So now the Apple TV only costs £99, am I about to buy one? I’m afraid not.
Long-time readers will know about my various abortive attempts to turn my spare Mac Mini into a media centre (which I’ve given up on – I just have Boxee running on my main desktop). The Apple TV was always interesting but the price tag meant I wasn’t so interested.
The new Apple TV is much cheaper, but it’s also a simpler device with no hard drive – or the means to connect an external hard drive (there’s a Micro-USB socket but it’s for ‘service and support’ only). So rather than being a media centre, it’s more a ‘media extender’ – it lets you view media stored elsewhere (on your computer or on a streaming service) on your television. If you want to watch a film you own, that film must be on another computer and that computer must be turned on and running iTunes.
Like the previous model, it does support HD but only at the lower rate of 720p, not 1080p which is what most decent HD televisions use; consequently any 1080p television will have to do some upscaling which may effect the sharpness of the picture; thus negating some of the benefits of HD. I suppose streaming 720p video requires less bandwidth than 1080p video but a 1080p option for content on your own network would be nice. HDMI support is welcome though.
One of the biggest new features is Netflix streaming. Alas, Netflix doesn’t operate in the UK, and Apple hasn’t signed up any similar services like Lovefilm, so we have to buy all of our content from the iTunes Store.
In fact, there’s no other region-specific services, despite the Apple TV now running on a similar operating system as the iPhone. An App Store for the Apple TV would be great, potentially allowing users to install apps specific to their country; Brits could install applications for the BBC iPlayer, 4oD and SeeSaw for example. In the US, Hulu could launch an app as well.
Then there’s the price. It’s certainly cheaper than the its predecessor, but £99 and €119 are much more than its $99 price tag in the US (who also get the Netflix features). While all Apple products cost a little more in Europe – even after sales taxes are taken into account – the new Apple TV costs 30% more. To give some perspective, the iPad Nano is only 15% more expensive after tax and is at a similar price point, and most of Apple’s desktop computers are under 10% more expensive. So European customers pay more than their US cousins, and get less.
And one final reason why I wouldn’t buy an Apple TV is that the Boxee Box is coming to Europe in November with pre-orders starting in the US now. The Boxee Box is twice as expensive as an Apple TV in the US – $199 – but it has a very large application library (including BBC iPlayer), 1080p HD, support for a wide range of codecs, USB ports, and and SD card slot. Still no internal hard drive but at least you can connect one. Of course, I’ll be a bit peeved if it goes on sale for £199…