“Here’s a look at how Apple TV compares as a living room media player and source of HDTV content, what’s new in the software upgrade, and how well the device achieves its goal of bringing iTunes media to home theaters in its second try at inventing itself,” Prince McLean writes for AppleInsider.
“Apple TV is essentially a low end Mac with a video card supporting 1280×800 resolution. The existing hardware will never be able to decode or output 1080p video in full native resolution. However, the new Take Two software enables 1080p output in the unit’s HDMI subsystem to scale up its 720p content and deliver it as a 1080p signal to TV sets that support 1080p display,” McLean writes.
“This is similar to what upconverting DVD players do, although Apple TV can start with higher resolution content; Upconverting DVD players deliver the standard definition content on DVDs to HDTV sets as an HD signal. This doesn’t invent new detail in the picture, but does deliver the best possible picture DVD can produce because it maintains a high quality signal to the set rather than delivering one that must be scaled up within the TV itself,” McLean writes.
“Apple TV plays back iTunes HD content, HD home videos, and HD podcasts all at 720p internally, but can deliver either a standard 720p signal or an upconverted signal to the HDTV set as 1080p. How noticeable this difference is in the picture displayed depends upon the quality of the video circuity in the TV being used. Many consumer oriented HDTV sets use cheap picture scaling and conversion hardware that will result in the Apple TV’s new 1080p mode serving as a nice feature, as the TV won’t have to handle the conversion itself,” McLean writes.
“Using a high quality HDTV set, we couldn’t see any visible difference in using 1080p over 720p from Apple TV, even when looking up close and trying to find differences in the static frames of movies or in the unit’s own menu titles. However, some cheaper HDTV sets might deliver a better picture using the 1080p signal setting. Rather than being excessively concerned about 720p versus 1080p, the main value added by Apple TV is its low cost delivery of easy to access HD content, both for rent and for free,” McLean writes.
There is much, much more (including screenshots of UI, content quality, etc.) in the extensive in-depth review — a must-read for those considering Apple TV — here.