Archive for the ‘Hardware Reviews’ Category

AppleTV 3.0 Review

Posted: July 17, 2015 by Mike Hubbartt in Hardware Reviews
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By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Vendor: Apple (www.apple.com)
Price: $99

We owned the 1.0 and 2.0 versions of the AppleTV, and like both of them as they were reasonably priced and functioned as we needed. We mainly used the Apple TV 1.0 to watch digital content we bought – as standalone or as part of a blu-ray movie, since streaming was not very good with our setup. We use the AppleTV 2 to stream movies from iTunes or Netflix, as well as watch digital content. The AppleTV 1.0 worked best with digital content stored on the AppleTV hard drive, whereas the AppleTV 2 streaming is far superior and so all content is streamed with few or no problems most of the time.

We were happy with our AppleTVs, but decided to buy the AppleTV 3.0 because we wanted the 1080p video resolution instead of the 720p offered by the AppleTV 2. We bought our new AppleTV at a local BestBuy store, brought it home and the installation was simple and fast. I added it to our main television, moved the AppleTV 2.0 to our second television, and retired the AppleTV 1.0 to the parts closet.

The higher resolution is better, but honestly not so great that we wanted to toss the AppleTV 2 and buy a second AppleTV 3. The video is good, and the streaming is also much better than the AppleTV 1.0, so it a good addition to our environment. I would recommend replacing an AppleTV 1, but don’t think I could recommend replacing an AppleTV 2.0 just for the video res improvement. If Apple adds more features, like gaming for example, I’d replace the remaining AppleTV 2 in a heartbeat.

The streaming with the AppleTV 2 and 3, from our in-house comparisons, seems to be the same. Since the AppleTV 2.0, Apple updates the devices, which can include patches or enhancements to services offered. One service I like is Apple Events, where you can stream WWDC (Developer Conferences) from this year as well as past conferences. Being able to see the sessions each year (keynote as well as information) is very educational for us developers without the time or money to travel to San Francisco to be there. To be honest, these sessions tend to be glitchy when streamed over the internet, so I prefer to download them in iTunes and then stream them locally.

Two other services Apple recently added are HBO GO and Showtime Anytime. Both allow people with out cable (me) to get HBO and ShowTime. We are going to subscribe, but have not yet, so I can’t give any performance info on either service yet, but will update this article once I try one out. I believe this move by Apple shows how networks may unbundle themselves from providers like cable companies, so we subscribers get to chose the channels we want to purchase, instead of taking many unused and unwanted channels for a few prime channels. Sounds liberating to me.

One last thing. The AppleTV 2 and 3 devices use the same remote (the newer one is slightly lighter than the older one) and so both remotes work with both AppleTVs, which is convenient. And both remotes have replaceable batteries, which is also nice. So far, I have only replaced the battery in the AppleTV 2 remote, so the battery life for both remotes is excellent.

OVERALL RESULTS

One negative comment: The reason we decided to upgrade from AppleTV 2 to AppleTV 3 was the enhanced video. We knew the 2.x version only supported 720p, so we wanted better quality. What we didn’t know, was that the AppleTV 3 supports 1080p, but NOT 1080i, which is the highest resolution of our current monitor. Not good, as we could not anything better than 720p even with the AppleTV3.

One positive comment: We have been using the AppleTV 3 since it was released, and Apple continues to update the device regularly. Being able to just get HBO and Showtime on demand, without needing cable, is a huge plus in my book. I had cable, a long time ago, and will never again as long as there are other options like Satellite or AppleTVs.

RECOMMENDATION

Buy the AppleTV 3.0 if you don’t own an AppleTV product, if you own an old AppleTV 1.0, or if you want the best resolution for your home theater.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyFi Wifi to Serial Adapter
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com/index.html)
Price: $149.95

Introduction

SkyFi is another fine product from Southern Stars, who sell SkySafari software for mobile devices and Mac computers, as well as other telescope-related hardware products. SkyFi uses WiFi to connect the RS232 control data flow from a telescope controller to an device (iPod/Phone/Pad apps as well as computer applications).

Setup

Figure 1 - SkyFi

Connecting the SkyFi to your telescope controller isn’t difficult. The package includes a couple of adaptors which will work with the mosre common telescope setups. The connection on the SkyFi itself is an RJ11 telephone jack. You can make a cable that connects the SkyFi directly to your telescope controller, use the included adaptors, or purchase a cable specifically for your computer from Southern Stars. Once connected to the telescope controller, you turn it on and it creates a wireless network.Your remote device needs to be connected to this network and also needs to be running software that can send and receive telescope control and data using the TCP IP. The connection scheme is the same as the one in the previous article. The Southern Stars web site has a nice explanation and pin out of the cables you need, in case you want to make one.

