AppleTV as our audio server

Back in April I wrote a blog post about what solution would be ideal to feed our 65 GB of music library to our main speaker-set and amplifier. There was nothing that was doing exactly what we needed to do, so we were thinking of buying a second 400 CD-changer appliance, to fill it with our existing CDs and burned iTunes purchases.

The Sonos system was also discussed as a possible solution, but we were not happy with the fact it could not hold our library in the device itself, and needed constant streaming. We were not looking for a streaming system, but on a device that could hold all of our music in its internal drive, and get easily updated when we need it to.

Eventually, we added an intermediate step. We held back from the 400 CD-changer purchase, and bought a 120 GB iPod Classic with an Apple dock that featured a line-out. The problem with that solution is that we could not see what the heck was playing in the iPod’s 2.5″ screen while we were sitting on the couch, 2.5 meters away. Not to mention that for some reason the “back” key on the remote for the dock did not work with the Classic. Add to that the fact that the iPod line-out audio quality was below par (low volume compared to other input sources in our amplifier), and so sooner than later we were again in the market for a solution. Our Zune 120 GB and its dock had the similar usability/volume problems btw.

What made us root for the AppleTV was its “Remote” application for the iPhone/iPodTouch. There we are now, sitting on our couch, using the exact same UI as in the iPod Touch’s amazing music UI to control our AppleTV. We don’t even have to turn ON the HDTV to control it, it’s headless (that was one of our requirements)! We simply turning it ON once using its remote, then the iPod Touch’s “Remote” application takes over for the music control, and when we need to turn it OFF we just use the AppleTV remote again (long press on the play button puts the AppleTV on standby). Audio quality is punchy, CD-quality, much better than the iPod/Zune dock’s line-outs.

So far, so good! Only thing missing from the “Remote” app is the ability to rate songs (the UI is there but the rating mechanism is not implemented — maybe it comes in a future version)!

I don’t use the AppleTV for video playback, since the Sony PS3 is a much better solution for that (better support for formats and 1080/30p). But it’s perfect for our music, and maybe even for some streaming internet radio (new feature in the AppleTV 3.0 firmware).

Some have suggested that we could use a small laptop/PC with MPD in it, but there is a certain installation/configuration/annoyance associated with that. Turning ON the laptop/PC from standby would require to physically go close to the device, and then we would have to use MPD remote applications that simply don’t have the elegance of an Apple-designed app. Instead, the AppleTV just works, and we are able to _easily_ sync it with our iTunes installation too. That’s a major bonus since we use iTunes. Even more interestingly, the AppleTV is *cheaper* than a dedicated small laptop/PC running MPD.

So basically, for us at least, the “Remote” application is what made the whole difference for us, not necessarily the AppleTV itself. It’s one of these times that a side-project like that app is, brings value to other products!

UPDATE: I wrote an article, comparing the Apple TV music experience to MPD’s.


Stephen B. wrote on November 1st, 2009 at 1:04 PM PST:

I don’t use the AppleTV for video playback, since the Sony PS3 is a much better solution for that (better support for formats and 1080/30p).

So Apple is selling a device that’s specifically billed as being for video playback, yet it’s worse at that task than a game console? You’d think they might want to address that 🙂

Lawrence wrote on November 1st, 2009 at 6:08 PM PST:

As a PS3 owner myself, I can say that is false. The PS3’s video support is laughable at best. I recently watched a copy of Zombieland (MP4) and the playback stuttered horribly. Meanwhile, my xbox 360 played it perfectly. This happens with other movies where it will either play poorly or end with a “data is corrupt” error.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on November 1st, 2009 at 10:15 PM PST:

I am sorry to say that I have none of your problems with MP4 h.264 files. The PS3 can playback 1080/30p up to 35 mbps h.264 files, which is something that neither the XBoX360 (maxes out at around 20 mbps) or the AppleTV (maxes out at 720/24p at 4.5 mbps) can do.

The only thing that the PS3 can’t do in terms of h.264 is support the MOV container instead of just MP4. The XBoX360 can, and so the AppleTV (but at lower bitrates and/or res).

I have already discussed all this here.

Luke wrote on November 2nd, 2009 at 9:35 AM PST:


Thanks for the write up on the AppleTV. I have been holding off on my purchase of one… While I find Apple’s approach to digital media interesting, I would love the ability to capture my own shows which you can’t do with the AppleTV.

What do you think of the more recent mini’s? Perhaps a bit overkill, but with most receivers you should be able to get a firewire line into the box to capture. I’ve also considered building my own little box for this, but for me, time is the greatest factor…

Tom wrote on November 2nd, 2009 at 1:14 PM PST:

Interesting read.
BTW how many devices do you have?
(Just from reading this I can infer Ipod Classic/Touch, Iphone, AppleTV, PS3)

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