Archive for the 'Apple TV' Category

AppleTV: aka AirPlay receiver

Posted in Apple TV, HDTV, Technology on January 7th, 2014 at 05:00:44

Along with the new TV, I also set up an AppleTV — a small set-top box designed to hook up to the Internet and provide some content. Or something.

I say this because I really don’t understand what AppleTV is supposed to be doing for me; it’s a walled garden of apps, with no ability to extend it — no app store, or anything like it — and I can’t understand a lot of what it is useful for. I suppose part of this is because I’ve never bought into the iTunes way of life — I don’t buy videos or music on iTunes, and I don’t even know the password for my MyAppleCloudWhatever account, so in some ways, I’m probably not an ideal candidate for the Apple way of life that the Apple TV is trying to tie into.

However, the Apple TV has proven useful for one thing that I didn’t know anything about when I set it up: AirPlay. Apple’s AirPlay started out as AirTunes, for streaming music content, and grew into a more general media (and screen) sharing technology later on. I’ve seen options for AirPlay in OS X for a number of years, but I didn’t really know much about it, so I just ignored it.

I set up the AppleTV, but wasn’t really using it — I had watched some TV while plugged into an HDMI cable directly from my Macbook Pro, but not poked at the AppleTV at all. Then, I turned on the TV… and Kristan’s computer screen was mirrored on the TV. (Apparently some apps when they go into fullscreen mode will automatically activate AirPlay in some way — specifically, the Cake Mania Main Street game appears to do this.) Prior to that, I didn’t really have any idea what AirPlay was — but suddenly, I found out that I could put whatever was on my screen on the TV with one button click.

To me, this is actually one of those times when technology actually (mostly) works: I’m watching something on my computer, and someone else in the room says “That sounds interesting, you should put it up on the TV”… and they click one button, and it goes on the TV.

Of course, it’s still software, so it’s not without it’s flaws.

  • Sometimes, in order to get sound to go to the TV, you need to restart the CoreAudio daemon; this macrumours thread describes the problem and the command line workaround: sudo kill `ps -ax | grep 'coreaudiod' | grep 'sbin' |awk '{print $1}'`
  • I actually found that the Linksys WRT54G router that I had wasn’t keeping up with the demands of running AirPlay over the wireless; even plugging the AppleTV into the ethernet was still not up to snuff, so I unboxed the Apple Airport Extreme we’ve also had lying around; switching to that cleared the issues up. (Looking at the CPU usage on the router, I think this is actually just that the chip can’t keep up with the demands of the network traffic — it was maxing out the CPU moving data around — rather than any specific software problem.

Of course, the AppleTV has other functionality — the ‘apps’ that exist on it. So far, I’ve used both the Netflix and YouTube apps on it, and neither leaves me super impressed. (Admittedly, I apparently used the ‘default’ software that came with the device; I received a Software Update a couple days later which installed about 10x as many apps, and probably changed the functionality of the apps I did have, so some of this criticism may be out of date.) The Netflix app lacked auto-play (a key feature for me, since I spend most of my time watching many episodes of television shows), and even navigating to the next episode via button presses proved more annoying than it should have been.

The YouTube app appeared to completely lack the ability to downgrade the streaming quality — it would play at whatever the highest quality level was — which just flat out didn’t function on my DSL connection, which could usually support a 720p stream, but even that wasn’t reliable. This meant that all the time on YouTube was spent buffering videos and no time actually watching them.

If the AppleTV actually supported DIAL — a spec for remote device discovery and application launching — I could imagine using it a bit more. If I could just launch the Netflix player on the Apple TV by clicking a button on my laptop, I could certainly imagine using it more, and the same with the YouTube app. AirPlay makes things easy, but it means that I’m tied to not using my computer while using AirPlay; it would be worth it to me to use the less fully featured app if I could start it more easily. (Searching via an on-screen keyboard with a 6 button remote is not particularly user-friendly.) In fact, I’m considering setting up my long-avoided Google TV (Logitech Revue) to see if it will function in this way — or possibly even going the next step and buying a Chromecast solely for this functionality. Of course, Apple and standards have never been a great friend, so I’m not surprised here, just annoyed.

To me, so far, the Apple TV doesn’t provide a lot of functionality for me. With a little bit of software support, I think it could be a much more useful device — DIAL support would be a killer app for meI don’t ever expect to use anything other than YouTube and Netflix as far as apps — the others require subscriptions I don’t have in order to be useful, or just aren’t that interesting. Without an iTunes account, I don’t see any major benefits from any shared media purchasing. However, as an AirPlay receiver for quickly sharing what’s on my screen, I think it’s a useful device to keep around, and I expect I will continue to let it have a home in my living room entertainment going forward for that reason alone.