New AppleTV – Glass half full

Ok so our new AppleTV arrived on Friday. First impression: the box is tiny!

The cover slides out to reveal the device sitting on top. As advertised the AppleTV is hockey puck sized. No surprises.

Beneath the device lies the remote sitting in a cardboard insert. The remote is made of aluminum, and is simple in its interface (jog dial, menu button, play/pause button). The remote is very slender, and although intuitive, tends to flex a little under normal use.

Removing the remote reveals the power cable and Setup Guide. The guide is really a 33 page, 4 chapter (Connect, Configure, Watch, Problem? No problem.) little plamphlet.

As far as packaging go, the AppleTV is delivered with minimum waste of materials and space, and reveals itself layer by layer.

First impressions

Within seconds after I snapped my last picture of the AppleTV, I found myself pillaging my HDMI cable from our cable box in order to test out the interface and speed. The menu showed up crisp and clear on our 47” Samsung LCD. Next step was to setup the WiFi, no small feat when you have to use the Apple Remote and have a 64 bit HEX WPA passphrase. After 2 tries the AppleTV was sitting on our network. Setting up our iTunes library to use AirPlay was a snap. I simply had to enable Home Sharing, and bingo. Actually, Home Sharing was already on, and needed to be stop and restarted, but essentially the handshake was made and the AppleTV can easily browse and stream our iTunes library.

Caveat Lector: If you use MAC address filtering, it should be set up first, as the next step after entering the WPA passphrase is to try to join the LAN. Going back to the settings menu to reveal the MAC address effectively erases the passphrase.

So what about our old TV?

One would assume that the upstairs TV worked, so then its obvious that our downstairs TV (Toshiba 51HX83) should also work. Stealing the PS3’s HDMI to DVI cable, I proceeded to attempt to use AppleTV on a presumably non-HDCP 8 year old rear projection Toshiba HD TV. The end result? A wavy menu appeared, reminiscent of the horrible video people used to get when using cable descramblers (from what I hear). End result, AppleTV is not usable with our older TV, so we decided to keep our cable tv provider for that one.

So a quick trip to the local Apple Store should sort this out.

Genius: “Sir, its the fact that you are using an HDMI to DVI cable, the conversion is the issue.”

Me: “What conversion, its a 1:1 pin match, minus the audio channel, same video data, no conversion. In fact people are having the same problem on HDMI to HDMI cables with older TVs. (Checkmate)”

Genius: “Thats funny, that’s not what they said out back. Let’s look it up.”, which resulted in a Support.apple.com search.

Genius: “It’s the HDCP. What does that stand for? Anyways, that’s the problem. Sorry, its a shame.”

So I truck on back home, load up some episodes of Mad Men that I bought from the iTunes Store. These are both entertaining and DRMed. Lo and behold, the episodes played, albeit wavily. So HDCP is now off the hook.

So if its not the cables causing conversion and not HDCP, then what?

Could the AppleTV be using higher bandwidth HDMI, which older TVs can’t handle? Maybe?

Did the older TVs implement resolutions with more poetic license than more recent TVs? Maybe.

Is the AppleTV simply doing something wrong? Maybe

Our Toshiba TV supports 480p, 540p, and 1080i. I’m still puzzled to this day as to why 540p and 1080i, as the 2 are ostensibly the same. Could it be that 720p gap is the problem? Maybe, but other TVs that support 720p are also not working, so this is probably not the issue.

Let’s hope that Apple release a software update that will address this issue.

All in all, the device is quite capable, and will allow us (at least on one TV) to do the two things we bought it for: streaming from our iTunes library and renting/streaming of online content. I am disappointed in the wavy menu on the older TV, and am hoping that Apple will push out a fix for this (buried in the subtext is the word SOON).