One of the things I like about the Boxee Box, though, is that I can add an external hard drive to the Boxee Box. I only own one computer—my laptop—and it seems if I have to keep it running all the time when I'm watching TV I may as well just plug the laptop into my TV and use it instead of buying a whole new unit. Is there any way to plug an external drive into a jailbroken Apple TV 2? It doesn't look like it, but I thought I'd check.
posted by synecdoche at 1:33 PM on October 30, 2011

I was also looking into buying an ATV, and it's my understanding that XBMC can access an external HD via network sharing (SMB or FTP, so your HD just has to be on the local network somehow), whereas PLEX can't access files without another computer to run the PLEX media server.

I don't think you can directly plug an HD into the ATV, but maybe there's a hack for it.?..
posted by p3t3 at 3:16 PM on October 30, 2011

I've had an Apple TV for a while. I'm also not in USA so some of the extra features, I can't use (but wish I could). I did install XBMC, but removed it after a couples weeks. Just felt too sluggish and awkward to use.

I also use Handbrake to convert my video. It doesn't take long and doesn't feel like a major impediment to a smooth workflow. The advantage being that I can watch the same content on my iPad and or iPhone when I am away from home.
posted by dantodd at 5:52 PM on October 30, 2011

Here's one option if you don't mind not having your MacBook handy while you watch TV, and if there is a stable flat place near the TV you can rest your MacBook on... get a Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort -> HDMI adapter for around $7 from Monoprice (there's also this $2.50 version, but I can't vouch for it like I can for Monoprice; I had great success with their adapters/cables) along with an HDMI cable and hook your MacBook directly up to your TV.

Pros: cheap, no need to jaibreak anything, you automatically have your files
Cons: can't surf while watching TV; have to hook and unhook the adaptor each time you want to watch something (but this is not a big deal once you get used to it)
posted by Deathalicious at 7:12 PM on October 30, 2011

I have 3 WDTVs of different flavors and love the little things. External hard drive, plays any format, picture quality is insane.

It supports and Netflix. It is cheaper than Boxee. You can either use the stock firmware or flash it to another version that has tons of addons (FTP, web interface for configuration, etc).
posted by getawaysticks at 6:59 AM on October 31, 2011

I've never used Apple TV, but I just wanted to chime in that we love our Roku.
posted by lawhound at 11:45 AM on November 1, 2011

I had a first generation Roku and loved it. I upgraded to a second generation AppleTV a few months ago and find it far superior, but I'm an Apple dork. What makes AppleTV awesome for me is Airplay and the Remote app. If you've got other iOS devices that are Airplay capable, the number of things you can do with the AppleTV goes up exponentially. I tried jailbreaking my AppleTV so I could stream AVIs to it from my Macbook without having to convert them beforehand, but found it too buggy and restored it. Thanks to lhall's suggestion, I tried out the Air Video Server and found it a fantastic solution that eliminated the need to use Handbrake to convert AVIs to the iTunes format.

Plus the form factor of the AppleTV is so startlingly tiny and cute.
posted by hollisimo at 12:07 PM on November 3, 2011

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