The SkyFi device itself is a bit larger then a cell phone. It is powered by 4 double-A batteries and can accept a power brick as well (6 to 12 VDC). There is no on/off switch, but there is a switch that selects either external or internal voltage source. Switching to external voltage source disconnects the internal batteries. (Which acts like a switch). A piece of velcro can be used to attach the SkyFi to the telescope mount, out of the way of motion. It is very light and once running, you won’t need to adjust it at all.

Once on, the SkyFi makes a wifi hotspot available. Firmware on the device controls the IP address and security. There is a standard IP address which is printed on the SkyFi, but you can change this and security settings if needed. I didn’t bother changing the default settings, as they worked well. I could find no fault with the defaults!

Using the Product

Before you begin using the SkyFi, you need to be sure that the telescope control software you use can communicate to the telescope using TCP IP. I Didn’t know some programs do not support TCP IP. On my MacBook, I have Voyager 4.5 and a copy of Sky Safari Beta that will work. The Starry Night Pro Plus that I like using doesn’t do TCP connections to telescopes. The people at Starry Night were unaware of a solution that would work on the Macintosh. For Windows users there are a couple of shareware applications that create a virtual com port that can be tied to the TCP connection, so I imagine this would work with a Window based machine and Starry Night or any other non-TCP controller application.

Figure 2 - SkyFi with a Telescope

If you are controlling with your i-device, you will need the Southern Stars Sky Safari package. (I am unaware of any other astronomy app that controls a telescope). We looked at these Apps a bit in the last article. In the App’s settings, you choose to use TCP IP to connect to the telescope controller. The default address is the same as the default on the SkyFi. (No surprise there!) Select to control the telescope and you are in control using your iPod/iPad/iPhone.

Working with the Voyager software, I had no issues controlling my telescope computer at all. Commands were instant as was feed back. The only issue I had was with me forgetting to choose the SkiFi network rather then my own home wireless network. You also need to make sure the controller software has the same TCP address that the SkyFi has. In Voyager 4.5, there is a box to enter this address. The default address is printed on the SkyFi device, which is another good reason for keeping to the defaults. However, if you need to change it, you can always re-label the back of the unit.

When I first read about the SkyFi, I thought that it was a wireless device and that it would log onto the local wireless network and make the telescope available on that network. It doesn’t do that. Rather then logging onto an existing network, it creates one of it’s own. So I couldn’t use this device to control my telescope with my desktop computer, since it doesn’t have a WiFi card. Nor would one be able to use it to allow access to the telescope from a remote site. You need to be in range of the SkyFi’s wireless netwrok to connect.

Figure 3 - VSP3 Screen

Since the computer you are controlling the telescope with is connected to the SkyFi network, it won’t be connected to your regular one. While observing I usually listen to Internet radio and I will often pop onto some internet site to inspect images and information about the object I am seeking. So I don’t get to listen to the Internet Radio, but I can still do my research by logging back onto my home network, do the research, then re-connect to the SkyFi. Luckily, this isn’t a big issue. Once the telescope is aimed at an object, the onboard controller takes care of compensating for the movement of the earth. Once connected back to the SkyFi, the data stream identifies the slightly changed location and all is well. It is just an added step in the process.

Conclusion

The biggest issue I had with the SkyFi is that it doesn’t come as a package. You buy the SkyFi and then need to find some compatible software. If the software you already purchased isn’t compatible, then you need to consider this as part of the purchase cost. It would be a whole lot nicer if the SkyFi came packaged with either SkySafari or Voyager. However, if you are into astronomy, you probably already have some package that will work with the SkyFi.

Much to my chagrin, I had expected that using the SkyFi would remedy the tangle of cables that I “need” to deal with when observing. However, I found that I still need to bring an extension cord to power the AutoStar (or use the battery adaptor). Since I had the power cord there, I went ahead and plugged in my MacBook Pro, so I still had the extension cord cable and the power supply cord to the MacBook. Thus, the tripping issue wasn’t really resolved. I suppose I could run the Scope on battery and bring the extension cable to the MacBook Pro, but that would cost me a lot in the battery budget.

