Saturday, January 22, 2011

AppleTV 1st Generation vs 2nd Generation - Should I upgrade?

Apple TV MC572LL/A (2010)
I currently have an AppleTV and it's a 1st generation box with 160GB hard drive.  Since the second generation AppleTV was launched a few months back I've wondered if I should buy a new one.  At $99 bucks it's in my price range but clearly it has to provide a heck of a lot more capabilities than the current one for me to spend any money on a replacement.  For me, the big thing is AirPlay.  Lucky for me, we recently purchased the second generation box at work and I borrowed it to test it out on my home network.

I'll get straight to the bottom line...if you already have an old AppleTV keep it.  If not or if you use your box differently than I do then it might make a lot of sense.

Here's what I found.

1) The old interface is better then the new one.  Don't get me wrong it's still as simple and as easy to use as the old one with Apple's signature clean and beautiful user experience.  The difference is that most of the UI is taken up by the for purchase stuff and not your own collection.  At the top level are movies, TV, music but all of this takes you to the iTunes store.  If you buy or rent a lot of movies then this might be better for you.  The second generation AppleTV consolidates all of your personal content in a single location under Computers and to find your music, movies and photos you have to go there so it's at least a couple of clicks before you even get to your content.  The first generation box integrates everything at the top level so your movies, music and tv shows are in the same location as the rental stuff.  So it's just a single click to your content.

2) Lots of delays waiting for content to load from your library -  The first generation AppleTV box sync's with your iTunes library so content is downloaded to the box.  I personally have it set up to only download photos.   Music and videos are read directly from my NAS.  But even in this situation the list of music and videos are downloaded and maintained on the AppleTV so one doesn't have to wait for this information to be acquired when traversing menus on the AppleTV.  This is not the case with the Apple TV 2nd Gen.  Every time I go to a menu it says Loading Library.  Now I have a huge library wtih over 800 videos and 100+ GB of music so things load pretty slowly for me.  This is really annoying and is probably the biggest sticking point for me.  Now you can get around it if you have an iPad and use the remote control.  The AppleTV remote control on the iPad is great and doesn't have to wait for any type of loading.  It's a little weird because it feels like sometimes it caches it but other times it tries to load things again.  It's possible that my library is too large to cache which is why I'm getting such a bad experience so your mileage may differ.

3) AirPlay isn't as good as it could be - AirPlay is pretty cool.  You simply start a video or music from the iTunes app and it will play on the 2nd Gen AppleTV.  However, for now, this only works with Apple's apps such as video, YouTube, Photos and iTunes.  It doesn't really work with anything else.  These are the very things I could care less about because these are all natively supported on the AppleTV so I don't have to AirPlay them.  The things that would be cool would be if third party apps supported AirPlay such as Hulu, 60 Minutes, or any of the other video apps.  Only the audio works with most of these which makes it far less useful.  I read that this may change and that third party apps will get video support.  Once this happens then I think it may be worth an upgrade.

So is there anything better on the 2nd Gen AppleTV?  Well I think movies load faster.  I'm not sure why this is the case but they do load faster which is really nice.  My old school AppleTV takes at least a half a second before a video starts to play.  It's so slow that sometimes I have to wonder if it crashed or not.  The other thing is the new box appears to be more stable.  I have lots of issues with my old AppleTV.  The entire box locks up when syncing and nothing can be done.  It hangs every now and then so I have to unplug it to start again.  And overall, the new AppleTV feels a lot faster.

I think I'll buy one once AirPlay is working with lots of apps.  AirPlay is pretty cool.  The way you get AirPlay to work is that the typical video icon changes on the iPad to a triangle with a box around it when near an AppleTV or AirPlay device.  Click on this and you'll get a menu with the AirPlay devices.  In my case it says iPad Screen or AppleTV.  If you pick AppleTV it starts to play on the TV.  You have to be in the main UI.  It doesn't work if you're paused in a movie.

Before I end this post I should also point out I had some issues setting up the new AppleTV.  The easiest thing for me to do to get this set up quickly was to unplug my old AppleTV and then plug in the new one using the exact same cables.  When I did this and tried to turn on Home Sharing on the new AppleTV it said it couldn't log into the iTunes store and then I got the spinner which kept going round and round as if it was looking for something.

Well iTunes didn't like this.  When I looked on my Mac the old AppleTV still looked like it was plugged in and I think this confused the new box.  I rebooted iTunes and my Mac and then tried home sharing again on the AppleTV.  This fixed everything and stuff just started working.  However, when using Home Sharing the new AppleTV doesn't appear in iTunes at all.  I wasn't really sure things were set up right until my stuff started showing up on the AppleTV.

Anyway, in conclusion the AppleTV is still a pretty cool little box but if you have the old AppleTV I don't think there is any reason to buy the new one at least until AirPlay video is supported by third party applications.

UPDATE: It appears that a number of third party apps are releasing AirPlay video support even though this won't work until 4.3.  Here's link to the MacRumors article.

UPDATE2: I purchased the new Apple TV and have been pretty happy with it.  Loading the library doesn't take a long time like it originally did in my earlier tests so that's not really an issue.  Also it appears to play a wider variety of video encoding.  I accidentally Handbraked a few movies using the default template and they wouldn't play on the old AppleTV but they play find on the new one.  I have also used the AirPlay feature mostly a bit for fun like playing music videos using Vevo but the apps I really want haven't added AirPlay support like Hulu, 60 minutes and least as of the last time I tried.  Finally it's a lot more stable than the old AppleTV.  it doesn't lock-up or crash or need rebooting a lot like the old one did.  I've been using it quite a bit for Netflix and it works great.  I could watch netflix using my XBOX, Wii or PlayStation but the Apple TV is always on and it's quick to get too.  Anyway, I'm pretty happy I purchased this new version.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the information.

    I'm looking at a 1TB 1st gen on eBay so your info has helped me with my decision.