The Fall Apple TV Update

As you may have heard, Apple pushed out something like six dozen software updates today. And, fortunately, the second generation Apple TV ($100) was shown some love. Version 4.4, seemingly sharing iOS 5.0 DNA, includes a small but notable number of software and content enhancements. Most promising, for those who own an iPad 2 or iPhone 4s, is “AirPlay Mirroring” — essentially anything playing on your compatible iPad or iPhone is beamed to your television via Apple TV. So while some content providers have selectively blocked HDMI output, it’s my understanding that they’ll have no say in the matter as far as wireless AirPlay Mirroring is concerned. (*Apps can opt-out.) Of course, it remains to be seen how well these devices can pass decent quality video. But it could become an extremely significant feature.

In addition to its previously existing (and competent) photo capabilities, Apple TV now syncs up with one’s iCloud Photo Stream. As this is also a brand new Apple service, it probably deserves a quick overview. New photos shot with iOS devices or imported onto your computer are automagically replicated onto your other linked devices. Unfortunately, Apple won’t host and push an infinite amount of data and they currently limit access to your last 30 days of snapshots with a 1000 pic limit. On Apple TV, those photos are available for viewing – to browse or enjoy as a screensaver or slideshow. And they do show up in the stream nearly instantaneously, with zero intervention required.

On the streaming content front, bundled with the Apple TV update are NHL and Wall Street Journal Live apps. NHL is what you’d expect — the subscription-based Game Center Live (currently $160) broadcasting up to 40 games a week, with DVR transport controls, in addition to various video clips and similar to what’s found on the Roku or PS3. The WSJ Live offering is a bit of an odd duck, but suggests a broadening of Apple TV content categories and presentation. But as Apple continues to take on partners, they’ll need to come up with better methods for managing “channels” – unless they finally go the app store route.

Lastly, the Apple TV 4.4 update includes a few other small tweaks. Slideshows now have three more styles to choose amongst, improved movie trailer presentation, and Netflix received closed captioning (which probably isn’t a ‘small tweak’ for those who need it).

Despite Apple’s solid update, our buying advice remains the same. Those seeking the broadest selection of Internet streaming providers or those merely looking for Netflix Instant on the cheap should look to the $60 Roku 2 HD. Whereas folks who equally prioritize local media playback (DLNA, USB, NAS) might appreciate the new WDTV Live ($100) that also kindly includes decent core streaming apps such as Netflix and Pandora. But anyone remotely tied into Apple’s ecosystem should check out Apple TV — not only can you stream video, music, and pictures from an iPhone but you can use it as a virtual remote to overcome its minimlistic aluminum counterpart. And many seem to find enjoyment beaming iTunes from computer-to-TV.

20 thoughts on “The Fall Apple TV Update”

  1. Sweet. I thought it odd at first that you could not purchase movies on the Apple TV 2 – nice upgrade. And a sweet bonus with the added NHL feature. Thanks for the info – upgrading as I type!

  2. It’s the extra step, but a hacked ATV/2 is still a much more robust and nicer (IMO) local streamer then WD. XBMC and firecore both have a lot of nice features.

  3. Interesting as just yesterday I brought the Apple TV back out after a few months of being banished to a closet as I have found that XBoxes, PS3s and Rokus are meeting my needs. Downloading the updates now as I write this. It appears as if there may not be much in the updates for me as I have a first generation iPad and I recently gave up the iPhone in favor of an htc HD7/WP 7 (which I love!).

    While I am moderately invested in the iTunes ecosystem, love the UI, love the reliability and just the overall user experience, Apple has got to find a way to expand their content offerings. Netflix, iTunes, NBA and NHL are not going to cut it; particularly when direct competitors (e.g. Roku) and other streaming platforms are adding content – high quality content – at a torrid pace. I will give the Apple TV another brief chance – starting it out in the spare bedroom – and see if it is able to work its way back to a prime viewing area.

  4. Well, perhaps my expectations are too high. While the NHL highlights are nice, the PQ of the WSJ app looks pretty good and the trailers are a decent addition, my initial post-update impression is…yawn.

  5. “Yep, Airplay mirroring does not work with HBO Go.”

    While acceptable for iPad viewing, I’m not sure how good the HBO GO iPad streams would look on a larger TV. What they really need to do is work with HBO to create an app/channel specifically for Apple TV.

