Multimedia has become an essential aspect of our life. Every now and then when we feel bored, we access multimedia streaming websites such as YouTube, Gaana, Spotify, etc. Companies have been striving hard to push this content to television. This has led to development of multimedia streaming boxes. These boxes use open standards or companies deploy their own standards for wireless streaming.
Amidst these boxes, Apple TV is being provided by Apple. As soon as someone hears Apple, there is a perception of it being superb. The product goes with a tagline “All things entertaining”. But is it really all that entertaining.
Purpose: Stream video wirelessly to the display to which Apple TV is connected or stream audio wirelessly to the speakers to which Apple TV is connected optically.
Speciality: Streams everything at lossless quality (audio uses Apple Lossless and video is H.264 without compression except for the compression which is originally present in the video)
Apple TV is really tiny and fits perfectly in the pockets of a pant. To give a comparison it is even smaller in length of its remote. To give another comparison, Apple TV is approximately as long as a Raspberry Pi in horizontal as well as vertical direction.
The entire side strip of Apple TV has a glossy finish which looks gorgeous but is susceptible to scratches. At the back we have a power port, HDMI port, micro-USB port, Optical Audio port and Ethernet port. In the front we have a white LED which glows or blinks every time we switch on the device or press a button on the remote.
The remote has a aluminium finish which looks stunning. It is equipped with just 7 buttons. Among the seven buttons 4 are meant for up, down, left and right movement. There is a menu button which acts a back button too and finally we have a play/pause button. The length of the remote is just about enough to get a good grip on it but the aluminium finish ensures that the remote will fall from your hand ‘n’ number of times. Prepare for some good dents on the remote.
Apple TV can stream entire display of Apple Laptops, Desktops and iOS Devices. With iOS devices the output is great. There is some amount of lag visible but that is totally acceptable, especially when there is so much data being pushed. Though Apple TV provides lossless streaming, the output from iOS devices is optimised. This optimisation works well with games on iOS devices. There is very low latency which is excellent for spectators watching a multimedia game fight between two arch-rivals.
Optimisation does affect quality of output but it is watchable. One thing which I observed was that Mirroring worked well only on the 5GHz Wireless spectrum. And this is understandable as 5GHz is capable of providing the right amount of Bandwidth for streaming the content.
Mirroring of Apple Laptops and Desktops was not all that great. It did stream at lossless quality and it was amazing till the time I use less CPU intensive applications like Internet, Mail etc but on switching to CPU intensive applications such as video players the lag increases. Lossless quality mirroring is great but this is the major reason for the lag in CPU intensive applications. Apple TV just cant cope up with the amount of data it receives. The sad part is there is no option to optimize the quality like low medium high. Scaling down the resolution helps to some extent but not worth it.
The scenario with games is even worse. Games have variable framerate and when framerate shoots up apple tv just freezes the display and you have to reconnect to Apple Tv. It just does not optimize games like it does with iOS devices. Many a times apple tv just blacks out the display of Apple Laptops with poor specs. this is very disappointing.
Streaming video and audio is pretty straightforward. Log in to iTunes, buy the movie or song you want to watch/listen too. 720p video playback will take approximately 25 mins to start on a decent internet connection. Audio playback stars in 2 seconds. There are bunch of apps that come pre-installed such as YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo, etc. Videos can be streamed from here too. If you have an iCloud account then you can set up your photostream and view pictures on your iCloud. The movies downloaded from iTunes Store are 1080p but not Blu-Ray. So don’t expect extraordinary quality.
I just talked how lossless output can be troublesome for videos but for Audio it is a boon. The audio output is even better when you are digitally sending the data. The good thing is Apple TV streams at lossless quality and has an optical audio output. This is why Apple TV rocks. The audio output is simply awesome. This device is meant for audiophiles.
Is the Apple TV good? Should I buy it? I will say it is phenomenal for Audio but for Video it is a dicy thing to buy. It streams content at lossless quality but it is not advisable to stream video (Airplay) at lossless quality always. This is because as video resolution or frame rate increases, amount of data that needs to be pushed wirelessly is just too much for Apple TV to handle. Hence a thumps up for Audio but a thumps down for video (Airplay Screen Mirroring). Buy it only for the amazing audio output it provides. And buy it if you are willing to spend 7,000 INR or $99 on the device.