I’ve been actively using my Apple TV (2nd generation) for almost seven years, and I figured March of 2017 was the perfect time to finally share my thoughts on it. Why? I’m getting closer to unplugging this thing from my TV, but I haven’t done so yet.
You see, my TV is eight years old. It hails from a time when two HDMI ports was considered sufficient. The gadgets that I plug into it need to truly prove their worth, and my Apple TV 2 has been skating on thin ice lately. It recently went through a weeks-long phase where it couldn’t play Netflix without crashing. I managed to fix the problem, but I haven’t forgiven it.
Presently, my TV has the new Amazon Fire Stick and my old Apple TV 2 attached to it. I don’t have a cable box. I’m what you might call a “cord cutter,” a person who intentionally doesn’t have cable TV in favor of streaming video from the web.
But, there are some new, internet-based TV services that I’m interested in, like YouTube TV. $35 bucks a month gets you 44 channels, including all of the major networks, and cable stations like ESPN (but HGTV is sorely missing), and unlimited cloud DVR. In order to use it, you need to have a Chromecast plugged into your TV. If I were to try this out, my Apple TV would get the boot.
The fascinating history of my Apple TV
The Apple TV 2 was introduced by Steve Jobs in September of 2010, when he still looked somewhat healthy. Steve Wozniak was in the audience at the event, and Jobs also unveiled Apple’s ill-fated Ping social network in the same keynote. You can watch the video here. The Apple TV part starts around 50 minutes in.
I paid 99 bucks for this thing the year it came out. I just looked at what they sell for today, and people are paying around $40 for for them on eBay. Considering this is an inexpensive video streaming device, it has rather impressive value retention. $40? Maybe I’ll kick this thing out of my house soon. :)
Back in November of 2010, in a blog post entitled It Just Doesn’t Work, I blurted out that I was writing a review of my new Apple TV 2. As you can see, I haven’t gotten around to it until now. I’m seven-ish years late, but I’m a man of my word, dammit.
Planned obsolescence from day one
When the Apple TV 2 was first announced, it had some compelling, new ideas, but it had one glaring shortcoming: it was limited to outputting 720p HD video. It was the kind of thing that made people immediately say, “Well, the next generation will surely be 1080p.”
And right they were! A year and a half after the Apple TV 2 came out, the 3rd generation was announced. It was nearly identical to the previous version, except that it outputted video at full-HD quality. This is a pretty common move for Apple. Think of the first iPhone, which lacked 3G.
Apple wasn’t shy about trying to push people away from the Apple TV 2 when they abruptly removed the YouTube app from the device in May of 2015. Google had changed their API which broke the app, but, instead of fixing it and sending out an update, Apple just killed the YouTube app on the Apple TV 2. The nearly identical Apple TV 3 got an update and kept the YouTube app. Apple TV 2 owners were left in the lurch.
Apple is a cool company and they make some great products, but this slimy move sincerely pissed me off. It’s going to take A LOT to ever convince me to buy one of these things again.
Actually using the thing
Sitting in front of a TV and using the Apple TV 2 is a decent experience. The interface is easy to figure out, the graphics look great, and there are plenty of different channels, or “apps,” to check out. You can usually find something to watch, but still, the absence of the YouTube app never fails to infuriate me on a regular basis.
Most of the interactions I’ve had with the Apple TV 2 have been with the included remote control. This remote is somewhat small and basic. It gets lost in the couch faster than an iPhone 6 without a case. Inputting text is a tedious chore. It’s slower than placing a call on phone with a rotary dial. Apple does make an iPhone remote control app for the Apple TV, but it fails to operate most of the time.
I still have no idea what “Home Sharing” is
I think one of the reasons the iPhone remote control app fails so often is a feature called “Home Sharing.” It’s easy to find Home Sharing in the Settings of the Apple TV 2. You can try to turn it on, you can try to fiddle with it, but it does not function. The iPhone remote control app continues to fail, and the whole thing is a gargantuan waste of time and effort.
It’s just plain awful.
I don’t understand why this busted feature is forced upon every Apple TV 2 user. Am I an idiot for not understanding it? No. I’m not. Home Sharing is the worst thing about the Apple TV 2 — whatever the heck it is.
