AppleTV 2.0 Review (March 14, 2012)

Posted: March 26, 2011 by Mike Hubbartt in Hardware Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

We bought the first generation AppleTV with a built-in 40GB hard drive as soon as it was released. With market trends driving the movie industry to start including digital copies with many new releases, it didn’t take to max out that 40GB and we wish we’d been able to buy the 160GB version, but it was not available when we bought our unit. Just one of the risks being early adopters, but one we accepted. We found it most advantageous  to keep our favorite movies and songs on it, and stream any others we want to watch. Overall, we really did enjoy it and found it absolutely worth the $199 price tag.

When Apple announced the new version of AppleTV, we were hesitant to get another unit even though we really like our AppleTV, because the new unit has little on-board storage and replies on streaming video and music. Our experiences using streaming with our first unit was not impressive – too much jerky replay and it was almost impossible to fast forward (not an issue on locally stored movies).

At the start of the 4th week in March, we decided to buy an new unit because the only version of AppleTV that supports Netflix is the newest model. We wanted to get away from the large satellite bills we have every month, and Netflix offers a low streaming option of $7.99/month for all you can watch. We bought a new AppleTV at Best Buy and it took very little time to install and configure it – we didn’t need to read the documentation, as the product requires very little technical knowledge.

The AppleTV 2.0 was $99.00 (a $100 drop in price from the first gen version) and came with the unit, a remote control, a power cable, and a short instruction manual. The 2.0 version is tiny – much smaller than the 1.0 version. I unpacked and unwrapped the unit and power cord and noticed it lacked the composite video and audio outputs found on the 1.0 version – this was bad as our HDTV only has a single HDMI input so I had to use that one. There is also an optical output I will eventually use for audio, but I need to pick one up before I see how good it sounds.

I used an HDMI cable (not included with the unit) to connect the AppleTV to our television, then I had to configure the unit to access our wireless network (which uses an Apple 1 GB router), which only took a couple of minutes. Then I setup iTunes on a computer to provide the movies and that too was simple.

As I said earlier, we’ve had difficulties fast forwarding movies we stream on the 1.0 version, so I tried fast forward several movies as they were streamed and it worked great. Exactly the same as when fast forwarding locally stored movies on the version 1.0 product. Next we watched a movie and the only time we saw any glitches (where the video/audio transfer was not smooth) was at the very start of the movie. I’m not certain, but I think Apple streams most of the movie as soon as possible, so playback is smooth and more than merely watchable. We also watched movies on Netflix and there was a few times movies did not flow as smoothly as we’d have liked, but they were still watchable, so the viewing experience was fine.

I have found I use the Remote app on iPod Touch more than the remote that shipped with the AppleTV. I also feel Netflix brings enough movies – old and new – to the table that I’ve decided to drop satellite service. Neither satellite vendor can compete with $7.99 a month, and we rarely watch any network shows, so I doubt we’ll feel deprived sans satellite.

Positives

  • The price, especially compared to both versions of the 1.0 release of AppleTV, is excellent.
  • The small size of the unit makes it easy to place the unit wherever I want.
  • Almost no heat given off, especially when compared to version 1.0 of the AppleTV.
  • Streaming movies is no problem. I’ve only seen a couple of times where streaming was not flawless, which is impressive.
  • I like the new remote that comes with this version of AppleTV. It is thin and metallic and the battery is replaceable, while the 1.0 version’s remote is white and plastic and the battery cannot be replaced. And the new remote works with the 1.0 version, so I view this as a decent improvement.
  • I enjoy being able to use iTunes Playlists to organize movies so they play in the order I want.
  • I have been using the iPod Touch remote app with the AppleTV for over 6 weeks (as of May 9, 2011) and love it.

Negatives

  • Some Netflix streaming issues (since then fixed). I’ve never seen it the first time I watch one movie or show, but have had this issue several times when watching more than two shows or movies sequentially. The symptom: jerky video/audio.
  • I wish the composite audio/video outputs were still available.
  • I have noticed that I occasionally lose iTunes connectivity between my laptop and AppleTV. To resolve it I just quit and restart iTunes and that restores my content to the AppleTV. (NOTE: Appears fixed with the March 2012 update to AppleTV)
  • I really, really wish Apple provided Netflix support for the 1.0 version of AppleTV. Our older AppleTV still does a fine job, but without Netflix we have no choice but to buy another unit if we want to see Netflix content on another TV.

