Apple TV UI great if you’re not using Apple TV

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a new Apple TV. Which is not an actual TV. But you probably knew that. It is, however, the third generation of Apple’s self-proclaimed hobby—a tiny box that attaches to your magic picture box and streams (as of generations two and three) content to its LCD or plasma-based motion portal. As I wrote in my last MacHole, the newest ATV is fairly slick, with 1080p output (finally), iCloud semi-integration, and a lack of bacon-frying operating temperatures. Okay, that last one may or may not be a plus, depending on what bacon-frying appliances you may own.

I dug the new ATV so much that I promptly sold my jailbroken first-gen Apple TV—upgraded with a 250GB drive—on eBay for a bit more than what the new one cost me. If you don’t count the 95% cut that eBay/PayPal take. Or shipping. Yay, me. Regardless, not too bad for a bit of kit I’d gotten three years prior as a gift.

Alas, all is not perfectly well with the new Apple TV. Previously, I said about the new, more iOS-like interface, "It’s a bit busier graphically than the old interface, but it doesn’t anger me." I stand corrected, bathed David "Bruce" Banner-like in gamma rays left over from my last CRT and saved in a special mason jar. Please, keep your scientific mumbo-jumbo to yourself, Bixby. My ignorance is bliss, and my rage Ed Norton-like. This new UI is clearly an attempt by Apple to get people ready for the newfangled TV sets they’re set to unleash in 2013. As in, they want us to punch our screens in frustration so that we’ll need to buy new sets. Why else would they put in so many icons for things many of us will never use? The NBA? Really? Icons that we cannot hide, delete, expunge or otherwise flush into whatever netherworld where Clippy now resides?

Not only must one dance around this new, non-customizable desert of 1998-style shiny buttons, but finding your stuff isn’t as easy, either. In the old days of two weeks ago (for me, at least), if I wanted to watch a movie—either my own or from the iTunes store—I would go under the Movies menu. Now, the Movies button only shows movies from the store. My movies are found under Computers. Unless I’ve bought a movie. Then that movie probably shows up under the Movies and Computers buttons, depending on whether Apple is allowed to stream it from iCloud. Got that?

Also, while you can stream your music from iTunes on your computer, iTunes Match on iCloud, and your purchased movies in similar fashion, you cannot upload any of your own movies to iCloud for streaming, even if you have plenty of space in your iCloud account. Sure, I understand Apple not letting you upload your ripped Blu-ray files of "Gossip Girl" if they don’t have such licensing agreements, but why can’t I toss up my home videos? Or the ones of you and your neighbor, you creepy perv?

Also, I fell victim to a bug in the current ATV firmware release that causes network drops when the ATV is in the presence of an extended network. So much for using my Airport Express. Which I went ahead and sold, as it turns out I no longer needed it. (I originally bought it because my MacBook Pro wouldn’t pick up a strong signal in one part of the house. My MacBook Air has no problem.) Still, a fairly annoying problem all the way around.

All in all, I still like the new Apple TV and do not regret buying it. But I hope they change the UI. It is not a step forward. Not everything needs to mirror iOS. Interface design should focus on the user experience, and the UX of an Apple TV is quite different than an iPhone or iPad. Of course, the new UI pretty much ensures I’ll be using my iPhone to control the ATV. Hmm.

In other news, my dog told me the Apple TV TV will be 4K. He also told me to shoot Buckwheat.

Later,

Fox

Comments closed
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    • tanker27
    • 8 years ago

    I eagerly await a Jailbreak for the AppleTv 3 before I buy. From what I hear its not going to be easy.

    My AppleTv 2 with XBMC on it just does me fine!

    • d0g_p00p
    • 8 years ago

    And despite all the annoying stuff you keep throwing your money at Apple. The (guaranteed overpriced) Apple TV TV will support 4K a format no one supports. All the Apple fan boys will brag to all their non Apple friends how their TV is the best since it supports 4K format and your TV is a “lowly”
    1080P. However no OTA stations, paid cable, streaming services, disk rental compaies etc will have 4K content.

    Like everyone one knows. Apple is unifying iOS to run everything they make. OS X will never see a version 11. All apps will be though the iTunes store further walling you in. Your iPod, iPhone, iMac, iXXX will run iOS with no 3rd party installs and all content coming from iWhatever. 1984 indeed.

