A few weeks ago I bought the new Apple TV. I had a few reasons for buying it:

  • An instant-on Netflix interface was appealing.
  • I’d like to rip some of my older DVD collection and store it in iTunes on my PC to stream to the TV.
  • It was cheap enough to not make me regret buying it if I was disappointed.

And boy am I disappointed already. It’s not bad for the most part, but it’s not really good either. I’m starting to think that it took a massive amount of effort to make something this mediocre.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of my annoyances:

  • You cannot get a list of your own videos in YouTube. This was literally the first thing I tried to do when starting to use the Apple TV. It was also literally the first thing a coworker mentioned when I later mentioned I got an Apple TV, so I know I’m not alone. He’s got a wife and kids, and the logic probably goes: “Hey Alice and Bob, welcome to my home. Let me show you a video I made of our family vacation! Wait wait, I just have to type in ‘Our Vacation’, and I may find it eventually! Just give me a few more minutes.”
  • The remote is oversimplified and ergonomically bad. There is no tactile separation between the arrow buttons and the select button, so you frequently hit the wrong button. Typing through it is tedious. It also has pretty bad IR range. You have to have it pointed directly at the unit to get button presses to register.

    Thankfully, the Harmony remote series has Apple TV remote support, and the Apple TV actually accepts several other buttons not found on the Apple remote, such as chapter skip and 30 second skip. It also has much better range, so I know the range problem is in the Apple remote itself, not the unit.</p>

  • The iPhone OS Remote app is a novel idea, but there’s a noticeable lag (not terrible, but noticeable). It’s also hard to do precision movement; small swipes tend to go over 2 items instead of 1.
  • About 50% of the time, when switching to the Apple TV on my HDMI switch, it results in the Apple TV sending a black video signal. It’s not the TV or the HDMI switch or anything, it’s the Apple TV sending the black signal. The only way to correct this is to reset the device. (I quickly found out what the “reset” button the Harmony remote added was for. Of course, this button is not on the included Apple remote.) UPDATE: The source of this appears to be the Apple TV not liking my 5-port Meritline switch. Works fine with my nearly identical 3-port Meritline switch though.
  • Apple TV Netflix interface
    Gee, "67" sounds good tonight!

    Thumbnail (album art, posters, Flickr photos, etc) population times range from sub-optimal to downright slow. The thing has 8GB of internal storage, please use some of it to store thumbnail caches. I shouldn’t have to wait 60 seconds for my Netflix queue thumbnails to appear, especially if my queue hasn’t changed since I last visited.</li>

    • When you go into a video of some sort, it’ll spin for awhile (no actual buffer progress indicator), then will usually ask if you want to resume watching or start over, without providing any sort of indication of where you would be starting from. Either provide context of where it actually is in the video, or move the choice directly to the info screen you just came from.
    • Video mode seems to have some sort of overscanning, since some parts of the video are chopped off, even on pixel-perfect 720p video on my 720p TV. And there’s no option to control it.
    • One of the main reasons I bought the Apple TV was hope for the Netflix interface. I already have about 20 Netflix capable devices, some with excellent interfaces, but nearly all take a long time to start up before you even get to Netflix, so a Netflix interface with instant-on was appealing. Sadly, while the look is integrated with the rest of the Apple TV, its function is overall worse than other devices. (Incidentally, the best Netflix interface I’ve seen is on my Blu-Ray player, an Insignia NS-BRDVD.)
    • This one is especially ironic, given the “one-click setup” of the Apple TV itself: Pairing the Apple TV with Netflix involves typing in the full email address and password of the Netflix account, which is tedious (see above). Even more sad is Netflix has already solved this on other newer devices. On those devices, the device pops up a 5 digit code, and you type that into a form on the Netflix web interface.
    • The music player does not integrate with iTunes DJ on the host computer. So if you’re having a get-together and want to play music, you can’t set up DJ mode where people with iPhone OS devices can request songs. You can almost get around this by having Remote enter DJ mode on your PC and direct the audio to the Apple TV via AirPlay, but you don’t get the current song full-screen view, and obviously can’t add songs to the DJ queue via the TV interface. EDIT: The current song full-screen view will eventually appear as a screensaver, if so configured. You can’t go directly to it, though.
    • Similarly, you can’t stream your iPhone/iPod music collection over the Apple TV, which would be useful for friends coming over, parties, etc. Is this something the iPhone OS AirPlay update is supposed to let you accomplish? If so, never mind on that. EDIT: This was added with AirPlay on iPhone OS 4.2.
    • When adding Flickr users to the Apple TV, it asks for a “username”. In Flickr, this could mean one of a few things:
      1. The Flickr username seen in URLs and small infoboxes, etc (“fo0bar” in my case)
      2. The Yahoo account username that the Flickr account is tied to (“addurl”* in my case)
      3. The human-readable display name of the user (“Ryan Finnie” in my case)

      Guess which one it actually wanted?</li>

      • You cannot exit many “Loading” screens, no matter how long the loading takes.
      • Flickr is pretty slow most of the time. Netflix is somewhat slow. Youtube isn’t bad.
      • I was hoping for some of OS X’s nice screensavers to be built in. Currently, you have a choice of “slideshow of animals”, “slideshow of flowers”, and “slideshow of a Flickr album that may or may not display”.
      • There is no Flickr account integration. That is to say, you don’t associate your account with the Apple TV, just subscribe to photostreams of users. So you can’t comment or favorite a photo.
      • The unit does not come with an HDMI cable, despite HDMI being the only means of display with the unit. Sure some people may need a longer cable or an HDMI to DVI adapter or something, but 99% of of users just need the industry standard 6 foot HDMI cable. As such, you need to buy an HDMI cable separately ($19.00 at Apple, or $3.04 at Monoprice). This reeks of the printer accessories racket. (New printers do not come with the required cables either, despite being standard DB25 to Centronics in the old days, or USB today.)
      • Lack of volume control has been mentioned by others. While I don’t mind not having remote volume controls, it would be nice to have a base volume adjustment setting, so I can set the baseline to be more in line with my other devices.
      • Podcasts are usable but mediocre. They basically treat it as a media browser. What I’d like to see is to have it occasionally check for new podcasts and display the new individual podcast recordings on the main page. (This would make a good “morning routine” feature. Get up, turn on the Apple TV, and there’s the latest release of your favorite podcast waiting for you to play while you get dressed.)
      • I can’t say anything about the Apple video rentals, since I haven’t rented any, and I don’t really have an urge to try it. The in-theater movie previews are nice though.</ul>