I've got an original Apple TV, the one that shipped with a hard drive and component TV outputs. I'll be getting the new Apple TV, supposedly on Thursday, that only streams media — from your own computer or from the internet. I wanted to document my complaints about the existing Apple TV so I can do a comparison of the two systems.

My current Apple TV connects to a 32" HDTV (720p) via HDMI. Sound is via the digital optical cable to my receiver. It's connected to the home network via wire, however my computer is downstairs, and my Apple TV is upstairs. The two locations are joined via a powerline network. I reviewed this setup in TidBITS way back in 2007. TL;DR version is the powerline setup is faster than 802.11g wi-fi and I still don't have 802.11n wireless at home. I'm hoping to connect upstairs and downstairs via an ethernet cable (which would give me a gigabit connection between the two) before the new Apple TV arrives. My internet connection is a 6 Mbps (down) DSL connection from Speakeasy.net (one of the best damn ISPs around, even while being owned by Best Buy).

Back in December I cancelled my cable TV subscription. It cost $60 a month. The digital signals on cable TV were terrible. They had frequent drop-outs where everything would turn completely blocky and the audio would drop out. You can watch a poor analog TV station to a certain degree, espeically if the audio was decent throughout, but on digital even small dropouts are really annoying. This is a huge reason I think downloads are the better solution than streaming, especially over the internet.

Since cancelling my cable the Apple TV has become the dominant way for me to watch and listen to stuff from on my media center. What I previously watched from cable I buy from iTunes. My TiVO records over the air (at better quality than cable provided), but I typically only watch it a few times a week to catch up on shows. I listen to more podcasts than I ever listened to the radio. The Apple TV is on almost all the time that I'm at home.

Despite the continuous use the Apple TV drives me crazy. The interface is poorly thought out (the TiVO interface remains the best media center interface I've used.) Here are the top annoyances I've found with the current Apple TV.

Syncing is flaky

This is a combination of issues with iTunes and the Apple TV. There isn't a way to iniate a sync from the Apple TV side. Just the iTunes side. Even using something like Keyboard Maestro with it's iPhone interface that can be used control iTunes makes it hard to start a sync remotly.

Apple decided to fix this problem by completely doing away with syncing. I'm not convinced this is the answer, but perhaps network streaming from a local machine will be sufficent. I think it might work if the Apple TV can do a wake-on-lan and launch iTunes on the remote computer automatically so it doesn't have to be awake and online all the time.

Slow interface

Navigating menus on the Apple TV can be painful. Reponses to button presses on the remote can take forever to register. With no feedback if a button press was accepted this leads to pushing buttons over and over, and then having them execute all at once.

Opening the My Movies or TV Shows list is slow as it tries to build a screenshot of the first frame of each movie. It doesn't appear to cache any of this data so it's always rebuilding these snapshots. If you add "album art" (the same phrase is used for iTunes music, movies and TV shows) you can stop it from rebuilding these frames all the time.

The single most frustrating behavior to me is when the Apple TV can take 10-30 seconds to resume playback of a long podcast. If I pause playback of a podcast, then press play, the further I am into the podcast the longer the resume takes. Short music tracks don't seem to have this problem, neither do video (video podcasts work fine as well.)

Different remote control behaviors for audio vs. video playback

When playing audio, pressing the forward button once jumps to the next track, pressing it in video playback puts it into fast forward mode. The audio choice makes some sense for music playback, but i'd really prefer the button to do the same thing all the time. And the jump to the next track operation sucks when listening to podcasts and you want ff through a bit of it.

The reverse button changes similarly in video vs. audio playback modes.

Can't rate songs as they play

iTunes has allowed you to rate music with 1-5 stars for many years. You can't rate songs from the Apple TV interface. With the introduction of Ping I'm hoping they allow both star ratings and Ping "likes" from the Apple TV.

The New AppleTV and Ping

Thu 02 September 2010 by Kevin van Haaren

Apple's iPod event was yesterday. As usual rumors abounded before hand, and failed to come through. The funniest was Apple didn't rename Apple TV to iTV as every-freaking person in the world predicted. Apple TV also didn't become a touch driven interface (touch provided via the Magic Trackpad Apple introduced). This is a good thing, mostly. I don't recall hearing too much that Apple might roll-out a social networking deal (Ping), so I guess most people missed that too.

I'm going to confine my comments to just 2 things: Apple TV and Ping. Most of ...

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Plantronics 975 bluetooth headset

Sat 20 February 2010 by Kevin van Haaren

I'm on my 5th bluetooth headset. Two Motorola something or others, an Etymotic etyBLU which I lost, a Jawbone 2, and now a Plantronics 975.

The Motorola headsets were cheap and adequate. Not spectacular looking and the audio wasn't great. I upgraded to the EtyBLU based on reviews that it was supposed to be the best. It's an in the ear canal model. It also has a removable boom mic combined with its noise supression makes it work really well in noisy conditions. The problem I had with it was its bluetooth connection to my Blackberry was ...

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The iPad

Thu 28 January 2010 by Kevin van Haaren

I do like the iPad. I think its a new category of device. Fat iPod is a visual description but I think it does the device a disservice. I can't count the number of times I've talked to people that have gone to a dual monitor on their computer. It changes their workflow, they feel more productive, etc.... Technically that's just a fatter computer but it's made them use it in a different way.

I have the same feeling about the iPad. It's a dual screen iPhone and it's going to trigger different uses ...

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Mac Pro vs. iMac

Tue 24 November 2009 by Kevin van Haaren

Got into a debate about the future of the Mac Pro on twitter. I believe this all started from an article Ted Landau wrote for Mac Observer

I haven't read the whole thing but that hasn't stopped me before. Here's what I think it would take for the iMac to be able to replace the Mac Pro. Do I think this is likely? Not really, I do think it's got an outside possibility of occuring. I'd give it about 30% chance of happening in 5 years. Also note that I do assume both lines will ...

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