As far as distance, the SkyFi does pretty well. I walked around the yard with my MacBook and had to get pretty far away to loose the connection. I think I was able to move slightly father then the expected 100 feet from the device. I was also able to put the MacBook on my dining room table and still control the telescope in the yard. I can see this as a real advantage in the winter as it would give me a chance to warm up between observations.

SkyFi is available through the Southern Star’s web site as well as many other astronomy stores. Southern Star also sells Sky Safari for MacOS X in three flavors, the Plus and Pro versions includes telescope controls ($20 and $50 respectively). The version for the iPod/Phone/Pad can be purchased through iTunes store again, you will need either the Plus or Pro version to control the telescope. In the next installment of this series, I will look specifically at the Sky Safari applications for the Macintosh.

Recommendation

Overall, the SkyFi works very well. If you are looking for a wireless connection to your telescope, this is the device you want. I don’t think there are many other options. I had no issues controlling my telescope using the device. If you have an iDevice and want to control your telescope, this is again a terrific solution.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyWire Serial Accessory
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com)
Price: $79.95 USD
Shipping: varies according to destination

SkyWire Serial Accessory is a simple cable that makes it a breeze to connect your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone to your computerized telescope and control it with an app called SkySafari. Set up and use is really easy, although you need to use Southern Stars SkySafari version 2.1 app (or later) to take advantage of this cable.

Years ago I purchased a computerized telescope mount (and telescope), and found it was a serious step up for the rank amateur sky observer. Nowadays, rather then dealing with the frustration of using guiding stars to target in on a celestial object, I can now let a computer do all the work. Although the process isn’t perfect, it was an improvement over the tasks I needed to follow to get setup in the past. The Meade Autostar computer controller on my mount has a funky red LED display, which has issues like being completely un-readable when temperatures are in the lower 30 degree F. While it does know the position of a fair number of objects, it is also a bit of a process to select one. Not to mention that, before you begin to search, there is no indication  that an object is currently in the sky until after you select it. It didn’t take me long to look for a more intuitive interface.

From my previous articles here on our Space page, you see that I use my MacBook Pro along with different Astronomy software to make the process even easier. But what if you are starting out like most people today, you may already have one of Apple’s i-devices. SkyWire used with the SkySafari software makes it easy to step a telescope up. Additionally, most of these devices make use of the compass and GPS features, so you can use them to assist with locating the general area of the sky your object of choice might reside.

SkyWire is a cable that transfers the serial data (RS232) signal from the telescope controller to the i-device you are using. The SkyWire cable ends in a DB9 connector. If your telescope controller doesn’t use this connector, you will need a cable to convert the DB9 connector to whatever your ‘Scope” uses. In my case, the Meade LXD75 uses a standard telephone connector (RJ11). It came with a cable that has the RJ11 on one side and a  DB9 on the other, so all I had to do was plug the SkyWire DB9 into the telescope’s DB9 connector and plug the RJ11 end into the AutoStar. Note that I mention all this cable detail because it is specific to my set up. Hopefully there is enough detail so that someone with a different set up will understand what to do.

The current version of SkySafari is version 3, and you need version 3 plus to gain the telescope control features. I was pretty impressed with SkySafari. It is a very comprehensive piece of astronomy software with lots of features. It is a great standalone product and worth considering even if you don’t have an interest in the SkyWire feature.

With SkySafari 3 Plus running on my iPod Touch, I plugged in the standard i-device connector into it and an alert box in the software told me I am connected to the SkyWire. By default SkySafari 3 Plus has the telescope control set to “demo mode”.  You need to go into the settings and select your telescope controller and mount type. This system will work with a wide variety of telescope controllers (those that use the RS232 interface), but some do not. Check the products web site to see if your controller is included.

Once you have selected the telescope controller, bring up the telescope control and select connect. If your controller is on and ready to go it should immediately connect. Now all the power of SkySafari 3 Plus is available to control your telescope. And there is a lot of power in this program!

I have both an iPod Touch and and iPad, so I used both to control the telescope. The iPod Touch is a bit smaller then my Meade Autostar controller but it is infinitely easier to find objects in my sky and slew the telescope to them with this setup. The display is huge compared to the Autostar’s display. Secondly, I am looking at an image that represents what the sky looks like where I am currently located, so by looking at the display I know if the object is above or below the horizon. Using the iPod’s compass feature, I can actually locate the part of the sky tof he object I am interested in viewing, and it is easy to see if there are obstructions that would prevent viewing. SkySafari 3 Plus provides information about the object as well as an image, so I have an idea of magnitude and have data I can read about the object, and can even see what it would look like using a larger telescope. It would be truly cool is there was an easy way to mount and align the iPod on the telescope, so that it could be set to show what was in that part of the sky the telescope is currently pointed toward!

