A funny thing happened on the way to the hobby store.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
Will the real Apple TV please stand up?
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard
Apple's legions of fans have been waiting for the mythical "Apple television" for a couple of years. No one outside the company knows what such a TV will be, or even if it will materialize at all. But people who know people -- you know what I mean -- insist that Apple is coming out with a TV set that will revolutionize everything we do with television.
I can hardly wait.
But that's not what I'm telling you about this week when I talk about Apple TV.
It turns out that Apple already has a product that's revolutionizing the way some of us watch TV. Movies, too. Even home videos.
Oddly enough, the product is called Apple TV. It's designed to show streaming videos on your TV set and costs only $100. Apple sells it at Apple Stores and from its website at www.apple.com.
Steve Jobs announced Apple TV in 2006, and the first model went on sale the next year. It bombed so badly that Steve switched on his famous Reality Distortion Field and told the world Apple TV was just a "hobbyist" product. If you sell stuff to oddballs with half-finished ham radios, that's not really selling stuff, Steve must have figured; it's just servicing the hobby market. Apple's sacred honor was safe.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the hobby store. Apple TV started to catch on. The catalyst was inexpensive broadband Internet. As soon as millions of Americans had a fast and relatively cheap way way to do things online, they caught on to the idea of streaming video. And if Apple TV had a middle name, it would be those two words.
TV pictures normally reach your set through a video signal sent over the air and often channeled your way through a cable. That's old fashioned. The new way to watch TV and movies is to put the video (and the accompanying audio, of course) into a file and let your computer show it.
I'm not telling you anything new. YouTube has been doing this for years. The video is not simply sent willy-nilly; it's streamed -- fed out at a constant rate to your computer, smartphone or iPad. As long as your connection is good, you can watch video after video.
You can even watch feature films and your favorite TV shows this way. But -- ugh! Watching "The Avengers" or "Lawrence of Arabia" on a small screen 11 inches from my face is not my idea of fun. If you're watching a movie, watch it on that big screen in your living room! If you're going to watch a TV show, enjoy it on your TV! That's how I feel, and a lot of others feel the same way.
That's what Apple TV is all about. It's a tiny black box that connects to your HDTV. The TV has to have an HDMI port, as nearly all HD sets do. It also connects to your home network, wired or wireless, and gets its streams three ways -- off the Internet, from a Mac or Windows PC running iTunes on your home network or from an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.
As a cool bonus, those three "iDevices" can stream videos, photos and music directly to an Apple TV-equipped set. This is great for demos at the office and for checking out the photos you just took with the HD cameras on the latest iPad and iPhone.
If you use iTunes on your Windows PC or Mac, all the home videos you've saved to your computer and all the DVDs and BR disks you've ripped can be streamed to your Apple TV and viewed on the big screen. And you can use Apple TV without having any computer hooked up, if you'd like; on its own, an Apple TV can stream movies from Apple's own iTunes Store or from Netflix, and it can show anything from YouTube, Hulu and Vimeo. It can also deliver live and recorded sports from MLB and other sources. One source I liked immediately was the Wall St. Journal, which shows free video news and features, both live and recorded, all day long.
Apple TV needs a fast Internet connection to stream movies and videos off the Internet, but a standard 802.11N wireless network is more than fast enough to show local content from computers and devices in your home or office. Any wired network -- are there any left? -- is fine also. Your TV will still be able to show all your broadcast and cable shows, too.