    • Decelerate
    • 8 years ago

    Some ex-Apple guy did mention that Steve Jobs rejected this interpretation of the UI previously.

    Man, I wonder if this is a prelude…

      • ImSpartacus
      • 8 years ago

      I know. Steve Jobs is famous for never using focus groups because he believed that people don’t know what would really make them happy. That kind of mentality has permeated everything that Apple does, and I think it might have to do with their success. But without their focus group substitute, I’m not completely sure that Apple will keep making the right decisions for its users.

        • demani
        • 8 years ago

        Good point- the focus group of The Only One That Mattered (there) worked for quite a while, though it certainly wasn’t perfect (the 10.7 UI tweaks are horrible, and maybe Cook was the one who [s<] greenlit[/s<] [s<]greenlighted?[/s<] approved those). The lack of coloring in icons, the impossibly inane "all files" view- there are some real pro decisions that make absolutely no sense. The really scary thing is that if Apple stumbles, who is picking up the slack? The jury is still out on MS and Metro on the desktop (thought appears decent for the phone) and they killed the most exciting product they'd had in along time (Courier), RIM is toast, Samsung? Google? Neither has the chops to make it happen. Palm had at least some credibility, but HP nuked that from orbit. Whether or not you like Apple, it's hard to argue they've pushed a lot of advancements in the last 10 years that have moved the industry ahead. Cue The Doors… [sub<][i<]damn my typos[/i<][/sub<]

    • zdw
    • 8 years ago

    Most likely the buyer of your 1st gen AppleTV was going to use it with CrystalBuntu:

    [url<]http://www.stmlabs.com/tag/crystalbuntu/[/url<] Runs XBMC great, no format problems, great performance, and 1080p h.264 via a hardware decoder.

      • tay
      • 8 years ago

      Does it support the Broadcom chip for h.264? Can it do hulu? I know netflix is out.

        • Deanjo
        • 8 years ago

        Pretty much every XBMC distro out there supports the CrystalHD now.

    • Wolfram23
    • 8 years ago

    PS3 is my media server. Works like a charm. I’ve seen my brother-in-law’s Apple TV and it is cool when you have an iPad and iPhone to just hit a button and stream to your TV, but for me that would be a pretty much negligible feature.

    Streaming to PS3? Piece of cake. Full 1080p videos with DTS/DD pass through from the PS3 Media Server program, on the fly encoding (for those pesky .mkv files), even web streaming if you set it up.

    Plus it’s a Blu Ray player. Oh and I hear you can even play games on a PS3!

      • Corrado
      • 8 years ago

      I never understood why people used mkv files. Almost NOTHING mainstream can play it, outside of a PC. And its just a container, so its not even like its a great codec or something. Why stray from AVI to something that has negligible benefits and massive compatibility issues?

        • Disco
        • 8 years ago

        I don’t get the mkv either. I think it’s just for geeks trying to keep up the illusion that they are *elite hakkorz* or something. They should just stick with avi.

        more on topic – I use my xbox to stream media to the TV. Works great (except for mkv files!). I’ve even gotten used to the new UI.

        **edit – fixed some spelling/grammar**

          • Corrado
          • 8 years ago

          Sorry I meant to type MP4 and my mind farted to say AVI.

            • Deanjo
            • 8 years ago

            MP4 doesn’t officially support a wide variety of commonly used codecs (AC3/DTS/Dolby True HD/DTS HD among the more common), it is patent encumbered, extremely picky on chapter formatting, where as MKV can use virtually any codec and also supports 3d at the container level is free and actively developed. MP4 offers nothing more but a lot of restrictions and lack of flexibility.

            • Corrado
            • 8 years ago

            You seem to be quite the MKV fanboy…

            • Deanjo
            • 8 years ago

            Sure, why not? It is the best and most flexible container format out there bar none. I also like steak better then hot dogs so I’m a steak fanboy too.

            • NeelyCam
            • 8 years ago

            nevermind

            • demani
            • 8 years ago

            What is your position on Kobe beef hot dogs?

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 8 years ago

        AVI is a pretty awful container for HD sources, now why use MKV over MP4, I’m not as sure.

