By Levy, Steven
Byline: Steven Levy
Last October, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took an unusual step for a tech impresario who usually treats upcoming projects with the secrecy devoted to NSA code-breaking operations: he preannounced a new product now known as Apple TV. Despite Jobs's short demo, Apple TV still had an air of mystery about it. It allows you to connect your iTunes songs, movies and television shows (as well as the photos on your computer) to your television set. But what would distinguish it from the other numerous forays into the evolving, and pretty confused, arena known as the digital living room? Well, Apple TV is finally shipping, and now we know. Or do we?
For $300, Apple TV effectively liberates your digital songs, videos and photos from your PC, allowing them moments of glory on your widescreen television. If you have a big iTunes collection, a big television and even a medium-size budget, you'll probably get your money's worth from Apple TV. But this premiere version seems to be a tantalizing first step toward a more significant--and, as of yet, mysterious--merger of the den and the living room.
The design of the object itself is somewhat enigmatic. It's a fairly flat tray, seven inches wide and long, slightly over an inch high. There are no buttons, no switches, not even an on/off toggle. On the back are the sockets for cables and electronics connectors. If it didn't have the familiar fruit logo and the letters "TV" on top, you might use it as a tray to hold an order of sushi at a chic fusion-cuisine joint.
It took some doing, and much consultation with Apple's technicians, to hook the device to a TV, PC and wireless network (which tells me that the product is still in shakedown mode). Once it was working, I began to appreciate the allure of Apple TV. The crisp list of menus and the straightforward means of navigating them will be familiar to anyone who has used the Apple remote with the Front Row feature on recent Macintosh computers, or even stepped through the menu options on an iPod. What's more, it's a visually rich experience with clean text on black background enhanced by high-definition movie posters, album covers and your own photos. …