Conclusion

Our impression of AppleTV 2.0 has been very favorable. The remote is better and has a replaceable battery, the unit itself is much smaller than the 1.0 version, the unit itself does not heat up the way the 1.0 version does (it can get quite toasty when left on for more than a few days), and the iTunes video streaming was smooth and far superior to what we saw on the 1.0 version.

Will we go to the AppleTV 3.0 (released March, 2012)? Yes we will. We want to see if the higher resolution is noticeable, and we can always use the 2nd gen AppleTV downstairs – waste not, want not.

Recommendation

Would I recommend it to someone? Absolutely. A very good price for something that works great with our environment. I did test the unit using a 1GB router and would suggest upgrading to one if you are still using a 100MB router – Apple’s new wireless router is dual band, so you can have 100 MB and 1GB devices access it at the same time without slowing down overall access.

3/14/2012 Review Update

There was another update to the AppleTV I installed today. The AppleTV menus changed – they are laid out instead of under menu categories at the top. The 2nd generation AppleTV has a max output of 720p, so you have to scroll down to see all of the items on the screen. I wonder if the newer 3rd generation AppleTV’s 1080p resolution means you don’t need to scroll to see all of the items on the screen – comments, anyone with the 3rd gen AppleTV?

Something else to note. In the past, if my laptop that has the movies I stream to the AppleTV went to sleep, I had to quit and restart iTunes to get the movies to show up – that is no longer the case. One thing that bothered me before, was that I could not see movies on the AppleTV if there was an update available on my laptop with the movies I want to stream – I had to accept or quit out of the the update notice before I could stream, and this is still the situation after the most current update.

11/20/2011 Review Update

I’ve downloaded a couple of AppleTV updates the past week, with the most current (4.4.2) today. This update addresses Netflix support in Mexico, plus audio issues via the optical output when a television is off. Click here for a detailed list of updates from Apple.

5/28/2011 Review Update

Today I spoke with Brad, who is another AppleTV 2.0 owner, and he mentioned that he had too many problems streaming Netflix content. Several times I’ve seen streaming problems with Netflix content, but put that down to network traffic. The only times I saw this issues was after I watched two shows or movies, which is very rare, so this had not happened enough to concern me.

Brad said he spent 2 months trying to get a resolution and after no luck he returned the AppleTV 2.0 and went back to his AppleTV 1.0 unit. He mentioned a couple of discussion threads where people discussed this problem: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2616899 https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2597992.

Brad said he mainly streams music and podcasts, not movies, so he has no problem using his older AppleTV. I do a lot of movie streaming and the newer AppleTV unit is so much better at steaming than the original version, so I will stay with the newer unit. Hopefully Apple will find the source of the problem and issue a patch to the AppleTV – They did (see comments below).

Have you experienced a Netflix streaming issue?

5/9/2011 Review Update

It has been over 3 weeks since the April 17th update to this review, and I still have occasional problems accessing iTunes on my laptop, but iTunes streaming is still smooth as locally stored movies on the AppleTV 1.0 product. I should add that using Netflix is always good on the first movie or TV show, but I sometimes have streaming problems when watching more than 1 show.

Updates

November 20, 2011 – added comments about AppleTV updates, plus a link to Apple’s list of AppleTV updates.
May 28, 2011 – added date-based section, add another negative feature, add ‘Have you experienced?’ question
May 9, 2011 – add date-based section, add another negative feature
April 17, 2011 – add more positives, plus a 2nd negative feature

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Syleste says:

    Thanks for the review. It confirms my experience w/ Apple TV 2.0. After a few issues w/ set up (inability to access ITunes library when bluetooth on) that were fixed via searches of Apple forums online, I’m enjoying my Apple TV 2.0 enough that I am considering dropping cable TV.

    • Syleste:

      Thanks for your comments. It is good to hear we had similar experiences with the Apple TV. I really do like it and was surprised how much better it is at streaming video than the 1.0 version.

      Question: Do you have an iPhone or iPod Touch? I have the Touch and the first app I downloaded was the Remote control, which works real well with both versions of Apple TV.

