The Obvious Limitations

Let’s start with the experience inside Apple’s walled garden. The Apple TV will let you stream any content you have within iTunes. Unfortunately iTunes doesn’t play well with anything that’s not in a .mov, .mp4 or m4v container. Then there are the Apple TV limitations: 720p H.264, main profile level 3.1 (or lower) and AAC-LC audio (160Kbps per channel).

You can technically feed the Apple TV 1080p video, but it’ll always downscale to 720p. I haven’t found any evidence of scaler hardware inside the Apple TV so there’s a good chance the box won’t work with older HDTVs that can’t accept a 720p input. I don’t have anything that can test that here so if you have experience with such a setup, please let me know.

Most content acquired outside of the Apple ecosystem isn’t encoded to these specs, so if you’ve got your own library of DRM-free video you’ll need to transcode to get it into iTunes. On a fast enough system it’s not that big of a deal but it’s still annoying to do.

Mac users will probably want to use something other than QuickTime for transcoding however. While QuickTime is very simple to use, the performance on multi-core/multithreaded systems is atrocious compared to other tools like Handbrake.

With your videos transcoded, you can stream them very easily over to the Apple TV.

There’s just one problem with all of this. While the Apple TV makes you jump through hoops to play your own content, devices like the Popcorn Hour, Patriot Box Office or upcoming Boxee Box will play virtually everything you have, regardless of container or format.

Out of the box the Apple TV isn’t a good way to play your existing, non-iTunes content. It’s the same limitation that Apple had with the original Apple TV and it’s part of why the product is nothing more than a hobby. Now let’s get to the other reasons.

The New One Apple TV Movie Rental
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  • Hrel - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I think it's funny you listed "not being able to channel surf" as a fault. If anything it's good. That's a huge waste of time. Hopefully if we remove that ability from everyone everywhere people will get up and do something productive. Hell, even a bath is more relaxing than channel surfing. Or conquering the world in Civ. Or writing up little applets for the web. Hell, looking through youtube or wikipedia is better use of time.
  • vol7ron - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I disagree.

    1. if you have two channels either right next to eachother, or within a small distance, who wants to use the guide?
    2. you may not know the name of a show but are vaguely familiar when it came on
    3. you can find many new, interesting shows by channel surfing
  • KineticHummus - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    "There’s simply no way to do away with cable TV and use a simple, IP based, autonomous box for all of your content without resorting to piracy of some sort."

    SO true...
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I couldn't agree more. Let's hope that Apple gets serious about this and that competitors will follow. More competition is good for customers!
  • therealnickdanger - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I dunno... is it "piracy" to torrent TV shows that aired the night before? They're already broadcast for free without DRM...
  • vol7ron - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    what if you don't pay for cable?
  • Tros - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    I think he means for stuff that comes off the air. Say, House MD broadcast over the air from Fox.

    And technically, somebody is losing because you're not watching advertisements. But that's a whole other level of morals.

    It'd be nice if this thing was x86, because then the jailbreak would likely have the HDTV-tuner (already exists in OS X) through USB 2.0. I want to believe that Apple's making a piece of hardware for the hackers/pirates to write software for, but GoogleTV/Amazon doesn't seem to have a problem with going with a rent-free model.
  • archcommus - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Thought the same thing myself. Read these words and was glad someone finally wrote down what I had been thinking.
  • Docchris - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    "Most bitrates played fine although at 70Mbps or above the video player would often either crash or the entire Apple TV would reboot."

    where did you get a 70mbps file from? that exceeds even blu-ray's maximum spec!
  • Revdarian - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    On "The Apple TV as a Cable TV Replacement" scroll down to the 3rd paragraph, at the end of it here is the phrase "You have 30 days to being watching and 48 hours to watch the show (unlimited times) once you press play." the small mistake is that it should read "to begin watching..."
    Great article tho, had great fun reading it, and agree with it all.

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