While rumors of the new iPhones has dominated Apple news lately, the folks at Cupertino have quietly been expanding the abilities of their so-called hobby, the Apple TV. I’ve been using one as my primary means of content in my entertainment center; it’s done a masterful job replacing the Mac Mini media center I had been using before. While the Mac Mini running Plex was far more powerful and flexible, sometimes you can add by subtraction- the simplicity of the Apple TV’s interface has made for a better overall experience, and thanks to Airplay not only is it capable of everything the Mini was it’s actually able to do a bit more.
That being said, there are times that streaming content from an external source and then pushing it to the Apple TV via Airplay just wasn’t an optimal solution. There can be latency and bandwidth issues when tasking your router to do double duty (third party to your device, then receiving the content from your device and pushing it to the Apple TV).
The easy answer was to add more native apps to the Apple TV, taking the extra device out of the loop. The first wave of new apps included HBO Go, ESPN, Sky News, Crunchyroll, and Qello. AFter news surfaced of negotiations with various content providers came out, they expanded the Apple TV’s lineup even further with the Weather Channel, Disney and Disney XD, the Smithsonian channel, and Vevo. The new apps provide a welcome addition to the Apple TV’s already sound abilities, providing access to sports, music and music videos, weather, animation, edutainment, and HBO’s library of movies and original content. Sadly, there’s one caveat- some of the apps (namely HBO Go and ESPN) require you already subscribe to access via one of a list of participating TV providers. Fortunately for me, Comcast provides access to ESPN3 (and through that some of the content via the ESPN app) to all internet subscribers.
The timing couldn’t have been better, as this weekend has marked the beginning of the college football season. While the NBA, NHL, and MLB apps are sharp, for me nothing can come close to college or pro football (actual football, not the kickball the rest of the world watches!). As a cord cutter my options were a bit limited; while I get good reception via antenna there are so many games that simply aren’t carried by my local TV stations, and some providers like ESPN will keep big matchups for themselves.
After verifying my account with Comcast, the ESPN app was up and running in seconds. There was a marquee game that I was not permitted access to (thanks to my lack of cable TV account) the games I did watch were surprisingly high quality- easily rivaling what I got via my indoor antenna. The video was smooth, with no noticeable pixellation or choppiness, and the sound was crisp. There was a slight adjustment as the app didn’t display the actual TV content, just a stadium feed; when the play by play announcer referred back to the studio for highlights from other games I was left with a view of the field (much like the old days of watching video feeds on my old analog C-band satellite dish).
I still long for the announcement that Apple has secured a deal with content providers to allow full access to broadcast stations via IP (and the holy grail of TV, a la carte choose-just-the-channels-you-want subscriptions), but the current expansion of the Apple TV’s capabilities is more than welcome. It’s a tease showing just how much the diminutive box is capable of; anyone that’s streamed 1080 content from Apple should be impressed with the power of Apple’s ‘hobby’. I haven’t even had much of a chance yet to explore the other offerings they’ve included; Crunchroll is a promising subscription-based channel for getting my anime fix, the Smithsonian channel at first glance seems like what Discovery and The Learning Channel should have been, and Vevo is what MTV was at one point- nothing but music videos. Apple is even getting into the game directly via the upcoming iTunes Radio app and the iTunes Music Festival app that will allow the world to share in the spectacle of big names performing at the concert. It’s a good time to be a tech aficionado.
- Apple TV has more content, now it has to get good (macdailynews.com)
- Apple TV vs. Roku: Which streaming box should you buy? (reviews.cnet.com)
- The Apple TV App Store Can’t Be Too Far Away (splatf.com)