  2. Brad Rubin says:

    For anyone having Netflix buffering issues that start about 2.5 minutes into the show and repeat about every 30-60 seconds:

    For the past several weeks, I have been working with the ATV2 development team through an Apple Corporate Executive Relations representative on the Netflix buffering issue. I have the ability to capture and analyze the network packets that go to and from the device, and I have provided network traces and analysis to Apple from my home environment. So, the development team is aware of and working on the issue.

    The ATV2 (or any other Netflix client) gets its content stream from a Content Delivery Network (CDN), which is a third party who provides geographically distributed content caching. When you hit play on a Netflix program, the ATV2 is assigned a CDN server from one of three of these third party servers based on geography and where the content happens to be cached. I have found that when the content comes from one specific third party vendor’s servers, it always buffers. It never buffers when the content comes from the other two. I do not know if this is true for every ATV2 customer, or just a subset of us, and what differences there might be between these two customer set environments (if the experiences do in fact differ). It is not a bandwidth issue or wireless issue.

    I do not know if the root cause of the problem is with the ATV2, the specific CDN vendor, or Netflix (or some combination), and I do not have any insight into a fix plan or date, but I want to let all of you know that you are wasting your time trying to fix this yourself or trying to get Apple Care to fix it for you. Since it is a roll of the dice on which of the three CDNs you get for a given program, sometimes you make a change and it appears to have “fixed” the problem, but that’s only because the program you watched when it worked happened to come from a different CDN vendor’s servers, and the buffering problem will return if another show comes from the problem CDN vendor’s servers.

    I have also taken traces with my Roku, and interestingly it only gets content from a single CDN vendor.

    As an aside, I have learned that the Roku uses a constant bit rate scheme and the ATV2 uses an adaptive variable bit rate scheme. This means that the ATV2 bit rate is lower relative to other devices, by design. So when we call Netflix and get our bit rates, and find the ATV2 to be much lower than other clients, we think that shows an ATV2 problem, when in fact it shows an ATV2 design difference.

    • Brad:

      Thank you for looking into this, for helping Apple and AppleTV owners, and for sharing this data. I hope we have an update from Apple to address this as soon as feasible.

      Mike

  3. Brad Rubin says:

    The Netflix buffering issue is now resolved. Here are some excerpts from my posts in the Apple Support Communities.

    ——

    IT’S FIXED!!!

    Apple called today to say that the ATV2 development team reviewed my network traces, analysis, and recommendation and they are in agreement. They worked with Netflix, who turned off serving ATV2 Netflix content from the problem CDN (the one I referred to as the “red” CDN). After the call, I tried 10 Netflix movies, and ran each for 5 minutes, and none were served from the “red” CDN, and none buffered. I don’t know if this is a permanent shutoff, or if it is temporary until the “red” CDN resolves the root cause of the network problem. I also never did figure out why some, but not all, ATV2 customers experienced this issue.

    Now, I am sure that someone, somewhere, sometime will have a Netflix buffering issue and come to this thread to find this post saying that it is fixed, yet they still might see some buffering. Buffering (or more accurately pausing) can be caused by any significant delay on the network that is bad enough for the ATV2 to abort the connection (and we see this as pausing). The symptom of the problem that I am describing as fixed is one where the Netflix movie, typically about 30% of the time, typically pauses about 2-3 minutes into it, for about 20 seconds, then starts again for 30-60 seconds, then pauses, and this cycle keeps repeating. If you have been experiencing that issue consistently, it should now be resolved.

    Here is some background on the technical aspects of the issue, using two analogies that might help people understand the behavior they see.

    First, picture that Netflix content is geographically distributed on many, many servers of three types of colors: red, green, and blue. Also, there are not equal percentages of each color. The ATV works fine when the content comes from a green or blue server, but buffers when it comes from a red server. When you want to watch a show, and it is a very popular one, it is likely cached on servers of all three colors. Netflix assigns you a server based on where the content is cached and your geographical location. If you are unlucky, you get assigned a red server, and your content buffers and is unwatchable. However, if you try again sometime later, you might be assigned a green or blue server, and it plays fine. If you are lucky the first time, it comes from a green or blue server, and there is no problem. If you watch an unpopular show, it might only be cached on a red server, in which case it is going to be impossible to watch. The randomness to this process under the covers means that it is very difficult to know if things are now fixed, and any tweaks we make like changing wireless channels might look like a fix, but are really just a luckier roll of the dice (but the luck streak will end).

