March 7, 2013
If you've been reading this blog, you probably know that I like Apple stuff. Understatement, I know. Apple has some competitors that seem to flop around like a fish out of water, but others will quite often score some nice punches.
If you like connecting to digital media through your TV, you pretty much have two decent choices. This does not include any built-in apps on any Internet-connected TV I have seen, nor does it include any sort of setup that involves an actual computer hooked up to your TV 24/7.
No, what you have are Apple TV and Roku. Both are little black boxes that have diameters just smaller than an optical disc (CD, DVD, BD) and are about as thick as your standard Windows-based notebook computer.
Apple TV last updated its hardware about a year ago, getting support for 1080p video output and improving the processor. Software updates have added features such as support for shared Photostreams.
The Roku 3 update was announced this week. A neat new feature is the ability to plug a set of headphones into the remote controller and listen to the media you're playing in silence. It's not what I would define as a killer app that would drive anyone to buy it, but it's definitely something new and potentially useful. The number of times my mom has yelled "turn that down!" to my dad in the past few decades is not a low one. I'm sure their household is not the only one with this issue.
Both of these boxes are $99 and attach to your home theater setup with an HDMI cable. Tip: If you spend more than $10 on a six-foot HDMI cable, you probably don't know about Amazon Basics or Monoprice.com. Look them up.
If you want to just stream Netflix on a TV, you might already have that. Netflix is on every game console and almost every Internet-connected TV or Blu-ray Disc player. Where these boxes shine is past that.
Roku wins in terms of app availability. You can download Spotify, news apps, games and many many more types of apps. The new interface looks quite nice as well.
Apple TV wins in terms of extending your Apple apps and iTunes library. If you have bought a lot of music, movies and TV shows through iTunes, use Photostream on your iPhone, iPad or iPod, or own numerous iOS apps with AirPlay features, Apple TV is a huge bonus.
With the release of Mac OS X Mountain Lion last year, people with the latest Macs gained the ability to wirelessly mirror their computer screen to an Apple TV.
When I found out that my iMac, which was only 18 months old at the time, wasn't able to do that, I was furious for a while. Instead of needing some other service to play TV shows from websites, I could've just opened them up on my computer and shot them to my TV. If you've ever tried to watch a CBS show online, you know this is your only option.
But still, I use my Apple TVs all the time to play movies and TV shows from my iTunes library. With a recent update to the HBO Go app, I can use AirPlay to watch HBO shows on either of my TVs.
Roku has support for an HBO Go app on its box, negating the need for that. Like I said, both boxes have their ups and downs.
With some nice advances in the digital media industry, such as Apple's iTunes Extras and Amazon.com's free video access to Amazon Prime members, more and more of us will use these boxes. I just took the Blu-ray Disc player out of my bedroom because I may have used it once since I got a second Apple TV for Christmas -- I needed the shelf space.
Rumors have been floating around that Apple will unveil a software development kit for Apple TV like it did for the iPhone. Roku already has a wealth of apps. So if you're looking to enhance your TV viewing experience, you should look into adding one of these boxes. For $99, they add a lot of features to any TV with an HDMI port.
Michael Buckelew is a copy editor for the Gwinnett Daily Post. Email him at email@example.com.