  6. “Yep, Airplay mirroring does not work with HBO Go.”

    Extremely disappointing. I was a click away from order an Apple TV.

  7. So it seems the original AirPlay video output was an opt-in sort of feature for developers, whereas the mirroring function is opt-out… and developers can selectively flag their apps to disable this functionality. A real bummer, as it should be opt-nothing. I’m also a bit less likely to pick up a 4s sooner rather than later. (There is a true mirroring jailbreak app available. Last time I tried it, it was kludgey in presentation and crushed my battery.)

    Griffon, last time we jailbroke and tried XBMC it struggled mightily passing HD video. Maybe I’ll try again once an updated Seas0nPass or similar is available to hack the aTV.

  8. Still a fan of Roku. For what that little box can do, you can not beat the price and very excited about HBO2GO on Roku this month.

  9. That’s weird HBO GO opted out of video mirroring. Aren’t they coming to Roku? If so what are they afraid of?!

    I guess it could be a matter of time until the jailbreak community ‘fixes’ this issue.

  10. By the way, Netflix does mirror but the video can be a little choppy (you would use the Netflix app on Apple TV anyway). Mind you, I don’t have the best wifi connection at that spot in my house. So, it’s probably best to use a directly connected box of some form.

  11. Does anyone know if AirPlay mirroring could one day be on other products like the WDTVlive? Or is Apple charging some fee for this option?

  12. AirPlay can be licensed – but it’s not inexpensive for companies marketing these affordable boxes. I forget the exact number, but I spoke to one company rep who indicated it would cost them a few bucks per box… more than many of their chips, so they have no plans to integrate it. Perhaps they’ll lower the fees? I wonder if audio-only is cheaper (as we’ve seen with say the iHome connected speaker system).

    And I wonder if we need to make a distinction between Airplay and Airplay Mirroring? My iPhone 4 can send video to the Apple TV but it goes by “AirPlay” and like stated above has to be added in by a developer (versus mirror, which is opt out).

  13. “And I wonder if we need to make a distinction between Airplay and Airplay Mirroring?”

    Since AirPlay just sends the original video signal, I’d assume there may well be a quality lowering in AirPlay Mirroring, since a live transcode would assumedly be involved.

  14. Well, I’ll do the upgrade just to get the AirPlay Mirroring. Its still cool to be able to throw photos and videos up from your device to the TV so easily. And AirPlay Mirroring for games could be a real “game changer” (nyuck nyuck).

    That said, while I’m disappointed to find out that Hulu Plus and HBO Go don’t work with mirroring, I’m not at all surprised. Plus with these boxes now at the $99 price point (because of Apple TV 2 remember) you can afford more than one, so I’ll just watch those on my Roku if I want them.

    Kind of a pain, I’d rather have one device that could do everything. Course ideally that would be my TiVo, but we all know how that song goes…

  15. Connectivity problems after the update.
    Could watch NetFlix etc without losing internet connection previous to update. Since updating, my internet connection is severed ONLY while connected to the Apple TV. I can watch NetFlix directly connected to a PC or Mac, but not through the Apple TV because it continually severs my internet connection forcing me to reset modem and Airport.
    Very disappointed in the upgrade since it has rendered NetFlix useless.

  16. I updated an hour ago, and it somehow took out all my airport express devices in the house. Also, on my TV connected to the Apple TV, there is a very large icon of iTunes and a USB cable icon below it showing that the two are not connected. It looks like it is asking me to connect a USB cable to the iTunes icon. My main airport is still working but everything else on the network – airport express stations and Apple TV are not showing up anywhere. I unplugged the Apple TV finally, and it rebooted to the same screen. Since there is no USB port on the Apple TV, I don’t understand what it wants, nor how to back up to 4.3 where everything worked fine. Hope they can provide a fix to this, or it’s off to the Apple Store tomorrow.

  17. I just replaced my 1st generation ATV with the latest since my wife was going to get the 4S. I discovered that through the skyfire app you can watch many vids on the ATV via the last generation iPhone 4. Check it out.

  18. Marte, can’t you watch those same vids via AirPlay via Mobile Safari on the iPhone 4? What is the Skyfire browser app bringing to the table?

Comments are closed.