Apple TV On Shelves

By Eric Griffith

March 21, 2007

The set-top box uses 802.11n to stream entertainment to your TV.

Announced at the last MacWorld Expo, but lost a bit in the hype over the iPhone, the Apple TV set-top box is now shipping. It's the first consumer electronics product to ship with 802.11n -- a Wi-Fi technology not yet ratified, but still making major inroads in new products anyway.

Apple describes the product as "a DVD player for the Internet age," except it doesn't play DVDs. It connects to your network via wireless 11n or an Ethernet cable, so you can stream video and audio from a PC or Macintosh to your home entertainment center. That includes streaming audio and video purchased at the iTunes Store -- something you can't do with most other network media players, due to the Digital Rights Management (DRM) Apple builds in at the behest of content owners like record labels and movie studios. It only works with iTunes 7.1 on MacOS X 10.3.9 or later, or on Windows XP SP2. The company does not list Vista as being compatible.

Many of Apple's current computers are shipping with 802.11n built in, but it's also in some slightly older models. Apple expects users either to buy an Apple AirPort router to upgrade those laptops, or to pay $2 to get the software to do it individually.

Inside the Apple TV is a 40GB hard drive that stores "50 hours of video, 9,000 songs, 25,000 photos or a combination," according to the company (assuming all video is 640x480 stuff bought on iTunes; it varies on encoded bit rates and photo resolution, naturally). The hard drive lets it serve as a digital video recorder of sorts as well, so not all your viewing is streaming. The unit supports HDTV up to 720p output (no 1080i or 1080p output yet) via a number of outputs to your TV: HDMI , component, analog, and an optical audio output. Apple, in fact, says the Apple TV "requires an enhanced definition or high-definition wide screen TV" for playback. (Forget using your 20-year-old set with one lonely coax input).

Inside is a modified version of the Mac OS, according to the Wall Street Journal, which states, "Apple TV is tiny, just about eight inches square and an inch high, far smaller than a typical DVD player or cable or satellite box, even though it packs in a 40-gigabyte hard disk, an Intel processor and a modified version of the Mac operating system. And it has a carefully limited set of functions."

Apple TV costs $299 and comes with an Apple Remote. If you want to see one demonstrated, the Apple Store retail outlets will provide workshops on the product starting this week.



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