Why Apple TV Is the Top Choice for Network Media Player

What's So Good About Apple TV?

Sure, Apple TV is part of the closed iTunes system and doesn’t play with other computer media players like Windows Media Center. And, some complain that it will only play on a high definition, widescreen TV.

But, if you are a Mac user with an HDTV, an Apple TV is probably still your network media player choice.  For a PC user with an iPhone who relies on iTunes to manage your media, you may appreciate the ease of use and elegantly simple onscreen menus.

Here’s why:

1.  All the files in your iTunes library will play. 

While network media player manufacturers are starting to include iTunes AAC files in the list of compatible files they can play, they typically won’t be organized in the same way as iTunes.   Even among those players that can play iTunes file formats, they rarely see your playlists.

iPhoto also seamlessly syncs with the Apple TV so your newest pictures are always available to watch on your TV.  Here too, some other brands have a hard time finding or organizing your photos as you have them in your iPhoto library.  For PC users, iTunes will find your photos automatically if you store them in your “My Pictures” file.

Apple TV even plays your protected files. Other network media players cannot play the copyright-protected files in your library.  Protected files include music and movies purchased from iTunes, as well as digital versions of movies that come with your DVD or Blu-ray Disc that you load onto your computer.

You can copy the music or movie file from your iTunes library to a device, but the copyright protection ensures that the other device cannot play the protected files.  Likewise, protected files cannot be streamed to unauthorized devices.

Apple products let you authorize a number of different devices to play your protected music and movies.

  This includes your Apple TV.  You are never locked out of the music or movies you own.

2.  The high definition picture quality is stunning.

The movie and music reproduction is dead on.  Photos and movies are clear; colors are vibrant.  There is no added interference to music.  It is as good as the original music file.

3. The first generation Apple TV automatically syncs with your computer when you add new files.   You don’t need to have your computer turned on to access your media.

While the second generation Apple TV offers access to online media like Netflix and Pandora, the first generation had a hard drive where you could save all of your media files.

When you open iTunes, the first generation Apple TV finds your media, automatically wirelessly synchronizes the library, and then saves it to its own hard drive.  Music, movies, and iPhotos that you’ve recently added to your computer are found and added to your Apple TV library.  That’s a lot easier than doing it manually.

Because your media is now saved to a hard drive, your computer doesn’t need to be powered on, nor do you have to leave iTunes application open.  The hard drive solution also eliminates home network connectivity issues that can slow down streaming media.

The second generation Apple TV has no hard drive and can only stream photos, music, and movies from your home network iTunes libraries and online media sites.

4. The Apple TV is easy to set up and connect to your computers and other Apple devices.

It is common to need to troubleshoot connections when setting up a network media player.  Some computers or network attached storage or media servers may not be listed as a connected source.  You may have to make adjustments because you are connecting devices and computers from different manufacturers that may be using different software.

Apple excels in creating devices that are tested to work together.

  You can be assured that your iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Mac computers will be able to discover each other, connect and play with minimal effort.  Likewise, a PC running iTunes can easily share media with the Apple TV and other Apple devices.

Apple TV can stream the music directly from your iTunes.  It can also stream from the Apple TV to other Airport Express speakers or Apple TVs.  With multiple speakers or multiple Apple TVs, you can have whole home audio.

5. You can buy your music and buy or rent movies directly on the Apple TV

On the first generation Apple TV, once you get bored with the songs in your own library, or just want to add a particular album, you can buy music on a whim to play directly on your Apple TV from the iTunes store.  It will then sync to your computer’s library.  

One of the best uses for either generation of the Apple TV, is to rent movies directly from the iTunes store, and watch almost instantly. Depending on the speed of your connection, choose a movie to rent and it will begin downloading.  The movie is available to watch after a decent buffer has been loaded on your Apple TVs hard drive.

Bonus:  #6 --You gotta love that crazy waterfall photo collage screensaver.

If you choose to view your photos as a screensaver, they fall from the top of the screen.  Random photos fall in different sizes.  And then, also randomly, all the photos seem to do a do-si-do, flipping and flipping back.  It’s a nice backdrop and a change from the common plain slideshow. On the second generation Apple TV, they’ve added an origami slideshow that displays multiple photos, folding them as they transition.

What are Apple TV’s limitations?

Still, what’s bad about an Apple TV?  You can only get your home network media from your iTunes application. You can’t stream your photos, music or movies from a network attached server or from PCs that are not running iTunes. 

The first generation Apple TV can be found for under $150 for the 160 GB hard drive model. The second generation Apple TV runs $99.  It has no hard drive to sync with your computer or store media, but it does connect to Pandora and Netflix.  For those who choose to buy a first generation Apple TV, be aware that Apple has stated there will be no updates to add features like Pandora and Netflix.

If you use iTunes, an Apple TV is still one of the best media players for you. If you like more variety in file formats or number of compatible computers and devices, another network media player may be more suitable to your needs.