The new Apple TV is a slick little hunk of plastic. It does a lot of things well ( as long as you don’t plug it into a TV set that’s rated less than 720p), and it has the potential to do many more things if only Apple would let it.
Currently the wee box from 1 Infinite Loop offers access to iTunes and the movies and TV shows contained therein, as well connections to the multimedia stuff stored in your computer. But the crown jewel of Apple TV’s offerings, and likely to the chagrin of His Steveness, who probably would have preferred to have us continue to rent/buy our shows through iTunes, is Netflix, the subscription service where you can stream all manner of video content.
While you can get Netflix on darn near everything these days, from cellphones to Blu-Ray players, the combination of Apple TV and Netflix seem a match made in gadget heaven. Apple’s simple and elegant user interface, and easy access to your own content, combined with the cornucopia of shows available for streaming in Netflix’s stable makes for a compelling nucleus of an entertainment system.
And it’s cheap too! One Benjamin gets you Apple’s little black entertainment brick, and as little as US$8.99 a month gets you all the streaming content you can eat, and access to DVDs that are sent to you via snail mail. You can top off your system with an amplified antenna so you can pick up local Hi-Def stations and you have the makings of a cost-conscious, yet very capable home theater.
In fact, for a lot less than US$1,200.00 you could set up a rocking system that anyone would be proud to own regardless of pocket depth.
Case in point: A Panasonic 50” plasma TV capable of 1080p and loaded with features can easily be found for about $700, smaller screens and lower resolution LCD sets can be had for hundreds less. You also can get a decent sound system for about US$300.00.
Try the new soundbar speaker systems that do a good job in simulating surround sound in small rooms, you may be surprised at how well they perform, and they eliminate the complicated cabling that 5.1 to 7.1 surround systems require. Some even sport wireless subwoofers. Some soundbars remove another major component of many home theater systems, the receiver. Be sure you have enough HDMI inputs and digital outputs on your TV to accommodate all your components.
Now add Apple TV and you are rockin’ and rollin’.
Several things are missing from this equation, unfortunately, that Apple could easily remedy. Pandora is one of the main services that many people will want. Apple TV does provide genre queued Internet based radio, but it’s not Pandora.
Another missing feature is games. This is an entertainment system after all,
Apple could fill in these empty spots enabling iOS apps to be run on Apple TV. The apps would have to be tailored to look good on a big screen, and the user interface would need work, but apps on Apple TV are completely doable.
Anyway, Apple TV is pretty good as it is and if you bought one or are planning to buy one then you’ll want to take a look at these three items that could make Apple TV sing.
First, get Apple’s free Remote app.
This app is a must-have. With it you can easily control your Apple TV or iTunes on your computer. It gives you a much needed keyboard for entering text when needed, lets you control Apple TV with gestures and taps instead of using the included remote.
It’s simple to configure your compatible devices with the Remote app and once configured all you do is fire it up and work your magic.
The Remote app even lets you control your shared environment, so you can add or remove media libraries from your couch. It’s a great app and Apple did a good job with it. If you have Apple TV and an iOS device, you need the Remote app.
Finding good shows on TV can be a daunting task. Finding good shows on TV suitable for consumption by younger audiences can be an impossible task. That’s why I’m glad iTunes provides free pilot episodes of many new shows. One show that fits the good and family-friendly bill is No Ordinary Family, a new ABC show that show us what might happen if the Smiths up the street suddenly possessed powers far beyond those of mortal men.
The show stars Michael Chiklis of The Fantastic Four’s “Thing” fame, and it really is a pretty good show. Not as dark as Heroes, but serious enough to hold the interest of adults.
The pilot episode introduces us to the Powells, a slightly atypical family in that the mom is also the chief bread winner and most career driven. The family is, however, typically dysfunctional. Sprinkle in some teenage angst, and some male identity issues, add a healthy dollop of super powers, garnish with a secret evil organization, and you have the makings of some potentially good TV viewing.
Check out No Ordinary Family. Fun times for all.
Because you have Apple TV you now have access to all manner of material available via podcasts. Yep, you can watch great HD podcasts, all free.
Vintage Tooncast is a collection of odd animations, including old public service messages, early Popeye and Superman features, and just about anything you or your parents might have seen in school or TV back ‘in the Day’.
One of my favorites is the Duck and Cover, a public service movie shown to school kids during the height of the Cold War. Duck and cover was supposed to help you survive a nuclear bomb attack. I suppose that if you were 10 miles from ground zero then maybe hiding under your desk was adequate shielding from flying glass and other debris. Maybe.
Another favorite of mine is Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. I remember seeing this cartoon on some late night show way back in the 70’s, and it was old then, but I loved the animation and the songs. Even the stereotypical caricatures of Black folks shown in spots in the feature didn’t bother me, and still don’t. I don’t believe the intent was to disparage, but to entertain. If it offends you then don’t watch.
Anyway, there are 81 features available in this podcast, break them out the next time your grandparents visit and watch them get all nostalgic and misty eyed.
Ok, that’s a wrap for this week.
More free stuff below with direct links.