My Wacky, Wavy Apple TV

| Just a Thought

I bought an Apple TV, the dinky new one that looks like it’d be more at home on ice with toothless Canadians batting it about than sitting in front of my TV. I was excited to get it because I have Netflix and I wanted to be able to stream my movies to my five year old, 42-inch Panasonic Plasma TV instead of my iPad or iMac.

My wife has a 32-inch LCD TV in her workroom, and when the impossibly small box arrived from Apple I plugged it into her TV first because its HDMI inputs were much easier to get to.

Setup was barely more complicated than opening the box, plugging it in, and using it. What sped things up was the free Remote app for iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. With it you can type in your account info for Netflix instead of using the easy-to-lose and hard-to-type-with remote that comes with Apple TV.

Apple TV

Photo Courtesy of Apple

I got Netflix up and running and started watching Season 2 of Dexter. It’s so easy to become a couch potato with Apple TV and Netflix. I imagined that if Apple ever decides to do apps, which is only logical, then I’d put the local pizza shop on speed-dial and call in sick. I’d tell my employer that I have an advanced case of Demeaning Plebney and I may not be long for this world, and want to spend my remaining days watching Avatar: The Last Air Bender.

When I got home the following day, however, my dreams of sofa nirvana were horribly shattered when I plugged the Apple TV into my home-theater setup.

See, the requirements for Apple TV clearly states that it must connect to a TV that support 720p. My Panasonic is an Enhanced Definition set, 480p. When I mated the two devices the resulting picture was so wavy that it made the Apple TV menu look as if it was having a conniption fit. No manner of configuration produced an improvement. I was depressed.

ATV on my Plasma

Apple TV on my 5 year old Panasonic

A quick check on Apple’s Support site confirmed my conclusion as I scrolled through pages of new Apple TV owners running into the same issue. Many had the same TV model I own, but there was a significant number of other models mentioned, enough to assume that it wasn’t a problem peculiar to just my TV’s make and model. The common denominator was the age of our sets: all were at least five years old. Apparently, there were enough changes in the HDMI standard to cause compatibility issues. Sets five years and older likely used HDMI version 1.0 to 1.2, which was good up until 2007 when the standard was upgraded significantly in version 1.3.


What this means is that I either buy a new TV for the family room or leave Apple TV on my wife’s set. Or, I can return it and buy a Roku, which has been reported to support my TV.

I’ll likely keep the Apple hockey puck. It works great on my wife’s TV, and it is just so darn adorable, and it’d be like taking a cute puppy back to the pet shop because it missed the potty-paper a few times.

Folks on Apple’s discussion board are hopeful that Apple will come out with a fix for the the waves. While it would be nice, unless it’s something simple, I doubt Apple will bother. It would be like coming up with a fix for a PPC based iMac. It’s in the past and Apple seldom looks back.

The thing is, this adds to a pattern that Apples seems to have fallen into where the devices and services it offers fall short. It’s never anything big. While the media tends make a pimple on Steve Jobs’ behind look like the Bubonic Plague, a majority of users never have an issue with Apple products. But for those who do it’s more than a little disappointing, and that disappointment is not easily forgotten, though it can be minimized with a fix.

Ah well, at least my wife is happy.

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I guess at least they set the expectations in the written specs, so they weren’t misleading, but yeah I get your disappointment.

Now if my CRT would just die I could get a new TV and try this out. smile


I’m on the fence about this. I have a problem with expecting a new device to support a video standard that’s been replaced not once but twice.

A 480p plasma television obviously won’t handle a signal designed and advertised with a 720p minimum. And you’re right, it is like writing software for a PPC. What’s the point? It’s not like it’s coming back. It’s got a diminishing (rapidly) audience.

TVs are again advancing at a disproportionate rate. From 720p 60Hz models that were the standard 3 years ago, we’ve gone to 1080p 240Hz models and now 3D televisions.

Heck, the fact that the interface port still has the same plug is amazing considering the multitude of interfaces that are on electronics. Look at USB with no less than four and FireWire/IE1394 with at least four variants. HDMI sticking with the same simple plug is amazing. Yet, the standards have changed as they’ve evolved. And they do evolve forward. Not backward. At some point, you give up the ghost. Five years seems pretty reasonable. It’s nearly a lifetime for some electronics.

The other side of the fence for me is that they “could” do it if they chose.

But, I think it’s a huge waste…of resources, money, and brainpower!

I still don’t see a use for the AppleTV (or GoogleTV). Paying MORE for what I’m not watching on TV? It’s not like there’s a whole new world of content I’m missing. More like, I’m avoiding. There are only 24 hours in a day, I’m working 10 of them, getting about 7 hours of sleep on a good day, leaving just seven more hours of time for everything else in my life. That’s less than 1/3 of my day for everything else.

And new recent studies show Americans watch an average of 5 hours of television per day. That would leave 2 hours to do everything else. Two hours?

Here’s to keeping your wife happy. That is at least a good purpose in life. And I’m sure, an unending task.


I never understood why people fell for the EDTV marketing.


If I had a compatible TV I would get the AppleTV just for the hooks it has into iPhoto and iTunes and the ability to stream stuff to it from iPhones or iPod Touches. With our devices overflowing with baby pictures it would be a super easy way to bore my guests. smile


Wow. So now we have to upgrade our TVs every two years too?!?

Vern Seward

@jackaninny: The attraction to enhanced definition tv was cost and practicality.

EDTVs were substantially cheaper than 720p TVs at the time. The same way 720p sets are cheaper than 1080p sets today.

Also, most DVD players only outed 480p, and I have a fair size DVD collection, so it didn’t make sense to spend a lot more on the higher res set when content looked good enough on EDTV sets.

I currently have DirecTV and the box down-converts its HD signal. It looks pretty good, even compared to newer sets.

In fact, AppleTV is the first device that has a problem with my set. It’s true that Apple requires 720p, but so do BluRay and other devices, and they don’t have problems with older sets.

So to decision not to account for 480p sets was Apple’s and they’ll likely decide not to fix it either. Bummer!


Vern Seward

If you get right down to it, what use is TV? Why bother watching at all when we have perfectly functional books available?

My point is that AppleTV is an option, like any other. It does what it does well enough for many to buy it over cable. If Apple ups the ante and add apps then the device becomes an option over Wii and PS3.

Nothing magical about ATV, it just another choice.


Norm Oldfield

I have an Apple TV and am happy with it. I watch Netflix, mainly, play my iTunes music library, and watch pictures from my Aperture/iPhoto library. The system is simple in setup which is rare in today’s living room electronics world. I agree with the other poster about the lack of time. I have disconnected cable TV (and land line phone service - my iphone handles phone and so much more) and only get internet access. The many good movies (foreign, independent, and hollywood, too) and documentaries on Netflix is enough. I get to spend more quality time with my significant other. The unification of cloud-based digital media is not the future any more. It is the present.

Vern Seward

@Norm Oldfield

Hey Norm, and everyone else with Apple TV and Netflix, check out Fido. It’s a movie I would have never seen if not for Netflix.



While the quality upgrade from 480i (SD) to 480p (ED), the upgrade from ED to HD is pretty subtle, particularly on a smaller screen. But now that prices of HD screens has dropped substantially ED has become an obsolete standard, as HD is now just as cheap.



According to this
attaching an hdmi-to-dvi cable/adapter will cause output to be 480p. If your tv doesn’t have a dvi input, then you can add a dvi-to-hdmi adapter. Since dvi doesn’t fairy audio you’ll have to use the audio-out of the appletv. Kludgey I know, but it might support your case.

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