A tad bigger than a deck of cards, Apple TV is a small black box you connect to your television; it lets you do one of three things: rent commercial-free TV shows and movies; access various online video services (some for free, such as YouTube, while others are subscription-based, such as Netflix); or stream media from your home computer, such as music and video, as long as they're in the iTunes folder on your computer.
Apple TV has built-in wireless connectivity (802.11n), so it can join your home's Wi-Fi network; use the remote to first punch in the password, if any (this is required only once). Alternatively, you can use a wired (Ethernet) cable to access the Internet.
This second-generation product is 80 percent smaller than its white predecessor and does away with the hard drive as you're only streaming (not saving) content. The video quality is excellent — 720p high-definition TV shows (for 99 cents apiece) or rented HD movies ($4.99 each) — plus, speeds are fast, with video that starts mere seconds after clicking on it. You have 30 days to start watching a rented TV show or movie; once you click to start, you have 48 hours in which to finish it (or you can watch it as many times as you like within this period).
Navigating through menu screens via the silver remote (or free Remote app on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad) is quite intuitive. The user interface is very clean, with a minimalist design, which is one of Apple's hallmarks across all of its gadgets.
One shortcoming with Apple TV, however, is a lack of selection when it comes to TV shows. While ABC and Fox are onboard, CBS and NBC are not. Other providers include the Disney Channel and BBC America. There are many thousands of movies, however, including ones available the same day as the DVD.
Another potential issue is that you need an HDMI connection to connect it to a television. This should be fine for televisions bought in the past couple of years, but some users might prefer to have a choice of other connection types, such as composite (RCA), S-Video or component — especially those with older televisions.
Overall, Apple TV is a delicious way to access a world of online video and liberate all the media stored on your computer's hard drive.