I’m a Roku man, as most regular readers of this column already know. I have a nice system setup at home that downloads my favorite TV shows and makes them available for playback from my Mac to my TV via the Roku box. With a few tweaks, I’ve been able to turn it into a completely automated TV show retrieval and playback system and I’ve been very happy with it.
But a couple of weeks ago, Apple introduced the new 1080 Apple TV, and because it’s only $99, I decided it was time to check it out. Also, the torrent scene has made a change, and that helped me decide to try Apple TV now.
You see, until recently most movies and ALL TV show torrents were .avi files encoded with DiVX, and Apple TV won’t play them. But in the last year or so I’ve noticed that more and more movie torrents are in .mp4 format with H264 encoding, and Apple TV plays those just fine. And in the last 2 months the usenet groups that supply the internet with TV show torrents switched over to .mp4 also.
So now most, and soon all, of my favorite illegally downloaded content will be playable on my Apple TV without any transcoding (the Plex channel on my Roku pulls its video from the Plex Media Server, and it has to transcode most things). So as of right now I’m using Apple TV for my TV shows and any new movies that are in mp4 format.
Like all other things that Apple makes, setup of Apple TV couldn’t be easier. I plugged it into power, connected the HDMI cable to my TV, and the onscreen interface walked me through setup, which consisted of me telling it which wifi signal to use, inputting my wifi password, and then it asked for my Apple ID and password so I can access the iTunes Music and Video Store and access all my music and video files on my Mac. Note: If you connect a ethernet cable Apple TV doesn’t ask for your wifi information, it just automatically configures itself to use your ethernet connection for its network connection. If you decide later you do want to use your wifi signal, just disconnect the ethernet cable and Apple TV switches to wifi.
One of my complaints about the Roku box is that it still doesn’t provide a nice interface with my iTunes music collection, but Apple TV does, and the Apple TV interface is beautiful. So with all that going for it, why do I keep the Roku around?
Two reasons: One, Apple TV doesn’t have the Amazon Video channel. And given that Amazon is increasingly competitive with Apple on many fronts (online video, music, and the Kindle Fire—sort of—to name a few) I don’t see Apple TV adding the Amazon Video channel any time soon.
Two, Plex via Roku has a much nicer interface for displaying video information of your local video files, meaning that movie collection on your hard drive. Things such as artwork (movie posters) and information about the file, whether it’s DiVX or h264, its audio is 5.1 or just 2.0, whether its HD or SD, plus a listing of the actors, director, plot summary, etc. are all more nicely done in Plex. So for my extensive movie collection and complete TV series collections, the Plex/Roku is much nicer. However, if you don’t have your own local collection and don’t care about Plex, I’d strongly recommend Apple TV. Its interface really is spectacular compared to Roku, and that matters when you’re navigating the system form your sofa. Plus who doesn’t like pretty?
So for now anyway, I’m a two set-top box man, but then I’m an electronics geek. Good thing my TV has multiple HDMI inputs!