Let's not deceive ourselves. Apple TV isn't the first device to do what Apple TV does, not by a long shot. It suffers many shortcomings. But for reasons that become self-evident the moment the familiar Apple logo appears on your HDTV after plugging it in, you know why this product will be a raging success when other similar products have flopped. What Apple has done with Apple TV is to corral an ornery collection of technologies and concepts and somehow made them all not merely palatable to nonpropeller-head consumers, but with its usual élan and panache, has actually made the damn thing fun.
THE ESSENTIALS: APPLE TV
WHO WANTS THISAnyone who wants to listen and watch their iTunes collection through their home stereo and TV. And we mean anyone, from geeks to gramps.
WHYIt streams music, TV shows and movies downloaded from iTunes to their entertainment gear and puts digital pictures on a big screen.
WHAT'S COOL Insanely easy to set up, and it uses your pictures in its animated screensaver without you telling it to. If fact, it does a lot of sweet things without drilling through menus to instruct it.
WHAT'S LAMENo way to stream pictures, no way to find specific pictures and no HD content (yet) on iTunes. What a waste of an HDMI connection.
FINAL MARK: AEven without HD content and picture thumbnails, Apple TV's ease-of-setup and eerie way of anticipating your needs ensure it won't become a doorstop.
PRICE: $300Check out Apple's website for details.
But wait, there's more. Apple TV also streams. It streams whatever music or video doesn't fit on the Apple TV hard drive. It streams dozens of movie trailers and 30-second music video clips. If you add content to iTunes, and there's room on the Apple TV hard drive, it automatically updates it.
And, like all Apple products, the thing just works. No, it more than works. It's cool. It looks cool. It performs cool. You just want to sit and play with it. You want to scroll through your digital pictures because they look so real on a big-screen HDTV backed by an automatic soundtrack with songs frighteningly appropriate. Your pictures become a 3D sliding tile screen saver. The 640 x 480-pixel iTunes movies are upconverted to match the native resolution of your HDTV. Apple calls it "near" DVD, and they're right; only the platinum-eyed set will be able to tell the difference. Streamed videos start up faster than a DVD.
And yet, it could be better. Apple TV works only with an HDTV, yet there's no HD content on iTunes (although you can make your own HD movies and import them to iTunes). It doesn't include an HDMI cable. It streams only with your PC with iTunes running. It works best with an 802.11n router, but the N specification isn't finished and your N modem may need a firmware upgrade before it'll work. It works only with iTunes. It doesn't stream photos. It has no thumbnail gallery for pictures; you have to scroll through your albums to find a specific shot.
Oh, one last quibble: It runs hot. But it's still cool.