This year, as in previous years, I got a gift certificate to Best Buy at our holiday Christmas party. I decided to spend it on an AppleTV, something I’ve been looking at buying since they came out in 2007.

Having plumbed the pole in our den with expandability in mind, it was simple to hook up. I had already run extra power and network cabling out there, and the HDMI cable goes right into the back of the TV. Eventually, when I’m able to afford a decent head unit with HDMI input/output, I’ll move everything off the pole and back onto the cabinet and use the head to switch between inputs (FIOS, AppleTV, XBOX). But for now, it works great. It’s resting on the top of the TV right now, but a few strategically placed zip ties should hold it securely until it makes the move.

I set up my Flickr, Netflix, Vimeo, and iTunes accounts in minutes. Picture quality for Netflix was marginal (I tested an episode of Mythbusters, so it may improve with true digital movies, or there may be a setting I’m missing). We sat and looked through Finn’s Flickr set as a family before heading off to bed last night, although we can’t watch videos posted there. Stupid Flash.

Setting up iTunes was pretty easy; it requires activating Home Sharing in iTunes, which then makes it discoverable by AppleTV. Paging through music and movies is easy at that point. One caveat: The furthest back AppleTV can connect with iTunes is version 10.5 (roughly Leopard). Sharing pictures is a little trickier, because it requires finding and enabling a somewhat hidden feature within iTunes to share photos in iPhoto. Once I’d done that, I could browse everything on my hard drive.

The G5 server in our basement has been finicky sharing its iTunes library, requiring multiple library rebuilds, but I found a really easy method for doing so.  I did sort out a good way to share video without importing them into iTunes (thereby making iTunes that much slower): deselect the “Copy files to iTunes Media Folder when adding to library” setting in Preferences -> Advanced. I also found that iTunes doesn’t like AVI files, which means we have four years worth of Flip movie files that need to be converted to be shared. Yuck. Fortunately, I finally found a good .m4v converter called Adapter which converts .FLV, .MOV, .AVI and other formats without fucking up the sound, which is a godsend. Now I need to dig out that disc of Venture Brothers episodes and convert them all to .m4v.

The iPhone Remote application was also easy to sync up once I’d enabled Home Sharing, and in a lot of ways it’s easier to use than the supplied remote (which I predict will go missing within a week). It’s simple, it does what it says, no muss or fuss. I haven’t tried any AirPlay features on the set yet, but I’ll give that a try this evening.

One future solution to the sharing problem that I’ve been considering is a NAS box in place of the server. A bunch of research I did yesterday points to two consumer-level products at the $300 price point: the QNAP TS-219 and the Synology DS213. Each are two-bay enclosures with an integrated processor and on-board web service to share files. The most important features I need are AFP, Time Machine compatibility, and iTunes audio and video streaming. The QNAP is missing Time Machine functionality, while the Synology has Time Machine built in and an iTunes server available as an app. I’m a little dubious about the app, but I’m going to do some more research and see what reviews it’s getting. I’d love to be able to ditch the G5 and go with a managed box, especially because a new Intel Mac Pro is north of $2K and I never see them come up on Craigslist.

So, overall I’m very happy with the AppleTV. The ability to stream Netflix movies, access movies and music from our home server, and pull photos down from Flickr is awesome. With a few more tweaks, I think it’ll be perfect.

Date posted: January 17, 2013 | Filed under apple, geek | Leave a Comment »

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