A benefit of any piece of software to aid in observing the sky is its ability to help find objects of interest. Like most astronomy packages, SkySafari show solar system objects, many stars, and puts symbols on the screen where deep space objects are located. It also has two features that point out interesting objects in the current sky. First of all under the search menu there is a “Tonight’s Best” selection, which lists a number of items that should be viewable in your local night sky. You can go through the list and create an observing list of objects you would like to view, or just select one and go to it. The observing list(s) in SkySafari are accessed using the search menu.

The other feature requires an internet connection, it is Sky & Telescope’s SkyWeek feature. This weekly list provides a sky observing task or suggestion for each night of the week. Scroll through the weeks list, choose the correct day and you can read their suggestion. There is also a “View” button that when clicked, centers the object in SkySafari, so you can see where it is.

Using the iPod is nice, but the screen is small. The iPad has a larger screen, and I find this more effective when displaying the night sky. However, it is a bit more awkward to hold up to the sky, (but just only a bit more difficult). One issue I have had with connecting my MacBook Pro to the Autostar is tripping over the cable. The cables I have aren’t long enough to easily string around to protect from an accidental pull and unplug. One advantage of the iPod is that it is small enough to just hang on the telescope mount, so the cable stays out of the way, just as the Autostar cable does.

The SkyWire coupled with SkySafari and your i-device is a cool way to control your telescope’s computer. It is easy to set up and simple to use. I am certain any user will discover that using the data, display, and easy interface of an i-device will be far superior to what came with the telescope. If you have a telescope, and i-device, and want to make the connection, this is definitely the way to go.

Author’s note: In the next review, I discuss Southern Star’s SkyFi, a device that lets you wirelessly connect your telescope computer to your WiFi enabled computer.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

Apple iPod touch 32 GB 4th generation iPod
Price: $299.00
From: Apple (www.apple.com)

I’ve been an early adapter for several of Apple’s products. I bought (and still have) Apple’s 1st generation Shuffle, Mac Mini (G4 CPU), and AppleTV. I like them even though better versions of the products followed a relatively short time after the initial units were released, but I am still cautious about buying other 1.x or 2.x released. I did get a 3rd generation iPod Nano and love it but the next one has recording features I could have used, but it still functions well and I have no intention of getting rid of it.

We recently bought a new AppleTV (the 2.0 release) and love it, but I have been wanting either an Android or iPad tablet or something similar in function but costing less money. I decided to get a 4th generation iTouch and after using it for a week, I love it. I bought a 32GB iPod touch from the bookstore at my school (University of St. Thomas) for the same price that it is sold at stores or from Apple.

After class I took it home plugged it in to charge over night while I looked at the rest of the goodies in the package. The box for the touch is barely larger than the unit itself. There is a tiny manual, the usual Mac earphones, a cord to connect it to your computer, and a tiny manual that directs you to Apple’s site to get a larger (and far more useful) manual. The touch is thin. it appears to be 20% the thickness and weight of my archaic PalmPilot LifeDrive.

I waited overnight for the unit to charge and then began by getting the user manual and some free goodies from iTunes. Almost immediately I was notified there was a newer version of iOS 4.3, so I downloaded and installed it without a problem. The first thing app I got from iTunes was the remote control app to control our new AppleTV. I used the remote control app to go through the AppleTV options and it worked as well as the remote included with the AppleTV. I also grabbed the NASA app and a few astronomy-related free apps, then downloaded the new commercial Astronomy Course Assistant app from Wolfram ($4.99 at the iTunes store). What can I say? I’m into astronomy and Ted (few contributor on our site) always touts how the iPhone and iPad are great tools for astronomy. You know what? He’s right.

I decided to test streaming movies, so I selected several digit downloads from my iTunes library and synced them to the touch, then streamed the content to the AppleTV. It worked flawlessly. We saw the 2.5 hr Robin Hood movie (the Russell Crowe version, not the dreaded Kevin Costner version) and it was as smooth at play and fast forward as our 1st generation AppleTV when playing and fast forwarding locally stored content (on the internal drive).

Something I didn’t know (should have read more of the manual, I know) was that, when streaming, the touch will send an entire playlist to the AppleTV. To take advantage of that, I went into iTunes and added some new playlists to show the movies I wanted by category.

