All I Wanted For Christmas Was An AppleTV

Geek Culture

Image: AppleImage: Apple

Image: Apple

In my experience, when it comes to home media centers, there are two main camps and an outlier. In the main camps are the uber-geeks who want to build everything from the ground up and those who go with a gaming console or one of a myriad of inexpensive devices that plugs in to a TV and plays files in a wide range of digital formats. And then there are the outliers, of which I am one: the AppleTV people. Santa dropped off another of Steve Jobs’ hobby boxes under our Christmas tree this year and I couldn’t be happier.

Those who scoff at the AppleTV as being a closed system or too simplistic are missing the point. You don’t typically pick up one of these things as a standalone media center; it would be next to useless compared to the alternatives. However, if you’re already reasonably committed to an Apple universe -in particular, use of iTunes for media management, iPod(s) and an Apple computer of some description- then the AppleTV isn’t taking the easy way out so much as an taking advantage of a well honed multimedia ecosphere. Everything just works (mostly), and that appeals to the systems design geek in me much more than constructing a box myself ever would. There’s also something inherently cool about buying a piece of hardware that has continually expanded its capabilities over the past few years through software updates instead of leaving early adopters behind with multiple new hardware iterations. And for someone without cable, the ability to buy and rent movies and TV shows on demand is extremely useful.

Sure, lack of format support can be frustrating (DivX? What’s DivX?), the hardware can only handle 720p, the devices run hotter than hell and the tiny standard hard drive sizes are laughable, but there are ways around all of these challenges. If I want to geek out for a while, I can fire up iStumbler and try to pinpoint what device is interfering with my wireless network and kicking one of the AppleTVs offline, or I can just relaunch iTunes and everything’s fine again. It’s not a perfect device, by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is an iPod and both reflect one of the more interesting paradoxes of our time: while our equipment is capable of supporting technical specs that were unheard of a decade ago, in many cases we are satisfied with audio or visual quality that’s subpar compared to what ten year old technology could pump out. It’s that whole bit about a library of any media that’s “good enough” to watch or listen to on demand trumping high definition versions that require space, time and/or effort. For the stuff I really care about seeing in full 1080p glory, the Star Treks and Planet Earths, we buy Blu-Ray copies. For everything else -and for virtually anything the kids care about- the AppleTV is good enough. And if the rumors that have been flying around about Apple offering subscription TV services pan out, it may be even get even better.

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