Between Roku, Sony, Boxee, and Google TV/Logitech, this fall there will be no shortage of set-top boxes that allow you to stream premium movies and TV shows right to your HDTV. Apple has re-entered the game with its refreshed Apple TV, which delivers 99-cent show rentals and HD movies for $4.99 the same day DVDs ship. The box itself is a marvel of miniaturization, as it's just a quarter the size of the original box. More important, it runs quieter and much cooler--the first-gen model could nearly fry an egg.
Is this device good enough to beat the established players? Read on for more first impressions and check out the gallery and video.
What about content? Well, Apple has done what it needed to do to be competitive, signing up Netflix. You also still get YouTube, but the Roku box (starting at $59 for SD version, $69 for HD) does a lot more, including Amazon, MLB.TV, and a host of smaller providers. The Roku also does Pandora, and the company promises an upgrade that will handle 1080p. The Apple TV only does 720p, though the quality looked pretty impressive during our hands-on time.
Then again, Apple has iTunes, and you can't ignore its massive momentum and the amount of accounts that are already out there. In addition to movies from the major studios, you'll be able to rent TV shows from ABC/Disney and Fox to start. Apple hopes that it will be able to land CBS/Viacom and NBC, but there's no guarantee when these providers will show up.
We love the design of this little box, which you can easily hide in your entertainment center. It has 802.11n built-in, which will make it easy to stream video from your PC. But that's not all. Thanks to Apple's AirPlay feature, you'll be able to sling content from your iPad, iPod touch, or iPhone once the iOS 4.2 update rolls out. That's a killer feature no other device has, and during Steve Jobs' demo this technology seemed to work more smoothly than traditional DLNA technology.
Overall, the interface is exactly what current Apple TV owners enjoy, which is really intuitive. We find the UI much cleaner and easier to navigate than the Roku, and it also seems snappier. We also like the larger new remote, which should be much harder to lose under the couch.
The new Apple TV is definitely an improvement, but it will need a good marketing push and more content to win over the masses. After all, most people still don't know this category of product even exists.