I used the camera indoors – this generation of the touch has forward and rear-facing cameras and both looked good in the situations when I used them. I took a few pictures but did not do any HD recording, but I will this Spring. I should mention that the 4th generation has what Apple calls Retina Display – it just means they put more pixels of images per area of the scree, so it the content is clear and sharp. Very nice.

I tested FaceTime to call a friend with an iPhone. Dave-Bob and I worked together years ago at a company called BORN, and Dave-Bob has a 4th generation iPhone, so I added him to my contacts list. With my touch accessing the internet with wifi, I called and chatted with Dave-Bob for 15 minutes. We both were really impressed, as it worked so well. The images were clear and updated at a decent (although not flawless) rate. We both were able to switch between the front-facing and read-facing cameras during the call. This feature requires that the receiver has a current version iPod or iPad, so it won’t work with cell phones or landlines, but it is very cool and one of the best reasons to have a new touch/iPhone.

I have some work to do before I’m fully over to the touch. I need to get some music loaded, plus I need to export my PalmPilot data and import it into the touch.

June 1, 2011 Update

I installed a few more apps recently and they are decent:

  • Solitaire – free, but it runs ads before the start of every game and they are a pain to deal with
  • Tetris – old school, but addictive
  • BurgerTime – one of my wife’s favorites and the reason she hijacks my iPod Touch every night
  • Madden NFL – free; the eval version which lets you play a quarter (probably much better on an iPad)
  • Pandora – free; streaming music organized by genre

Email and Tweet alerts continue to be an excellent reason to have the touch nearby while working on code or writing articles. I rarely use the headset at home but have used it several times while on campus.

May 23, 2011 Update

I’ve installed a number of apps since this review was posted on April 2. The ones I liked best are:

  • Angry Birds – $1.99; as easy and addictive as Tetris, and I enjoy playing it a few minutes a day
  • Skype – free; it works as well as the version on my laptop
  • Twitter – free; it also works as well as the version on my laptop
  • WordPress – free; and the Stats section provides a nice way to monitor traffic at my blogs
  • Food Network – $1.99; it has a lot of easy yet tasty recipes

Alerts are an excellent reason for having a new iPod touch. While in sleep mode, my iPod uses WiFi to notify me when I have new email or a new Tweet. I don’t have to stop working on a program or website to see if I need to respond to someone, which is very handy.

CONCLUSION

The new touch is not only good for music and movies, it should be invaluable in college classrooms. My school (UST) does provide support for the touch/iPhone and I expect I’ll test that out when I take it to class next week. I could have used the HD video recording capability last semester in my web design class, but also think it will come in useful this summer when I’m outside on the biking trails. Overall, I really like it and feel it is as good (and useful) of a purchase as my Macbook. Now I have no reason to put off learning how to develop for the touch, and maybe I can create something that will help fund future Apple product purchases. Now that would be nice indeed.

POSITIVES

  • Thin, light, powerful, and a bargain for the features.
  • Auto-reorientation: switches between portrait and landscape easily.
  • Easy to navigate between screens and applications by gesture.
  • Absolutely gorgeous display – small or not, it is easy to read.
  • Video calls over wi-fi connections with another 4th generation touch/iPhone rocks.
  • Good quality video – HD quality recording according to Apple.
  • Streaming content to our AppleTV was flawless – I particularly like having the Touch connected to my Macbook to recharge it and to have the Touch stream a movie at the same time (saving valuable battery life).
  • Use the Remote App to to add Playlists to organize iTunes movies – we put series together in each playlist, so we can watch as few or many of the series without needing to manually select them.

NEGATIVES

  • When watching a movie on the touch, the screen was dark. I know that was due to the low light level in the room, but it wasn’t a simple matter to easily adjust the brightness and I’d like to see Apple include that in a future update of the video player.
  • My fingers are a bit large for doing a lot of typing on the on screen keyboard – I’d love it if they’d let me use a stylus or external keyboard the way I do with my PalmPilot. I’d really like being able to use my Apple wireless keyboard with the touch, and hope Apple does provide that functionality in a later update to iOS.

RECOMMENDATION

5 Stars. Buy it. If you have a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation iPod, this version is far and away the best I’ve seen. I like my 3rd generation Nano, but it will strictly serve as a backup from now on. I know Apple will release another update, probably this Fall, but I don’t see what they can add besides more memory or a faster processor to make an improvement over this release. My wife also likes it and she let me know this touch will become hers when we get an iPad later this year. She loves playing games on it, and is interested in being able to use it to stream movies to other AppleTVs in our house.

