After posting the first Apple TV review online yesterday, we are now moving on to general questions about the device you guys have written us with. Let the Q&A session begin!
Q: Can Apple TV be hacked?
A: Early reports seem to indicate: yes. A tool called SHAtter is reportedly the key to success, but keep the following things in mind, my adventurous friends:
-Apple has yet to release the iOS 4.2 update that allows streaming from OS devices like your iPhone 4 to your Apple TV. That comes out in November. When you download it, I’d assume it would undo all your hacking handiwork, despite boasts that the SHAtter tool allows for updates without losing your hacks.
-It seems possible to hack the system to stream apps and, perhaps, games, to your Apple TV, but there’s no way to change the resolution of these mobile apps. In other words: they are going to look pixilated on your large television, if you manage to successfully get them there.
-Some hackers seem to be focusing on the micro-USB connection on the rear panel. Apple reps told me this was basically a connection for emergency use—say, if you desperately need to restore factory settings. But your Apple TV will regularly update via Wi-Fi, and it’s possible to restore factory settings via Wi-Fi, as well. Regardless, the micro-USB appears to be active, so it will definitely receive attention from hackers.
Q: Can I adjust parental controls for Netflix content on Apple TV like I can for iTunes content?
A: Yes, and there are two ways to do this. Online, go to Netflix and sign in, go to “Your Account & Help”, scroll down to “Preferences”, click on “Change parental control settings” and block or allow movies based on their rating. This will affect both your DVD Queue and your Watch Instantly Queue—and whatever you change here will change on your Apple TV’s Netflix menu, as well. Or, you can go to Apple TV’s settings menu and, under Parental Controls, create a passcode for Netflix, as well as YouTube, Internet Radio, Internet Photos, and Podcasts. You can choose to hide these menu options from your kids, or require the passcode be entered in order to access them. So, this second method is more of a complete block of content of Netflix, and the first is more of a filter.
Q: I heard Apple TV streams full 1080p HD—is this true? And what about surround sound?
A: No. The highest resolution for video streaming with the new Apple TV is 720p, which looks great, but is not, obviously, as great as 1080p. That said, most movies and TV shows now also stream with full 5.1 Dolby surround sound when available, which is impressive. I checked to make sure I was getting full surround when watching a variety of shows yesterday, and, indeed, an episode of “Lie to Me” had unique audio content in each channel. In time, 1080p HD streaming should become available, but right now, I’m assuming Apple is more concerned about getting the content loaded and buffered quickly so you’re not waiting forever. TV shows seemed to take less than 10 seconds to begin playing after rental yesterday, and movies less than, say, 45 seconds. Not bad.
Q: I have an older TV—will the Apple TV work with it?
A: Apple TV has only one video output—HDMI. If you don’t have an HDMI input on your television, you will need to buy an HDMI-to-whatever-your-input-is converter, either for composite, component, or S-Video. Keep in mind, all video content on iTunes is now in widescreen, 16:9 format, so viewing it on a really old television is not going to be a very rewarding experience. As long as your TV is simply an older model lacking HDMI, but is widescreen, the content should retain aspect ratio, just not resolution.
Q: What operating system is Apple TV running?
A: Apple won’t say. I have noticed that you can rearrange the order of your TV rentals by making an icon wiggle and sliding it to whatever position you please—similar to the process for arranging icons on iPod touches, iPads, and the iPhone. But Apple has gone out of its way to clarify that the Apple TV is not considered an iOS device. Sure, it can stream (or will be able to soon) from iOS devices, but it would seem that the OS is some sort of hybrid of iOS 4.1, and not iOS 4.1 itself. As of now, the OS has no name, and Apple doesn’t seem interested in elaborating.
Q: Now that Roku and TiVo have Hulu Plus, will Apple follow suit and add it to the Internet menu on Apple TV?
A: One’s gut reaction might be: why add competition for iTunes onto an Apple product? But Apple’s inclusion of Netflix certainly did that. Yesterday, for instance, I recorded a video in which I rented Let The Right One In for $4.99—and one viewer hilariously pointed out I could have instead streamed it from Netflix, on Apple TV, for free. Woops. The point is, however, that Apple isn’t opposed to providing portholes for potential competition, but my guess is their criteria for allowing this goes something like: “Is this competitor so established, much like iTunes, that we’d be better off recognizing our own customers use the service and making their lives easier?” In the case of Netflix, the clear answer was yes, and the occasional rental Apple loses in favor of a stream from Netflix on the same device will probably be negated by sales of Apple TV units because it has Netflix loaded.
In the case of Hulu Plus, I don’t think we have a competitor that people are truly paying for and addicted to on a level that Apple will feel the need to add it. Furthermore, Apple desperately wants more networks to get on the 99-cent rental bandwagon (currently, only Fox, ABC/Disney, and BBC are available), and streams of potential rentals on the same box would seem to undermine this goal. So, my guess is: no.
Send us more questions—either via email or in the comments below—and we’ll round them up again soon.