Apple TV review
Although the previous Apple TV was pretty slick to use, its lowly 720p output counted against it. For the 2012 new Apple TV, things have changed and it's now a Full HD 1080p video streamer.
What hasn't changed is the Apple TV's incredibly small dimensions. Measuring just under 100mm square and 23mm high, it's tiny. The rather attractive box will fit pretty much anywhere in your home.
Small and with just the outputs you need, the Apple TV will fit anywhere unobtrusively.
Its rear is refreshingly simple with just 10/100Mbits Ethernet (802.11n Wi-Fi is also built-in), HDMI and an optical S/PDIF output. There's also a micro USB port, although this is for service and support.
The new Apple TV retains the old one's simple aluminium remote control. It has just four buttons: Menu, Play/Pause, Select and a four-way cursor pad. It's comfortable to hold and the clicky buttons give plenty of feedback, so you know that you've definitely hit a key. There's not even a power button, as the Apple TV shuts itself down when not being used and is powered up by tapping the Menu key on the remote.
Who needs a more complicated remote?
Powering the Apple TV on for the first time, you're taken through a very quick setup wizard that helps you configure your networking and input your Apple ID. After that you're ready to start.
Although the previous Apple TV was pretty easy to use, this model has had a major interface overhaul. Large icons make it easy to select the type of content that you want to view, while a top window shows you the latest highlights.
The new interface is bigger, bolder and easier to use than the old one.
As this is an Apple product, the interface is incredibly smooth, thanks to the single-core Apple A5 processor, and works just like an iPod: tap the Menu button to go back, use the cursor keys and select to choose items and hit Play/Pause as you need. There's absolutely no slowdown or lag when trying to do anything, which is how a media streamer should really be.
Full HD iTunes content
For this model, Apple has focussed on bringing you your content without necessarily having to have a server in your house, using iCloud. So, for Movies and TV Shows, you can access and stream content that you've bought or rented from the iTunes store. You can also buy or rent content from your Apple TV and view it on an iPad or iPhone later.
Content has been upgrade to 1080p and the change is impressive. Streaming Full HD movies the quality is impressive and at least as good as a decent HD broadcast. Surround sound helps add atmosphere, with the Apple TV passing it as PCM audio to your surround-sound amplifier. This is a bit more limited and you can't get the full lossless audio that you do from a Blu-ray.
Full HD content from iTunes is a vast improvement over the old 720p content of the previous Apple TV.
Apple has done a great job making content easy to find. You can browse movies and TV shows by the ones you've Purchased, the top programmes, genres, TV Network and search for content. There's now Genius built-in, which will recommend content based on the shows that you've bought or rented.
Finding new content is easy and there's even Genius to give you recommendations based on what you've already watched.
In terms of content, there's a lot on offer, with up-to-date films to buy or watch. TV programmes are similarly up-to-date, and there are even shows to buy (you can only rent films) that are currently being shown on TV; the only thing is that the iTunes version is delayed by at least a day. We like the Series Pass, which lets you buy an entire series before all the episodes have all been aired: each week you get a new episode to watch.
Not that you have to rely on Apple content, as Netflix is also built in. If you have a monthly subscription, you can stream 1080p movies and TV programmes direct to the Apple TV. As we've said in our Netflix review, the quality is fantastic and up there with a high-quality high definition broadcast. YouTube and Vimeo apps round out the online video services.
Apple's Netflix interface seamlessly integrates into the media streamer.
Apple has designed its own Netflix interface to match that of the Apple TV. It's a great move, as it keeps the interface consistent across every part of the Apple TV; other media streamers we've tested have used a different Netflix interface to the rest of the system, making it a little confusing to use.
Photo Stream is also built in, as with the latest update to the 2nd generation Apple TV, but this time it's got its own icon right up front. It does exactly what you expect: pulls in all of your photos stored in iCloud. It's very smooth, pulling down a set of photos at once, so that there's no delay moving between them, making it feel more like you're accessing local storage. There's also a Flickr app you can link to your online account.
For the Music app you need to turn on iTunes match, which costs £22 a year. This service determines which songs in your collection are available from Apple, then only uploads the songs in your library that aren't. Once the matching's done, you're entire music collection is available to be streamed using 256Kbit/s AAC files, so you don't need to have a PC turned on sharing music. There are also Podcasts and Internet Radio apps built in.