American in Spain

A Fortnight With The Apple TV

November 12, 2010

Apple TV 2.0 - UnboxingI have now had an Apple TV (2nd gen) for two weeks and I thought I'd post some thoughts about it. Unlike the first generation Apple TV, this one has no permanent storage on the device. Everything is streamed from an outside source. So all my movies and television shows live in my iTunes library on my computer, which I can browse on the Apple TV and select an item to view. It takes about two or three seconds sometimes to start playing, but then the rest of the video downloads into a buffer while the first part of it is playing, much like when you view a video on YouTube on your computer.

The Expected


I knew that the Apple TV would connect to either my local iPhoto library or to my Flickr account and show slideshows. The photo screensaver on the Apple TV is just as mesmerizing as the one on my desktop computer, although the randomization is a little off. It seems to just choose a selection of 50 or so random photos and then repeat those.


I have watched a couple dozen movie trailers and added some movies to my Wishlist, but I just can't bring myself to spend $4.99 to rent a movie for 24 hours. Not only that, but it's hard to find time to watch a movie. Normally I can only find that kind of time after everyone has gone to bed, in which case I'm better off watching it with my eyes 50 cm away from my 30" computer monitor.

TV Shows

I think I may have finally found the Holy Grail solution to watching bittorrented television shows on the Apple TV. I've talked about this before. So far there has never really been a great solution, and even now, three years later, the final setup is a bit contrived.

For a while now, I've had my RSS feed reader, NetNewsWire (Automatic alway seemed buggy), checking feeds for new torrent files, automatically downloading them into my folder where Transmission picks them up and downloads the video file. This was good enough for watching shows on my computer, but to see them on the Apple TV, they need to be converted into a proprietary iTunes format. I'd been using VideoMonkey for this, but there was no good way to automate the conversion. Then I stumbled upon this wonderful guide that recommended iFlicks. iFlicks isn't free, but its database searching for show metadata tends to work better than VideoMonkey's. And most importantly of all, it comes with a folder action. That means that, when a file is placed in a certain folder, iFlicks will automatically launch, fetch the metadata for that video file, convert it into an Apple Universal format, and add it to your iTunes library. This makes iFlicks worth every cent of the 19.95€ it costs.

Now, when I wake up in the morning and turn on the television, there's last night's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report ready to be viewed. Awesome.

Children's Shows

My daughter is getting to the age where she is starting to enjoy television programming. Children, much to their parents' frustration, are often suckers for repetition, i.e. viewing the same videos over and over again. They like knowing what's coming next. One of the reasons I bought the Apple TV was to have a video library of kids' shows available at my fingertips in the living room without having to fiddle around with the outdated optical disc media of yesteryear. Her very favorite thing at the moment is a Spanish children's song series called Cantajuego. It's like a drug that will pull her out of the deepest crying tantrum. Priceless. She's also enjoying Dora The Explorer and Rugrats, although she's a little young for the latter.

The Unexpected


One of the things I was looking forward to was being able to watch TED Talks while I'm playing with my daughter in the living room. So when I got the Apple TV, I immediately went to my computer and subscribed to the TED Talks HD podcast and downloaded a few. Sure enough, there they were under my computer when browsing from the Apple TV.

What I didn't realize was that the Apple TV can access internet podcasts directly, thus there was no need to first download them to my computer. In fact, under the "Internet" menu in the Apple TV, you can browse podcasts available on the iTunes Store, and then play them directly from the internet. In retrospect, this is obvious, since the whole point of the Apple TV is to play hosted video files. Since discovering this, I have enjoyed watching the NBC Nightly News every morning.

Internet Radio

I'm not sure why I expected the Apple TV to be more of a Home LAN device, when there's so much content out there on the internet for it to play. The internet radio menu on the Apple TV has at least a thousand radio stations to listen to, in every conceivable genre. While this is probably the functionality that I will least use, it's still nice to know it's there.

The Remote

The Apple TV remote control is amazing. There are no seams in the metal. It's one solid piece of aluminum, and the electronics have been inserted through the holes where the buttons are.

The Remote app on the iPhone and iPad are interesting, although I'm not sure how useful they will really be in practice. I suspect they will come in most handy when we can't find the actual remote control.


In general, I'm very happy with the $99 second generation Apple TV. I look forward to seeing what new features Apple will build into its operating system over the coming years.