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Confession: I hate my Apple TV

Aron Trimble

I can be silent no longer. I have tried for nearly a year to love my Apple TV; yet every time I try to do anything beyond playing music with it, I begin to unconsciously claw my eyes out. I think that Apple TV is the worst product I have purchased that has come out of Cupertino -- and in many ways, one of the worst products I have purchased at all. Read on for the sordid details of my hate-hate relationship with my Apple TV.

Setting up the Apple TV was a pain because I had to use that tiny little remote to input a 16 character wireless password that includes mixed-case and special characters. But surely it couldn't have all been that bad, right? Once you get the thing connected you shouldn't have any problems at all, right? Wrong. The Apple TV is essentially a computer, so just like your other computers you can expect it to drop inexplicably off the network from time to time. This results in another maddening trip to the configuration panel.

That minor inconvenience aside, I always had trouble getting my content synced between my Apple TV and my MacBook Pro. It was always a battle to get some movie to show up on the Apple TV or get some album taken off of it. In the end, I just don't try. If the content isn't where I need it, I figure out some other way to play it back in my living room.

Then there's the whole matter of playing video content. Abysmal. It's true, there is no pleasant way to enjoy video using the Apple TV. If you manage to wrangle your content onto the Apple TV (good luck) from an iTunes library you can play the videos back. But for a device that only has HD connections (HDMI and component) the quality is really awful. The standard definition (SD) content looks so pitiful; it is blocky and not colorful. I wish I could say the high definition HD content makes this product worthwhile but it really doesn't. The colors and contrast are more lively, but the bitrate of the video is such that it looks worse than 480p content from Comcast. Seriously.

At one point I would have killed for an HD-capable device from Apple that could rent/play digital movies in glorious high definition. Now, however, I simply want to kill my Apple TV. Whenever I have tried to rent an HD movie or purchase an HD TV show, the content acquisition literally takes hours. Using BitTorrent I can grab a higher quality video file and have it playing on my screen before I see the first frame on my Apple TV.

Even when I purchase the content on my Mac using iTunes, the download completes long before it ever does on my Apple TV. Don't even think about streaming HD content over an 802.11g network, though. All of your bandwidth will be sucked dry and other household members are left twiddling their thumbs while trying to download email.

So you might be saying to yourself, why not just Patchstick the Apple TV and use XBMC or Boxee to play content? Well, I tried that, and it too is abysmal. You see, XBMC and Boxee do not have the ability to use the hardware video encoder for playback of the more common HD files that exist. For this reason, playback of HD TV shows with XBMC is a bag of hurt that I always regret trying to open.

And then there's Hulu. A great service, for sure. I have no problems watching commercials during on-demand content. But I do have problems with crummy video quality and lossy stereo audio. It's 2009 and with all of this technology at our fingertips we're still watching 1990s quality footage with commercials to boot! Many people love Hulu, I am just not one of them.

I think the only experience that comes off as "Apple-esque" with the Apple TV is the fact that it severely limits the types of files that can be sent to the unit. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Apple TV's hardware decoder is a little beefier than my Mac mini's Intel-based video card. And yet, because Apple locks the device down (as if anyone is surprised) the true power and potential of the Apple TV is completely lost.

Well I've had enough. I'm tired of fighting my Apple TV. The only thing it is used for now is to stream audio to my receiver when I have company. I have an Airport Express that can do that and I worry a lot less about it dropping off my network. I also don't have to turn my TV on to diagnose any problems as I can manage it from my Mac.

I imagine this will come as a surprise to many, but this TUAW blogger hates an Apple product. A product that could be great, could be so much better than what it is. For some unknown reason, this "hobby" is left to wither and die a slow, painful death. The real tragedy is that when Apple TV does die, I suspect Steve Jobs will never venture to create another, similar product even though the Apple TV has so much potential.

Goodbye, Apple TV: your promises were enchanting but your lies were enraging.


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