The promise of Apple TV

ATV-1With rumors of an Apple television streaming service, and updated hardware to go along with it, it’s hard to believe that the Apple TV in one form or another has been with us for nine years.

I still think of Apple TV as a “modern” device, and still use it regularly, mostly for streaming Netflix and for watching movies rented from iTunes.

Currently, I have the third-generation Apple TV, for which I paid $99 a few years ago. It has an HDMI port capable of up to 1080p (HD) resolution, and supports either wireless 802.11 a/g/n or 10/100BASE-T Ethernet connectivity. It also has a nicely fluid, if somewhat aging, user interface.

The only other streaming device I own is a Roku stick, and the Apple TV interface is much smoother, easier to navigate, and more stable. The Roku has its uses, but if I could own just one streaming device, it would be Apple TV.

Growing channel list

Like all Apple devices of recent vintage, the Apple TV receives regular updates from Apple, which sometimes add new features and make the device feel almost like a new product. This is an intrinsic value that you seldom get with other manufacturers’ wares.

In Apple TV’s case, the updates fix bugs and make the device more secure, but, more importantly, add new channels.

ATV-channels

There are a number of “free” channels. For example, the Trailers channel lets you watch the latest movie trailers that are out there, and is regularly updated with new trailers.

However, many of the channels—for example, ESPN, PBS, Showtime, and HBO Go—require you to have a cable TV subscription. While I have used these channels on occasion, it’s really too bad they aren’t available without a cable subscription, even if at some monthly cost similar to Netflix.

Apple TV as entertainment hub

If you are fully enmeshed in the Apple ecosystem, as I am, the Apple TV can serve as an entertainment hub in the household.

For example, through an Apple technology called AirPlay, you can stream movies and other videos from your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or Mac computer to the Apple TV, which displays the feed on your TV. It’s incredibly easy to use, and very little setup is required. It just works.

airplay_1However, on the downside, some services, such as Showtime Anytime, prevent AirPlay from working, which is kind of a bummer. HBO Go, however, works perfectly.

Apple TV and music

The Apple TV has a Beats channel, and an iTunes Radio channel, for music listening through your A/V stereo system.

iTunes_MatchYou can also stream your iTunes music library through the Apple TV. You need only connect your Apple TV to the computer that holds your music library, and you’re good to go.

Since I use the iTunes Match service, which stores all of my music in iCloud, I can stream any song, playlist, genius list, or genre in my music library from the cloud.

I don’t have to have my home computer up and running to listen to my iTunes library, which is another good reason to be invested in Apple’s ecosystem. It pretty much just works.

Photo streaming

And then there’s Apple TV’s photo-streaming capability. When you take photos on an iPhone or iPad, or upload photos from your digital camera to iCloud, the photos become part of your PhotoStream. You can specify settings in Apple TV to stream all the photos in your PhotoStream on your TV.

ATV-photosSo, for example, if you pause a movie on Apple TV to go make a sandwich, in a minute or two, the Apple TV will access PhotoStream and start a slide show of your online photos. It’s a wonderful memory jogger, and a great conversation starter if you happen to be entertaining guests.

In addition, you can go into Apple TV settings and start slide shows manually, as well. There are numerous options for how photos will appear during a slide show—for example, in floating picture frames, or dissolving between one another, or in a variety of collages.

Since the PhotoStream feature currently is limited to the last 1000 uploaded photos, you usually see the latest photos that you captured as part of the slideshow.

What’s next for Apple TV?

As mentioned, the Apple TV hardware has not been updated in years, and Apple recently lowered the price to $69. Naturally, rumors are surfacing that a hardware update is in store and will be shown at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference in June.ATV_question

Along with the new hardware, Apple is rumored to be introducing the ability for developers to release games and other applications on the Apple TV, similar to the App Store that is available for Apple’s mobile devices and computers.

The juiciest rumor is that Apple will finally be delivering some sort of streaming television service, perhaps offering a bundle of network, sports, and other popular channels for a monthly fee.

For my money, a service that offers anything less than an a la carte selection of channels would be a disappointment.

Let’s say that Apple signs up all the major networks—ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, and BBC—and sports channels like ESPN, Golf Channel, etc. If I can pick and pay for just those channels that I want, then we’re getting somewhere.

Ultimately, though, that’s not the holy grail. The holy grail for me would be to have a Netflix-like streaming service that has every available movie, TV show, and sporting event as a selectable option.

And that includes the full back catalog of those entertainment options. What if I wanted to spend an afternoon watching the four Super Bowls that my New England Patriots won over the years. It should be just a quick browse away.

I know. I’m asking too much.

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