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

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

iPad versus Android

iPad

Freescale aPad IMX515

What is the fuss about tablets? Do we need them? Why or why not? How much do they cost? Which one should we buy? What is the supported hardware and software? How do we get more (software and hardware)? Can the operating system be upgraded? What OS versions to avoid? What do they lack, straight out of the box, and what add-on is worth it’s weight in gold? Let’s find out.

I’ve been tracking tablets since Apple released the iPad, and I have to admit I’m impressed. I’d like an iPad, but the price tag is so much higher than 7″ or 8″ Android OS-based tablets, so my first tablet will probably run Android. I’ve done some online comparisons and see there are 7″, 8″ and 10.1″ Android tablets that run different versions of Android (1.6, 2.1, 2.2) and have different supported hardware/software features.

The hardware features that vary include CPU and clock speed, memory (ranging from 128MB to 1GB), hard drive storage (2 – 8 GB), TF slots for additional memory (max ranging from 16 – 32 GB), cameras (no camera, have web cam, have 1.3 M Pixel cameras – similar to cell phones from 2 – 3 yrs ago), USB Ports (some do, some don’t), and wireless connectivity (a/b/g/n).

The main supported software I’ve seen is probably related to the version of Android installed on the tablet. The types of supported video formats varies considerably – only 1 or 2 I looked at support H.264, and only 1 said it supports Flash 10.1.

The tablet that has caught my eye today is the Freescale aPad IMX515 ARM Cortex A8 8″Android 2.2 tablet. Speed is 1 GHz, it has 512 MB RAM and 4 GB storage (plus TF expansion slot for another 32 GB storage).

My question: Has anyone out there that bought an Android OS tablet be willing to share their experience of using the tablet? Ted, one of the other contributors of this site, has an iPad and loves it. I’m curious if the Android tablets invoke as much appreciation by their owners.

I’d like to learn what owners like and dislike about their tablets, what they cost and what they spent to upgrade them, how long is the battery life on a single charge, what types of applications are bought (vs free downloads), how many use these devices at work or school, and whether or not the owner feels these devices can replace laptops or netbooks.

My impression is that these devices are very handy and can take the place of a lot of stuff being done on laptops (gaming, internet browsing), but I don’t believe they currently can replace a laptop. I cannot imagine writing a long book or developing large software applications on a tablet. I can see them as terrific devices to take out in the field – I know I’d love to take one along when going out at night to observe the skies, as long as the battery life kept it going all night.

If the Android tablets have short battery life and the iPad is much greater, it seems wiser to skip the Android tablet purchase and move right on to the one that will do what I need, because battery life is just as important as supported applications.

I’d like to hear from anyone willing to share about their good or bad experiences using a tablet.

IMPORTANT NOTE 3-2-2011

Apple released the new iPad (2.0) on March 2, 2011. It is 2/3 as thick as iPad 1.0, faster dual core A5 processor, better/faster graphic processing (1024×768), lighter (1.3 lb), has front and rear-facing cameras, 3-axis gyro, accelerometer,  runs iOS 4.3, same 10 hr battery life, and ships 3/11/2011 at the same price as the iPad 1.0 models. Mac computers must have a USB 2.0 port and run OS X 10.5.8 or later. Click here to go to the site for product details. Want to see the new model? Here it is:

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

I bought a first gen Apple TV when they were released. My unit has a 32 GB drive and I’ve enjoyed using it from the very start. I keep my favorite movies and songs on the unit itself, streaming other content as desired. In truth I am now far more likely to buy a movie if it comes with a digital copy, because the AppleTV is so convenient to use. If I have any negative, it is the problem trying to fast forward streamed content – I can easily do this with content stored on the Apple TV hard drive, but it doesn’t work well on streaming content. I’m sure the problem is that I use a 100 MB connection speed instead of a 1 GB connection, so I can’t really blame Apple for this shortcoming.

Overall I am very happy with the Apple TV and am considering buying one of the new second gen units for a different TV and stereo. I do wish the first gen USB port would allow me to attach an external drive, but that isn’t going to happen, based on the second gen of this product. The new Apple TV has a lot less local storage and instead it replies on streaming content from other sources.

Why talk about this now? Yesterday Apple released a press announcement that it expects Apple TV sales to top 1,000,000 units this week. That, in and of itself, is impressive as the first gen unit didn’t do well and some analysts predicted Apple would completely drop the product line.  I hope they have as much success with the Apple TV as they are with the iPad. I like mine and hope they are around a long time.