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Jewish World Review
Feb. 22, 2008
/ 16 Adar I 5768
Apple changes entertainment, again
Starting at $229, the new-and-truly-improved Apple TV, re-released
last month, is a device that could change the entertainment world,
Apple TV's first incarnation, as a wireless entertainment system tied
to Apple's iTunes software and a computer running same, drew some
interest, but also a lot of yawns. People didn't want their computers
doing double duty as entertainment servers. Instead, they wanted to be
able to download music, pictures, video and movies to the device and
work with them directly. Apple changed the product to do this, and the
result is stunning.
I have a 42-inch Sony high-definition LCD television set with an HDMI
(High-Definition Multimedia Interface) interface, in fact two of them.
That's the type of television for which Apple TV is designed:
widescreen, with HDMI. The prices of such sets is dropping in advance
of the 2009 jump to digital over-the-air broadcasting, so it's likely
you'll have such a set someday soon.
Apple kindly sent along the 160 Gigabyte hard disk version of Apple
TV, which retails for $329; spend $100 less and you get a 50 Gigabyte
hard drive. On the larger model, the cost-per-gigabyte of storage
drops from $4.58 on the 50 GB model to $2.05 on the larger drive.
Using an iTunes-equipped computer, you can select the media, including
photos from Apple's iPhoto application, a Windows-based PC, or from
online photo-sharing services such as Flickr and Apple's .Mac
(STET) Web Galleries.
Right now, I've filled up approximately 20 Gigabytes with my own
content, and could easily add a lot more. But the storage is also
meant to handle TV episodes and movies that you buy or rent online
using an iTunes account. This, along with connections to your computer
for multimedia transfers, require that you have wireless networking at
home, or an Ethernet network. Movie purchases and rentals work best
via a high-speed Internet connection.
With everything in place, my wife and I decided to rent the
high-definition version of "Live Free or Die Hard." You do this by
logging in to an iTunes account and browsing through the available
films; searching is also possible using the tiny, functional remote
that comes with the unit.
Thanks to our Verizon FiOS connection and a wireless router, the
rental downloaded in under five minutes and played in perfect HD, with
very good sound, Dolby Digital 5.1, to be precise. Rentals of "new
releases" generally cost $4.99 for the high-def version, $3.99 for
standard definition. So-called "library" films cost $1 less in each
format to rent. All rentals are available for viewing for 24 hours
after download. Many movies can be purchased for $14.99 and stored on
the hard drive.
I also transferred a bunch of photos and a shelf-load of music to the
device. It's neat - there's no other word for it - to see sharp,
stunning digital images on a huge screen, in a slideshow that includes
all sorts of transitions and can be accompanied by the music you
select. Travelogues will never be the same.
Also available is the popular YouTube video library, which is
searchable via the Apple TC device. It's an incredible time waster.
You can also access all sorts of video podcasts for free, including
the National Geographic "Atmospheres" series, via iTunes.
I'm told that the unit is always "on" to allow it to "talk" to the
wireless network and receive software updates. My "inner BGE
customer," however, would like to see a power off switch somewhere.
But that's my only quibble: setup, wireless networking and usage are
Using Apple TV makes me very glad I don't own stock in a video rental
chain. This is the beginning of a great new future for entertainment
at home, and is worth investigating.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com