Let’s talk about the apps
There are a bunch of apps that you can access on the Apple TV 2. When I bought it back in 2010, the interface was completely different, and there were no apps at all. But now it has a bunch of apps with attractive, chicklet-style logos. Of course, they’re not really apps. They’re more like channels, because they all do the same thing: let you watch content on the TV.
Over the past seven years I’ve primarily used the Netflix app. I also use the PBS app a fair bit. That’s a good one. If you need to turn small children into zombies, the PBS Kids app is your jam. On occasion I’ll venture into the Vimeo app, but mostly out of desperation. Recently, my wife discovered and used the Made to Measure app. It has some good fashion-related content. I watched a movie on Crackle once and it was so dreadful enduring the commercials that I won’t do it again.
That’s about it. I’ve never rented any TV shows with my Apple TV 2. I purchased a single movie with the thing. Her by Spike Jonze. Totally kick-ass. Well worth it. You should check it out.
Most of the apps on the Apple TV 2 are for people who have cable. HBO Now, FX Now, USA Now — lots of apps with trite “Now” branding that require a cable TV code to use. Which brings us to the apps for the national TV networks…
Apparently, some of the TV networks in the United States view themselves as premium channels when they’re not coming in through an antenna. The problem with this is that TV antennas simply don’t work anymore. I recently tried to watch an episode of Jimmy Fallon with the NBC app on the Apple TV 2. I was told to visit a website on my computer and to enter a code to access the show. When I did this, I was asked to enter my cable TV provider, which I do not have.
I assume this restriction has something to do with licensing. The content is licensed to be broadcast over the air. It’s licensed to cable TV providers. But, most of it isn’t licensed to be streamed for free on an Apple TV. The drawback is that this creates a completely dreadful and frustrating experience for the user.
You gotta love the screen savers
For the better part of the past seven years, we’ve had the same 30 animal photographs playing in a slideshow over and over again in our living room. They’re great photos, but, the concept of having a very limited amount of images to use as screen savers is one of the most out-of-date aspects of this device.
During Steve Jobs’ introduction of the Apple TV 2, he talked about how you can sync it to the photos on your computer. But, again, this just speaks to how out of date this concept is. I don’t keep many personal photos on my laptop. They mostly exist on my iPhone, external drives in storage, and the biggest library of all are my Google Photos that live in the cloud. Of course, it’s okay that the concept is out of date. This thing is super old.
The Home Sharing thing is still bugging me
To be a good reviewer, I gave Home Sharing one last shot. I tried to log into Home Sharing and was told that it was “Unable to Sign In.” This screen directs you to Apple’s iForgot URL, which you have to access with another device because the Apple TV doesn’t have a web browser.
So, I did it. I went to the iForgot page on my laptop and changed my Apple ID password. In the process of doing so, I received a barrage of warnings and notifications on my iPhone — as though something terrible was happening. This portion of the Apple experience is seriously broken these days. Apple sent me numerous activation codes on my iPhone, with no instructions as to how or where to use them. There is no context. It’s a mess.
The endless stream of warning messages about my password on both my iPhone and my Apple laptop continued, unabated, for days. By the time I published this article, they were still coming at me constantly, interrupting my train of thought over and over again. This is not a little problem, Apple.
After this truly unpleasant task, I returned to the Apple TV 2 interface to try to jump start Home Sharing. I signed out of my Apple account on the Apple TV 2, and signed right back in using my shiny, new password. Next, I went straight to the Home Sharing screen where I was promptly rejected. “Unable to Sign In.”
So, did I get my money’s worth when I bought the Apple TV 2 seven years ago? Yes. Absolutely. It’s been great. I always sound like a jerk in my reviews because I have to point out all of the bad stuff, but all told, this is a lovely product.
Sure, it has several annoying drawbacks (inputting text with the remote is akin to medieval torture), but, I’m glad I bought the thing. Plus, it looks cute these days with my Amazon Echo Dot sitting on top of it. I may ditch the Apple TV 2 soon, but she’s been good to me.