Apple TV (2012) Third generation full review

Following rumours that Apple was planning to launch its own TV to revolutionise yet another media industry we all waited to see what size this game-changing, super-slim, iOS-Connected device would be: 40 inches, 50”, 60”..? See also: Apple TV: useful and simple to use

Actually, and to the disappointment of industry disruptors everywhere, it measured less than an inch in height and under 4 inches in width and depth. Indeed it was the same shape and size as the previous Apple TV, and not so dissimilar in features either.

The Apple TV, you see, isn’t a TV at all. It isn’t even a TV tuner for free-to-air channels, or a digital video recorder to catch shows while you’re away from home or watching another channel.

Instead the Apple TV is a cool-looking little box that sits alongside your television, and lets you download TV shows and films from Apple’s online iTunes Store, stream music, movies and photos from your computer or iCloud, and connect the media on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch via AirPlay.

See also New iPad review.

What’s new about the new Apple TV?

There’s not much new with the new Apple TV but maybe just enough to tempt existing second-generation Apple TV users: namely full 1080p HD resolution downloads. New users will find lots to like, but a wall of limitations as well.

Note that not all HD content on iTunes is 1080p; much remains at the lower-resolution 720p. And it might be only real screen buffs who can tell the difference between 1080p and 720p anyway.

Of course 1080p videos are pretty large so you need a fast internet connection to stream them; Apple recommends at least an 8Mbps connection.

The Apple TV’s processor has been given a boost to cope with the higher-res HD, up from an A4 to an A5.

The £99 Apple TV box itself is cute but ultra cool in glossy jet black. It doesn’t distract from your TV itself (after all, the TV screen is the most important part of any television set up) and takes up next to no space. We simply placed ours on top of the Blu-ray player and Sky+ box.

Connecting Apple TV

The Apple TV is super simple to connect and configure – even easier than setting up the other iOS devices (iPad, iPhone).

You can’t use Apple TV with any old telly, though. You need an HDTV television (either 720p or 1080p) that connects via HDMI. You need to buy an HDMI cable (from about £5) to connect the Apple TV to your telly, as there’s not one included in the box.

Apple TV back ports HDMI television iTunes

The Apple TV box has one HDMI port, and also an optical digital audio port for real home cinema sound buffs (for most the HDMI connection will suffice). There’s also a Micro USB port for service and diagnostics, and an Ethernet port if you really don’t want to use Wi-Fi.

Most homes are set up with a wireless network, of course, and wireless video streaming requires 802.11a, g or n; nearly all modern Wi-Fi routers conform with these standards.

You also need to upgrade to iTunes 10.5 or later on your PC or Mac.

Apple TV remote control

You navigate the setup menus and input Wi-Fi network and password via the included Apple TV remote – yes, another ruddy remote control to join your TV, Blu-ray, DVD, DVR, etc controllers…

Configuration is easy but isn’t as slick as you’d expect from Apple’s UI boffins. It’s as clunky a process as on any Sony internet-ready HDTV. Surely Apple could do better…

Apple TV user interface

Apple TV’s user interface is simple and intuitive, as you’d expect from Apple, and will be familiar to all iPad and iPhone users as it utilises the bright and bold iOS looks.

Apple TV User Interface television iTunes

The main screen delivers big icons for Films, TV Programmes, Computers and Settings, plus a small range of third-party options, including Netflix (see below).

The inclusion of Apple’s own MobileMe is a sad reminder that this excellent photo and video-sharing service is heading for the exit in the near future.

Next page: Movie and TV downloads via Apple TV