The second generation Apple TV looks no different than the first. Same austere black box that can fit in your hand with a few minimal cable attachments on the back: Ethernet port, optical port, and HDMI to attach to your television. Although the box itself is no different, it did get a bit of an upgrade on the inside.
The biggest difference is that you can now watch video at 1080p, instead of the old 720p you were used to before. The iTunes store seamlessly moved through this transition, however, and all movies are available in 1080p. Also new is the A5 chip to help the 1080p do its job, along with Apple’s fresh home screen, which I thought to be a minor improvement from the old one. Both were intuitive to use, but this one feels more organized.
Setup is easy and fast. Apple added VoiceOver to the new Apple TV, so when you first get on a voice will ask if you would like to enable the VoiceOver feature. Then you have a quick WiFi network selection and language choice. This can be a pain in the butt when using the controller Apple gives you, since there are no numbers to speak of, just a couple of buttons and a black wheel at the top used for volume and channel changing You will have to move through the numbers and letters on the screen using the scrolls.
If you were hoping for some compatibility from the outside world, you will be disappointed. Apple is as content as ever to keep you within the apple-core, and you won’t be getting any use out of Hulu Plus or HBO Go with Apple TV. You will need something like Roku’s competing little black box to help you with that. Otherwise you are limited to the iTunes store, as well as a few other options Apple gave us access to via WiFi, such as NetFlix, MLB TV, and YouTube.
This isn’t as big of a deal as it sounds when you consider that with AirPlay, you can just stream it from your iPod Touch or iPad or MacBook directly to the screen. Now, if you don’t have said products, your options might be limited. It’s important to remember that Apple TV is not a replacement for cable. You can play almost anything on it, but only if you have one of the Apple products listed above and an internet connection.
If you are an Apple veteran, and you have hundreds of movies stored on your iCloud bought from iTunes just waiting to be streamed down to your Apple TV, you’re going to be having a lot of fun right off the bat. If you are new to Apple however, chances are you will want to hit up the iTunes store and take a peek at what’s available. Purchasing movies is very easy, and renting them is too. Often however you will come across a different file type which you did not purchase on iTunes that you want to play but can’t.
Apple isn’t very sympathetic in this regard, and even with AirPlay, you will need a third party app to bring it onto your AppleTV. If that third party app isn’t available however, you are out of luck, at least until the new Mountain Lion OS arrives, which possibly, possibly, will allow streaming from these sources.
Apple TV version 2 brings something new to the table, and for only 99 USD it’s a real bargain. I expect that with the new Mountain Lion OS coming out this summer, its going to get even better. One thing to remember however: without AirPlay and the compatible Apple devices that go with it, there is no reason not to get the Roku Box or something similar.