Apple TV (3rd gen) review
The Apple TV is the black sheep of the Apple family, this latest update being casually dropped into the keynote speech for the launch of the new iPad. Like the tablet, you'd do well to spot any physical difference from its predecessor - it's a mere millimetre smaller than 2010's model - but some significant improvements have been made inside that achingly stylish little black box.
The upgraded A5 processor now permits support for 1080p video, although be on guard if you're renting movies via the built-in iTunes store: movies marked HD are actually only 720p; you need to look specifically for the 1080p label. Find some Full HD footage, however, and the picture quality makes for a sumptuous big-screen experience.
Full HD aside, the Apple TV's strengths and faults are identical to those we've identified on previous models. The revamped interface remains joyously slick and effortlessly navigable with the thin stick of aluminium that forms its elegant remote control, or (better still) with the free Apple Remote app for iPhone. But the content selection remains meagre: aside from iTunes movies and TV, there's only Netflix, YouTube and a smattering of other apps to keep you entertained - even the Roku 2 XS has more than this. Why Apple hasn't opened up Apple TV to developers is bewildering, although the large gap beneath the app icons on the homescreen suggests there might be more to come.
The Apple TV's saving grace is AirPlay. Photos, music, videos and, crucially, output from a growing selection of iOS apps can be beamed effortlessly from your iPhone or iPad to the Apple TV. So while there might not be a BBC iPlayer app on Apple TV itself, you can pick shows from the iPad app and have them played back - in HD - from your phone or tablet. It's an astonishing feat of zero-configuration simplicity.
Almost all of the major music and video apps we tried offer AirPlay support, including 4oD, YouTube and Spotify. The only notable exception was Sky Go, which only transmits audio via AirPlay.
Without other iOS devices to hand, the Apple TV is much less compelling. Limited file format support and the chore of having to worm through iTunes makes the Apple TV a second-rate choice for home network streaming. But if you've got your music and video collection stored on your iPhone/iPad, there's no need to even hook the Apple TV to your PC - simply stream via AirPlay from the phone/tablet.
In short, as a standalone device, the Apple TV is still painfully short of compelling content. For those fully embedded in the Apple ecosystem, however, the Apple TV is becoming ever-more desirable.