    Second, to understand why the ATV buffers, picture an auto assembly line in the old days. Manufacturers built up huge parts inventories (i.e. a buffer), and therefore could absorb hiccups in the supply chain, but they paid a big economic cost for this. Now, with just-in-time manufacturing, costs are reduced, but any hiccup in the supply chain stops production. This is what happened in the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan. Well, Apple is using a very efficient adaptive bit rate scheme (probably the future for all), which gets just the right number of picture bits it needs to maintain picture quality, meaning it minimizes both the network bandwidth and buffer size it needs. But, this also means it can’t absorb big hiccups to the bit supply. The “red servers” that I described above are giving quite a hiccup. The number of lost packets, timeouts, retransmissions, etc. lead to tens of packets a minute taking longer than 1.5 seconds to arrive, a lifetime in network time. When this happens, the ATV gives up, closes the connection, and then reopens a new one (but interestingly, usually back to the same red server). This combination of a trickle of packets, connection teardown, connection setup takes about 20-30 seconds, and we see this as “buffering”, which is really a misnomer because there really isn’t much of a buffer. But, since the ATV goes back to the same red server, this “buffering” cycle goes on and on.

    If you have read this far, you might just ask “Why doesn’t Netflix just stop using the red servers with the ATV?”, which is exactly what I proposed to Apple for the interm. Also, I am being careful here not to blame the red server vendor (yet), because it might turn out that there is something along the route to those servers, or at the ATV interface, that causes problems with the red servers, but isn’t directly the red server vendor’s “fault”.

  4. beantownfan says:

    Well the “red server” issues are alive and not well in downtown Boston this evening. I have tried 5 movies in different genres. None of them have been able to function properly. The issues are in keeping with all those mentioned in threads above.

    • I had the same issue right after the problem was addressed by Apple. Try unplugging your ATV2 for a minute, plug it back in and then see if the same movies are not playing correctly.

  5. beantownfan says:

    Thanks Mike, I did try that before posting. 😦 It doesn’t appear that the situation is fully rectified. Perhaps it’s functioning like a “rolling blackout…” Strangely, I have had and have been regularly using the ATV2 since December 2010 and have experienced little difficulty until now…

    • I had to unplug my ATV2 twice to get it to work. The 1st time I unplugged the power for 1 minute & it didn’t work when I plugged it back in. The 2nd time I unplugged the power and the video cable for 2 minutes and then it worked.

  6. beantownfan says:

    Thanks Mike. I did do it twice first unplugging for a minute or two then for an hour… I also reset the ATV2. None of it worked last evening… I unplugged the ATV2 again this morning—I’ll try again this evening. Keep you posted! Thanks again for the advice.

  7. Richard says:

    I was wondering if you know if the first generation updates have stopped, or do the update version numbers just differ from the newer AppleTV?

    Just now my AppleTV (first generation) is at the latest version 3.0.2 while the newer Apple TV is beyond version 4.

    I’d like to run Music Match on my AppleTV, and Apple advertises that it works on “all your devices” but it isn’t available on the original AppleTV.

    Do you know if the original AppleTV is stuck at 3.0.2 and not advancing further, or can we expect an update that will offer Music Match sometime soon.

    Thanks for all for great work helping keep everyone informed about this wonderful product. Pity Apple doesn’t make the same effort.

    • Richard:

      I disconnected my AppleTV 1.0 when I upgraded to the 2.0 version, so I haven’t been following updates to the older unit. If I was to guess, I’d say future updates to the version 1 unit will be few and far between.

      As for the new version 2 features being offered for version 1 units, I don’t know but I doubt they will spend the resources for us initial implementers. When I disconnected my AppleTV 1, it was terrible when trying to stream video and the only time I saw that issue with my AppleTV 2 was the Netflix issue.

      Glad you enjoy our coverage of this fine Apple product, and we hope you’ll return to read more of our articles in the future.
      – Mike

  8. RichardcomR says:

    Thanks Mike for your helpful comments. I also ditched my AppleTVs, I had two, and was a little disappointed as they both worked well. I guess it’s just a case that new features went beyond the old technology, and the operating systems differed between them making upgrades a dead expense given they old units weren’t available for sale any more. Disappointed, but happy with the new little units which seem to work well and now coordinate TV shows, etc, between houses. I’m not sure what happens to people’s music libraries when they exist only in the ether. I backed mine up before vaporizing it just so I’d always have it. Thanks again for your writing.

