Apple TV

This was something of a speculative move for me. About a year ago I built a media PC for the living room... well bought actually. A low form factor end of line machine at a vastly reduced price from the local PC World store. It's been a really good little box. It has a web browser, media players including iTunes with HomeShare and Steam installed. So the TV doubles up as an occasional browsing, gaming and giggling with friends at youtube videos kind of deal. It's a windows box too, though I had originally considered one of the media-centric linux distributions.

I'd looked at the old Apple tv offering when considering building this media machine. I really only considered it because I like Apple kit, but quickly dismissed it. It provided nothing that a machine with an install of iTunes wouldn't do and then some. It wasn't worth the expense and indeed would have proven to be significantly more expensive than the machine I ended up buying. Another consideration was a Mac Mini, which a friend had recently purchased for a similar use, but the pricetag was even higher, and a little bit out of reach for something that would only see occasional use.

So the media machine has been good to us, we can watch any movie we care to acquire at 1080p and stream music. It's even been our battle-map for DnD 4e. Awesome.

One of the things that's been bugging me for a little while is a similar, very old shuttle-format machine that lives in the kitchen for the express purpose of streaming iTunes when someone is cooking, or there's a meal going on or whatever. It's not a great environment for a computer, and given that surfaces are at a premium it occupies a space where it is not safe from the grease and yuck that a kitchen tends to generate. It also is a pain in the ass to use, with arduous booting times, the need for a mouse and so on and so forth. This machine has been overdue a trip to the scrap heap.

So then Mr. Jobs unveils the new Apple tv. Big whoop, it's a nice idea or so I thought dismissively as I watched him talk. But then comes AirPlay. AirPlay is AirTunes, but renamed in accordance with it's expansion to other media types (video primarily). This changes the game for me. With the greatest of ease I can now set up a system whereby my own and my man's libraries are HomeShared, meaning that any of our computers can access the entireties of each of our iTunes libraries. The Apple tv is HomeShare compatible. More importantly, AirPlay allows the wifi streaming of those libraries from one of the machines to a speaker dock anywhere in the house. Suddenly there's no need for the PC in the kitchen at all. I can just replace it with some speakers (and remove the radio too, given that iTunes has access to internet radio and podcasts). Even better is the fact that I don't need to be at the PC to navigate the library, my iPhone and his iPod can be used as remote controls from anywhere in our home.

More importantly is that come November's iOS update, the iPod, iPhone and iPad can essentially hijack those AirPlay speakers, or even the Apple TV so that instead of playing through the headphones or internal speakers I can hear what I'm playing through the TV speakers or the dock in the Kitchen. This was suddenly a compelling reason to pay attention.

So why is this speculative? There's a bit of a battle starting over delivering internet content to the home TV. Google TV is imminent and will even have app support, and with Apple tv running iOS it seems inconcievable that there will not be an app store platform available sooner or later. Good Stuff, potentially.

Either way, at the cost and for the benefits of being able to stream my music/videos around so conveniently I decided to go for it and see what happens. Once November's iOS update hit's I'll revisit this briefly. So far streaming performance has been excellent, including youtube and my flickr and MobileMe galleries. I don't think I'll ever make any significant use of the rental feature partly because it's overpriced and partly because I can add anything I want to watch to the library on my PC.