The Obvious Limitations

Let’s start with the experience inside Apple’s walled garden. The Apple TV will let you stream any content you have within iTunes. Unfortunately iTunes doesn’t play well with anything that’s not in a .mov, .mp4 or m4v container. Then there are the Apple TV limitations: 720p H.264, main profile level 3.1 (or lower) and AAC-LC audio (160Kbps per channel).

You can technically feed the Apple TV 1080p video, but it’ll always downscale to 720p. I haven’t found any evidence of scaler hardware inside the Apple TV so there’s a good chance the box won’t work with older HDTVs that can’t accept a 720p input. I don’t have anything that can test that here so if you have experience with such a setup, please let me know.

Most content acquired outside of the Apple ecosystem isn’t encoded to these specs, so if you’ve got your own library of DRM-free video you’ll need to transcode to get it into iTunes. On a fast enough system it’s not that big of a deal but it’s still annoying to do.

Mac users will probably want to use something other than QuickTime for transcoding however. While QuickTime is very simple to use, the performance on multi-core/multithreaded systems is atrocious compared to other tools like Handbrake.

With your videos transcoded, you can stream them very easily over to the Apple TV.

There’s just one problem with all of this. While the Apple TV makes you jump through hoops to play your own content, devices like the Popcorn Hour, Patriot Box Office or upcoming Boxee Box will play virtually everything you have, regardless of container or format.

Out of the box the Apple TV isn’t a good way to play your existing, non-iTunes content. It’s the same limitation that Apple had with the original Apple TV and it’s part of why the product is nothing more than a hobby. Now let’s get to the other reasons.

The New One Apple TV Movie Rental
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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the correction, fixed :)
  • cjs150 - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    And it will look like the Apple TV.

    What a simple concept, small box, very limited backplate. Lets think about it how about a box that had the following connectors

    1. Ethernet connection (but a bit faster)
    2. HDMI connection
    3. Audio out (personally would not bother and take through HDMI)
    4. USB
    5. Wifi (optional for me because house if wired)

    Add in 2 Gb of memory a small SSD for OS + limited applications

    Plays movies, TV, music. Can surf web and basically that is it.

    Would need some sort of wireless connection to allow remote control and to attach a keyboard (if only to type web addresses).

    Apple have got the size of the box about right. Even a mini-itx board has too many features that would not be needed for the ideal straming box.

    Apple has given me a glimpse of the future - it looks like Apple TV but it will be something else
  • tipoo - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Is that a typo, or can it really go that high? Apple's official specs list MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps and Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps.
  • Docchris - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    he was specifically testing non-apple videos to ty and break it, so what apples specs state doesn't really matter.

    i was just curious where he got a video form which exceeds the blu-ray specification
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I remuxed the files as .mov without re-encoding and sent them over to the Apple TV. Even if I re-encoded down to 10Mbps there was still some slight stuttering so there's something unusually stressful about these samples. At 70Mbps or above the Apple TV would start behaving very strange, the video player app would either crash or the unit would reboot before finishing playback.

    Take care,
  • tech6 - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    While the cable and content oligopoly are terrified of IP based home entertainment, no legitimate solution will truly replace cable. Cable is simply too good of a revenue stream not to protect by these companies. Once they have "cabel-ized" the Internet through the defeat of net neutrality and can restrict and monitor users Internet activities then I'm sure we will see a lot more IP TV but at the expense of any freedom or anonymity that we may have ever had on the Internet.
  • mfenn - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Perfect response! XD
  • vol7ron - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    "You can argue that it’s for firmware updates but there’s also WiFi/Ethernet for that."

    Isn't WiFi firmware update for anything considered bad practice? Or have people turned the other cheek on this?
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Technically as long as the firmware package can download over WiFi and execute once completely downloaded it should be ok. I agree USB seems like the safer bet though, particularly if there's a firmware update that fixes a network issue.

    Take care,
  • naho - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    "Unlike a smartphone it eats a good amount of power at idle - a whole 1.8W. I don’t think Apple even bothered to enable serious power management on the A4 in the Apple TV, it’s just not necessary."

    What would power management reducing idle power to 0.8 W have saved customers?

    Eg. if 5 million units are sold of this model x 22 hours idle per day x average product lifetime 4 years x 365 days/year x 0.12$/kWh (maybe less in US, more Europe) = 160.6 GWh x 0.12$/kWh = 19.27 million dollars in additional electricity bills.

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