What Exactly Does Apple TV Do? And Other Buyer Questions

Today after watching the Apple Fall Event I received a call from a friend asking me, “What exactly is Apple TV for?” I replied, “Are you serious?” After realizing that he was kind of confused as to what the purpose of Apple TV was, even as he watched Steve Job’s presentation on the device. I thought to myself that perhaps others don’t know exactly what Apple TV is about. So I decided to write this post in anticipation of questions from potential Apple TV customers to answer that one question, “What is Apple TV for and what can it do?”

What is Apple TV? Apple TV is a standalone media device that connects to your TV or entertainment system via an HDMI cable /optical audio cable. Once it’s plugged in, it’s all about streaming content from iTunes, devices at home, and the web.

Can you store movies, music or pictures on Apple TV? Based on the product page and the demo Job’s hosted, it looks like the Apple TV device only streams from other devices it doesn’t actually host the content. So no storage on the device.

Will I have to buy cables in order to use it? Yes. The box contains the Apple TV device, Apple Remote, printed documentation, and power cord. No mention of HDMI cable or optical cable so it looks like you’re going to have to pony up another $20-$30 for an HDMI cable.

Can I plug-in the Apple TV to a standard TV (non-HD)? Apple TV’s requirements page states that the Apple TV must be used with a High-definition TV with HDMI and capable of at least 720p resolution.

I don’t want to necessarily pay for iTunes content, what are my options? Apple TV will support streaming from Netflix (which requires a Netflix account), YouTube (including HD), and pictures from Flickr. Other services may be added in the future.

Do I need to have a wireless network to use Apple TV? It depends. Can you run an Ethernet cable from your router to your TV? If so then you don’t need the wireless connection, but if you’re looking to reduce the number of cables and keep your house free from a 30-feet blue cable running across the hallway you may want to stick to wireless.

Why would I want to buy an Apple TV instead of another streaming device like the Roku player? It is all about preference, although the Roku player is at a lower price point $69 and is a bit more open than Apple TV, users may be drawn to Apple TV because of their affinity to Apple products and because streaming from other Apple products to Apple TV is so easy.

Can I stream content from UPnP devices to Apple TV? There is no confirmation on this, but based on the Tech Specs page you need to have a Mac or PC running iTunes 10 in order for streaming to work so it looks like a no for now.

What formats are supported by Apple TV?

Video formats supported:

  • H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats.
  • MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats.
  • Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format

Audio formats supported:

  • HE-AAC (V1)
  • AAC (16 to 320 Kbps)
  • Protected AAC (from iTunes Store)
  • MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps)
  • MP3 VBR
  • Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4)
  • Apple Lossless
  • AIFF
  • WAV; Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through

Photo formats supported:

  • JPEG
  • GIF
  • TIFF