Apple TV is tiny, just about eight inches square and an inch high, far smaller than a typical DVD player or cable or satellite box, even though it packs in a 40-gigabyte hard disk, an Intel processor and a modified version of the Mac operating system. And it has a carefully limited set of functions.Yet, in our tests, it worked great, and we can easily recommend it for people who are yearning for a simple way to show on their big TVs all that stuff trapped on their computers. We tried it with various combinations of Windows and Mac computers, with movies, photos, TV shows, video clips and music. And we didn't even use the fastest wireless network it can handle. It performed flawlessly. However, it won't work with older TVs unless they can display widescreen-formatted content and accept some newer types of cables.
Like the iPod before it, Apple TV isn't the first gadget in its category. Several other companies have made set-top boxes or even TV sets and game consoles that could link the TV to the digital content that people have on their computers. But none has found a mass audience for this functionality, mainly because they tend to be hard to set up and confusing to use. Apple is hoping that, just as the iPod trumped earlier, but geekier, rivals, Apple TV can do the same by making a complex task really simple.
Part of the secret of Apple TV is that, like most of Apple's products, it doesn't try to do everything and thus become a mess of complexity. It can't receive or record cable or satellite TV, so it isn't meant as a replacement for your cable or satellite box, or for a digital video recorder like a TiVo. It can't play DVDs, so it doesn't replace your DVD player. Its sole function is to bring to the TV digital content stored on your computer or drawn from the Internet. Like a DVD player, it uses its own separate input on your TV set, and you have to change inputs using your TV remote to use it.
There are some drawbacks to Apple TV. It won't work with most older TV sets, the square kind that aren't capable of handling widescreen programming. And it works only with TVs that have the newer types of connectors, such as "component" jacks, and the new HDMI cables being used on most high-definition TVs. It works best with high-definition TVs, and it puts out video in high-definition resolutions. But it will also work with "enhanced definition" widescreen sets.
Also, the tiny, simple Apple remote control can't control the volume on either Apple TV or your TV set or audio receiver, so you have to keep reaching for the TV or audio receiver remote. And you can't plug in an extra hard disk to add storage capacity, even though there's a USB port on the back and the built-in 40-gigabyte drive is too small to hold many TV shows or movies.
But, all in all, Apple TV is a very well-designed product that easily brings the computer and the TV together.