        I can give the following reasons for MKV over AVI though, 1) multiple audio tracks, 2) subtitles in the file, 3) full support for h264 (you can kind of get this in AVI, but it’s a hack), 4) full support for surround sound.

        It also has chapters (though I’ve rarely seen this used).

          • Deanjo
          • 8 years ago

          [quote<]It also has chapters (though I've rarely seen this used).[/quote<] Used quite a bit on proper bluray and DVD rips.

        • Firestarter
        • 8 years ago

        Because it’s an open standard (with free, open source tools) and infinitely more flexible than AVI (which is also a container btw). There is no good reason (besides playback on outdated hardware) to use AVI if you can also use MKV or any other modern container format.

        • Deanjo
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]Almost NOTHING mainstream can play it, outside of a PC.[/quote<] Sorry to disappoint you but retty much every video playback device supports MKV now days. Bluray players, media players (such as the Roku and WD TV), TV sets, etc. [quote<]Why stray from AVI to something that has negligible benefits and massive compatibility issues?[/quote<] Wow, there are huge advantages over ancient AVI such as it properly supports H.264/AVC, proper vbr audio support, b-frame support, multiple stream support (video, multiple audio, multiple subtitle), chapter support, metatag and menu support, file sizes > 2 GB (AVI requires openDML extension to get past that limitation). AVI is dead and should stay dead. It was fine for those sample windsurfer videos that came with Windows 3.1 but vastly outdated for todays media uses.

      • roadkingclassictexas
      • 8 years ago

      Gotta disagree here. I’ve been using PS3 media server over the last 3-4 years and Sony’s made it increasingly harder to stream media from a media server. They’ve implemented checks that look at the files being streamed and if it figures out that the file isn’t an original (ie, you ripped or torrented the file from somewhere), it activates a protection and cuts out all of the sound using an anti piracy software called cinevia. It’s quite frustrating.

      Instead, i picked up a ATV2 and jailbroke it and installed Plex. Works like a charm now.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 8 years ago

        “They’ve implemented checks that look at the files being streamed and if it figures out that the file isn’t an original (ie, you ripped or torrented the file from somewhere), it activates a protection and cuts out all of the sound using an anti piracy software called cinevia. ”

        I’ve never had this happen to me.

          • Corrado
          • 8 years ago

          I have. There are almost imperceptible pops and clicks in the DVD/BluRay tracks that ‘signal’ to the PS3 that it was ripped and to stop playing it.

      • Stargazer
      • 8 years ago

      I used my PS3 as a media player for a long time.
      It definitely works, but it does have some downsides too.

      For example, it doesn’t want to attach to Samba shares, so you need to run some sort of media server. Not the end of the world, but it’s annoying. If you want it to handle those pesky .mkv files, you also need to re-encode them.
      Also, it’s rather noisy…

      Eventually I ended up buying a dedicated media player, and I’m liking that a lot more. I’m still using the PS3 for blu-rays though. (what are games?)

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 8 years ago

        I have a 2nd gen ps3 (the kind with partial ps2 compatibility), and I can’t hear it from ~5′ away.

          • Stargazer
          • 8 years ago

          That’s nice.
          I don’t know what generation mine is (though it’s newer than yours – no ps2 compatibility, and it’s not a slim), but I can definitely hear it from further away than that.

          Oh. Another benefit of the PS3 as a media player: CEC compatibility. I like that… (my new media player unfortunately doesn’t have full CEC compatibility yet…)

            • Deanjo
            • 8 years ago

            Another huge downside to the PS3 is that it sucks power like an Apple G5 encoding porn. (OK not quite that bad but 80-90 watts just watching a movie on the slim, 170 to 180 on the fat). You can build HTPC’s that consume less power or power 40 – 90 devices with that same power like the AppleTV depending on which version of the PS3 you are comparing it too.

          • NeelyCam
          • 8 years ago

          I had one of those PS2 compatible one and I thought it sounded like a vacuum.. Sold it and got a PS3 Slim, and I can hear that 5ft away when the fan kicks in

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            I don’t know how long ago you had it, but they had an update that really helped with the fan levels when it’s idling.

            Sometimes I hear it when playing demanding games, but other than that it’s quite quiet to me.

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