    • Richard:

      Thanks for reading our reviews and for your comments. Harry, Ted and I want to provide good information so we appreciate feedback and we’re glad you enjoyed one of our articles.

      I don’t know that I’d toss out the AppleTV 1.x units yet. They give off a lot more heat than the 2.x version, but there are fewer outputs on the 2.x unit so 1.x units could be useful on other televisions and stereos around the house. I plan on keeping my older unit and will use it when we add another TV and/or stereo to another room in the house.

      Again, thanks for your kind comments and we hope you continue to come back to peruse our articles.

      – Mike

  9. Brad Soland says:

    Just purchased an apple tv 2 unit a few days ago to replace my departed playstation 3. Same consistent buffering problem as described in your forum for netflix, youtube, etc. I have a strong cable connection (17 mbs) and a Lynksys 150N Router. Generally the streaming plays flawlessly from 30 to 90 seconds and then buffers for 10 – 15 seconds. I had no streaming problems with the playstation 3 and the apple tv signal is showing all bars. I will keep the apple tv2 for its great interface with my photos and 1080p home movies through iTunes, but it is pretty much useless at this point for any movie streaming. If Apple or Netflix doesn’t come up with a solution soon I will be forced to purchase another streaming device. Thanks for the great info on your site!

    • Brad:

      Are you having problems streaming Netflix movies and not with iTunes digital movies? Do you run iTunes from a computer or from the AppleTV? If you use iTunes on a computer, what kind of wireless (G or N) does that computer have?

      I heard from another reader that the Netflix issue was reappearing recently, but haven’t seen it myself. I stream video from iTunes and Netflix nearly every day. I never had a problem streaming iTunes content from my Macbook (with N wireless), and I haven’t experienced Netflix streaming problems in quite awhile.

      You may be one of the unlucky ones with the new (??) Netflix streaming error. I use an Apple 1GB wireless router, so I can’t eliminate your router but suggest you check for AppleTV updates, then try unplugging the router and AppleTV from AC power for 1 – 2 minutes, and give Netflix streaming another chance.

      Please let us know if these tips make any difference, plus any additional information you can provide if the problems persist. And thank you for your kind words about our site. Harry, Ted and I hope our articles help you and others and we hope you’ll be back in the future.
      – Mike

      • Brad Soland says:

        Hi Mike,

        Thanks for the quick reply! No problems with downloading my first iTunes movie, except it took a long time to download (1 hour approx.). I open iTunes on my computer before accessing iTunes content from my tv. Buffering problems appear to stem from streaming internet content only – i.e netflix, youtube. I disconnected my router and apple tv as you suggested, but the problem remains. Also, my apple tv shows it is up to date regarding software. I’m not knowledgeable about wireless, but my home network seems to work fine. My router is a “N” capable router and my computer is a 2011 iMac. Not sure how to determine what kind of wireless the iMac has. I’ll keep checking for apple tv updates and your blog for other recommendations. Thanks again –

        Brad

      • Brad:

        Something else occurred to me. Many routers only run as fast as the slowest device accessing the router – if a computer with 100MB (G) wireless modem and a computer/AppleTV with 1GB (N) access the same single band router, that single band router will only deliver 100 MB access to all devices, including the N computer/AppleTV. Is you router a dual band router (like the newest Apple wireless router)? If not, another test you can try is to power down/shut off all internet access devices in your wireless environment except the iMac, router and AppleTV, then power off/on the router, and try streaming Netflix content again. If that solves your problem, the easiest way to fix it is to buy a dual band router.

        Another suggestion would be to Google your router model number, AppleTV, and netflix to see if it hits any sites that have specifically addressed this issue with your equipment.
        – Mike

  10. Brad Soland says:

    Hi Mike – I turned off all internet devices and powered up again, but still no luck. I’ll google my router model number along with Apple TV and Netflix as you suggested. Thanks so much Mike for your help. Maybe through the process of elimination I can eventually pin point the problem.

    Brad

  11. I’m excited to find this site. I need to to thank you for ones time for this particularly wonderful read!! I definitely appreciated every part of it and I have you book-marked to see new stuff on your blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s