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Apple TV (2012)

  • Review Date: 03/21/2012
  • Bottom line:

    The new Apple TV is just a 1080p version of the old Apple TV with updated firmware, but it's still one of the best ways to watch your videos on your HDTV.

  • Pros:

    Supports 1080p output. Clean, attractive, easy-to-use interface. Excellent iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch integration.

  • Cons:

    Streaming media services are limited. No Hulu Plus.

Editor Rating: 4.00

By Will Greenwald

Two years later, and our Editors' Choice set-top box Apple TV ($99, 4 stars) is back, and it's new and improved. Those improvements are very, very slight, but they still count. The 2012 model is pretty much identical to the old one in size, shape, features, and its $99 (list) price tag. For a full rundown of every nook, cranny, and function of the Apple TV, our review of the last iteration of product still applies here. An overhauled iOS-like interface gives the Apple TV a fresh menu system, but that's available to last-gen Apple TV owners through a software update. Still, the new model supports 1080p video and keeps its under-$100 price, so it retains its Editors' Choice crown.

Design
Physically identical to the last version, the new Apple TV is a tiny black, square puck measuring 0.9 by 3.9 by 3.9 inches (HWD) and weighing 9.6 ounces. The front panel shows a single white light indicating that the box is on, the top has a matte black finish with an Apple logo on it, and around back are connectors for the power cable, HDMI, microUSB, optical audio, and Ethernet. Even the remote is identical, a slight, simple silver wand with a navigation pad and play/pause and menu buttons. If you put the new Apple TV next to the previous one, you can't tell them apart.

The Apple TV uses the new iOS 5.1-based interface right out of the box. You can install the same interface on the old Apple TV, however, and get the same features and menus. Prior to receiving our review unit, we loaded the new Apple TV OS on our old Apple TV, and you can read our hands-on story for a closer look.

Getting Online
Setting up the new Apple TV was fast and easy. I just had to enter my language and Wi-Fi information, and I was into the main menu. Features like movies, TV, and music (and all other direct Apple services) require signing into the iTunes Store, but once that was set it was clear browsing. It's certainly an easier process than setting up a Roku box; I didn't have to activate anything through the Web. The new Apple TV interface even let me log into Netflix without hitting the Web. Simplicity is key here.

Video services include access to your iTunes libraries, Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, and MLB.tv. It's a good selection, but Hulu Plus would really add to the device's functionality. Considering Apple sells most recent episodes over iTunes, though, the absence of Hulu makes sense.

Music encompasses both the massive iTunes library, including your own music ripped from CDs if you want to spend $24.99 per year on iTunes Match, and a full selection of podcasts and Internet radio stations. But you need to subscribe to iTunes Match if you want to listen to any of your purchased music on iTunes without a networked computer or an iOS device, even if your music library is purchased completely through iTunes.

Connect Your iPad
iPad and iPhone integration is seamless, with videos and music streamed wirelessly through AirPlay to the Apple TV with just two taps of the screen. You can also use your iOS device as an Apple TV remote, which makes entering text when logging into accounts or searching for movies and music much easier thanks to the touch screen keyboard.

The only real difference between the new Apple TV and the old model is that the new one supports 1080p video and can output at that resolution. While you won't notice much of a difference if you have a smaller TV, if your HDTV can support 1080p and is larger than 40 inches, video will be crisper than its lower-resolution equivalent. This, however, depends on the quality of the content and your bandwidth. I watched a preview of "The Simpsons: Tapped Out" in 1080p and it looked clear and smooth. After that, I loaded a "Being Human" featurette during a dip in network performance and the video looked slightly blocky thanks to the compression. The 1080p support is great when your media can reach that level, but that won't always be certain.

If you already have an Apple TV from 2010 or you don't have a large 1080p HDTV, you don't need the new box. If you're new to the game, and want to stream all of your iTunes media and Netflix, the new Apple TV is a top choice. If you have an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, the benefits are even more apparent thanks to AirPlay support and the ability to use those devices as a remote. It still doesn't have a particularly large selection of non-Apple services, but a good-looking, dead-simple-to-use interface helps the Apple TV keep its Editors' Choice rating. If you don't want an Apple product and prefer more streaming media services over the iTunes library, consider the Roku 2 XS ($99, 3 stars) or the inexpensive Roku LT ($49, 4 stars). The Roku 2 XS offers 1080p output, and the Roku LT offers 720p video at half the price of the Apple TV.

More Media Hub and Receiver reviews:
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This review is in partnership with Ziff Davis Media.

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