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If you knew me, you’d know that I spend a considerable amount of time in Apple Stores. No, I’m definitely not purchasing something every time. As lame as it sounds, for me, it’s just fun to see so many people truly excited about gadgets. Call me a brainwashed fanboy all you want; if there were tons of people, young and old, hovering around gadgets in a Microsoft store or Best Buy, I’d enjoy that too.
But even at the Apple Store, there is a lonely corner where few customers venture. Nestled somewhere between iMacs and the Genius Bar, an HD television is set up with a small black box sitting underneath. That small black box is AppleTV and it’s possibly the best Apple product you can buy, dollar for dollar.
So what does this $100 box do? And maybe more importantly, what will it do in the future?
First and foremost, AppleTV is a media conduit; an integrated way to deliver movies, music, and photos to your home theater system.
AppleTV offers three ways to watch movies and TV shows. Movies can be rented through iTunes. Ranging from $1.99-4.99, these movies load in a matter of minutes or seconds (depending on your Internet connection) and are available for you to begin watching for 30 days. Once you start the movie, you have 24 hours to finish it.
TV shows are available, as well. However, Apple has made the choice for you, allowing you to only purchase episodes or full seasons of shows. When a season is purchased, AppleTV will let you know when a new episode is available.
If you have a Netflix subscription, AppleTV offers the best interface to access your queue and find other movies to stream. The entire Watch Instantly Netflix catalogue is available, including movies, tv shows, documentaries, etc.
AppleTV also connects wirelessly to your iTunes library on your computer, giving you access to any movies, music, or tv shows that reside there; purchased, ripped from DVDs, or otherwise.
Have a subscription to MLB TV, NBA, NHL, and Wall Street Journal TV? You can access them on AppleTV along with YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, and your photo stream.
All of these features can be controlled via an app on your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.
These features alone make the paltry $100 price tag worth it and then some. But there’s something bigger going on here.
A year ago Apple introduced AirPlay. This technology provides some very intriguing functionality today and even grander possibilities for the future.
Today, AirPlay allows you to stream whatever is on your iPad 2 or iPhone 4S directly to AppleTV or other airplay enabled devices (eg speakers). This means you can start a movie or video on your device and, once you’re connected to the same wifi as the AppleTV, you can push that video to the big screen with a single button.
And it’s not limited to video and music. With AirPlay mirroring, you can view your entire device on the big screen. Photos, keynote presentations, websites, etc. show up instantly on your tv monitor.
Apps and Games are visible on the big screen as well. And this is where it gets very interesting. Developers are already finding ways to push game video to the external screen while providing controls and game info on the device. Real Racing 2 HD is a great example of the amazing functionality AppleTV is already capable of today.
With the amazing amount of developers and apps already in the App Store, the possibilities for AirPlay are intriguing to say the least. This $100 AppleTV could someday become your movie, tv, music, and gaming hub.
And that day is coming soon.