Return to the the tech island in the stream


— 4:40 PM on March 16, 2012

Today is, by international decree of some mildly corrupt UN commission, iPad Day. Not iPad 3 day, mind you, as Apple has decided to stop numbering their iPad releases. To me, this makes sense. I'm not using a MacBook Air 4 or Mac Pro 22. I suspect the next iPhone may eschew numbering, as well. But I also suspect my neighbors of pilfering my wireless to sell Xango juice, but maybe that's because their last name is Willoughby.

As much as I'd love to be verbally slobbering about my new 64 GB iPad Not 3 with its suave Retina display and LTE connectivity, I cannot. Because I don't have one. I apparently sacrificed the wrong child to the MegaMillions gods last week and am, therefore, a bit tight on the tech budget. However, I did manage to snag a new Apple TV to replace my first generation Apple TV/George Foreman Grill combo. If you've ever owned a first gen ATV, you know that's not a joke. Since I can still sell my old ATV (upgraded to 250 GB) for more than the cost of the new one, the budget need not be busted in this case.

You may be wondering if I was stupid enough to venture forth to an Apple Store this morning to fight the pasty iPad mobs. While I have been known to do many stupid things in the name of technology (see my never-ending series on my Hackintosh adventures), today I did something smart. I went to Best Buy. Not only did I go to Best Buy, I ordered my tiny, shiny new Apple TV online for in-store pickup. And, joy of minor joys, Best Buy lets you pay with PayPal when you order online. Which is nice when you still have a chunk of devalued dollars in your PayPal account. It's almost like buying things for free if you're high or just have a head injury. While the Best Buy I opted for did have a line of folks purchasing iPads, I only had to wait behind one person to snag my ATV. Strangely enough, the nice lady (who was young enough to be my "accident" sister) not only knew what the ATV was, but also said she was going to buy one, too, to replace her first gen ATV. We had a moment. Then she told me to stop acting like a creepy Android user and move along. So I cut the head off her Barbie doll because that's what brothers do.

The hardest part of installing the new Apple TV was physically getting around all the barriers I have installed to protect our entertainment system from The Nuts. Being very lanky, yet not very limber, did not make for the day's moment of gracefulness. But at least I didn't sprain anything or slice open my index finger on a hard drive bracket. Once installed and booted, I was greeted by the redesigned ATV interface. It's fine. It works. It's a bit busier graphically than the old interface, but it doesn't anger me. Of course, the entire thing is still best operated with the Remote iOS app instead of the dinky IR remote Apple includes. Unless you enjoy feeling like you just nailed the high score on Galaga and have to enter your initials. And you have 23 middle names.

I bought the new Apple TV for a couple of reasons. First, it finally does 1080p. Now, the 720p my old ATV output looked just dandy. But it meant I had to have an additional file just for the ATV. I don't like having additional files. So, I re-output all my family videos to uncompressed QuickTime movies and converted them with Handbrake. Most of my 1080p files are actually smaller than the iTunes-converted 720p versions. Nice. Oh, and they look awesome. Second, the aforementioned heat of the original ATV was just, frankly, annoying. I couldn't house the thing with my other components because it ran so hot. Nor could I turn it off. Sure, there was a "standby" command on the interface that seemed to do little more than cut the video signal. The lack of a fan may have kept the unit quiet, but feeling like the trench-coated Nazi from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" every time I moved the thing was not a joyful moment. The new ATV has the same form factor as the second gen. It's dinky. So dinky, I may just stick it to the back of my TV and call it a day. Or Bob. I dunno, I'll call it something.

One really nice benefit of the new ATV was altogether unexpected—the Netflix integration. For the past couple of years, the only component we had that would stream Netflix was our Series III TiVo. It worked, but getting a truly HD-looking picture was just never in the cards. I always assumed it was our connection or the speed between our router and the TiVo. Turns out, it must've been the TiVo hardware itself that was the bottleneck. The Netflix streaming through the ATV looks an order of magnitude better. If only it could make Dora the Scream Explorer's voice less irritable. Or British. The interface, too, is much improved versus the TiVo. Faster scrolling, more iconography (in a good way), actual suggestions and ways to add things to your queue.

The downside of the Apple TV, of course, is that it can only stream. Which means my computer must not only be on, but also running iTunes. This isn't a huge issue for me since I rarely turn off my computer, but still—streaming is never as responsive as physical media.

There, I dinged it a little. Happy?

I wish I could have tried out video mirroring from my iPhone, but, as we all know, I still have a 3GS, and a 4S (or iPad 2/Not 3) is required for such fun. But one day, in the not so distant future, I shall play Infinity Blade III on my HDTV and laugh and laugh and laugh. Hopefully loud enough to drown out the cries of my frightened offspring. Cowards.

Later,

Fox

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