Apple Store“Apple’s answer to the digital media adapter is finally here. The Apple TV is essentially a stationary, networked iPod that lets you enjoy all of your iTunes digital media (video, audio, and photos) on the wide-screen HDTV and sound system in your living room–rather than the confined screens of your video iPod or your PC. The good news is the $300 Apple TV largely succeeds in bringing iPod-like simplicity and elegance to TV-based network media devices. The bad news is its narrow iTunes-only compatibility severely limits the quantity–and quality–of the video content you can enjoy on your TV,” John P. Falcone reports for CNET Reviews (“Very Good” – 7.7 out of 10).

Falcone reports, “Overall, we’d rate the streaming performance as excellent, and that was even while streaming from an 802.11g laptop… Unfortunately, the excellent streaming performance is offset by a drawback that’s more the fault of iTunes than Apple TV: generally disappointing video quality. Movies and TV shows in iTunes are currently available in what Apple calls ‘near-DVD quality’–a maximum of 640×480.”

“To be clear, none of the video quality problems are necessarily the fault of the Apple TV. It’s the movies and TV shows that you’re buying at the iTunes Store that are falling down. Even with the higher resolution (they were formerly optimized for 320×240), iTunes videos are still optimized for the small screen and the storage capacity of the iPod. And they look fine on that 3.5-inch screen, or even a 15-inch laptop screen. But these same videos just can’t scale up to a 50-inch plasma without suffering. Ideally, Apple will someday begin selling files that are optimized for true DVD resolution (720×480) or even true HD resolution (1280×720), and do so with considerably less compression,” Falcone reports.

Falcone reports, “Apple TV’s huge advantage in the market, compared to the competition, is it’s the only noncomputer networking product that’s capable of streaming content purchased from the iTunes Store–the number one digital media retailer in the world. But, unlike the majority of competing products, it can’t stream anything else. If it’s not in iTunes, the Apple TV can’t see it. So it’s up to you to get your media files into iTunes–an easy task for music (CDs and MP3s), podcasts, and photos, but a much bigger challenge for videos.”

Falcone reports, “The easy setup, iTunes compatibility, and iPod-like interface and design is probably more than enough to make the Apple TV a slam dunk for consumers who are already faithful devotees of all things Mac and iPod. And there’s no denying that its design and video streaming performance bests similar network media products we’ve seen to date… If and when Apple improves the quality of its store’s offerings–or includes a better option for reading or converting existing video files–the Apple TV would be a much easier recommendation.”

There’s a lot more in the full review here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Island Girl” for the heads up.]

MacDailyNews Take: You know whose fault it is that you can’t pop a DVD into your Mac or PC and rip it with iTunes like you can with a music CD? Hint: it’s not Apple. So, for now, use MediaFork, the free, open-source, multithreaded DVD to MPEG-4 ripper/converter (available for MacOS X, Linux and Windows), until Hollywood gets its collective head out of its ass.

As for iTunes Store quality, yes, we’d like to see Apple up the audio and video quality on all content yesterday, but the convenience of iTunes Store is what sells. It’s a tradeoff. If you want high-quality, go get a Blu-ray player and buy discs; it’ll be a long time until the Internet will deliver you that level of quality.

For the majority of users, iTunes Store TV shows and movies is surprisingly watchable on a 60-inch HDTV via Apple TV today.

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