What is Apple TV?

Apple TV, as the name suggests, is a device made by Apple that allows you to manage and display your digital content on your TV.

Back in the Dark Ages of 2006, Apple noticed that people were buying the entry-level Mac model, the Mac Mini, and using it as a media center computer, similar to Windows Media Center PCs. So Apple introduced a device designed to be plugged into people’s TVs in early 2007, which of course happens to be the Apple TV.

Apple TV

The first version was available with 40 and 160 GB drives, but the 40GB drive was soon dropped. The device attracted the usual predictions of failure from the tech press, but the device did pretty well, with over 3 million of the original version sold.

The second iteration, introduced in 2010, dispensed with the hard drive entirely, relying on streaming. The new version is small and sleek and fits in your hand.

The current version has just five connectors: power, HDMI, USB, optical audio for your home theater system, and Ethernet if your Wi-Fi is flaky and don’t want your streaming interrupted. If you only have an analog non-widescreen TV, you can get cables to convert to the standard RCA jacks or S-Video or composite inputs. Of course, it also comes with a remote.

So why would you want one? Let’s face it, iTunes and Netflix are great ways to find content to watch instantly, but watching them on your computer can be a pain. A lot of people just get fidgety, feeling like they have to do something at the computer. With an Apple TV, you can kick back on the couch to watch a movie without fumbling for DVDs or Blu-Ray discs. And with the upcoming iTunes Match feature, it can make any of your DVDs and CDs available on the cloud, without having to convert anything.

Sports junkies will be pleased to know that they can watch MLB, NHL, NFL games in HD live, with the ability to pause and rewind and replay, even after the game’s over.. With a subscription, you can choose from home or away games. If you’re into news, you know there are a bunch of sources to get your fix, from the Internet, to cable channels, to even old-fashioned newspapers. Wall Street Journal live is available on Apple TV 24 hours a day, and you can get summaries of the latest headlines 24 hours a day..

And not only can you watch the latest Hollywood movies, you can also switch to the various streaming sites. You can watch YouTube and Flickr videos, as well as look at Photos on Flickr and stream Internet radio. Of course, the content isn’t always as polished as it is from the major studios, but for a lot of people, that’s part of the charm. And what’s the point of having one of these big-screen TVs if you can’t watch videos of cats doing funny things on it?

With iCloud, introduce with iOS 5, your content follows you on any of your Apple devices. That includes iPod, iPhone, iPad, or your iTunes-equipped computer, whether you use a Mac or a PC. You have the choice of Apple’s selection of movies and TV shows as well as Netflix, though a lot of people who still subscribe to the beleaguered service don’t find a lot of the content compelling. Better yet, with iCloud you can buy or rent content on one device and have it show up on all the others.

If you get tired of moving pictures, you can display your iCloud photo stream right on your TV from iCloud. Now you can show your friends and family your awesome vacation and cat photos, or even the vacation you took your cat on.

Apple TV’s features make the $99 device well worth getting for yourself or the geeky couch potato on your holiday shopping list.

Don’t miss our post on a love duet with Apple’s iPhone 4s’s Siri, as well as Apple TV’s Bluetooth keyboard support in iOS 5.