Confucius said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” In late 2007, I decided to make that first step towards buying a media player. Doing my usual indefatigable research, I decided on one made by Prismiq. This Linux powered appliance could stream movies (a number of codecs were available), photos, and music to my TV. It even had a browser (really limited functionality, but OK for its time). The media player had a slot for a wireless card, 2 RCA jacks for audio out, 1 RCA jack (Composite) for video out, S-video out, coaxial audio out, and an Ethernet jack. Interesting was the MediaPlayer software that was supplied with it; sort of an iTunes-ish affair that compiled your music, photos, video, and made the data available for the “box” to use. At the time I bought mine, other media players possessed similar or better technology, but it had something the other players did not have, a lower price tag: Early in its life cycle, the Prismiq sold for $249; after 4 years on market, mine sold for $75.
I bought the Prismiq on the “web”, and when the meda player arrived, it took only a few minutes to set up, and only a few minutes to determine that I had made a huge (HUGE) mistake. It consistently dropped frames in video, audio broke up, and it would just lock up. I called Prismiq’s support, and the tech I spoke with was very helpful. I learned that the company was discontinuing this device, and were moving on to manufacture other hardware bits (ethernet cards, etc.). The tech suggested I try different wireless cards, and when none worked, he actually sent my one they had used in the lab (too bad more companies lack the culture to allow this kind of customer care); sadly, that card failed also. For whatever the reasons, the wireless just did not work. After exploring as many avenues as possible to get the Prismiq functioning, I ended up returning the it to the vendor.
A year later, while cruising a website that sells closeout hardware, I again found a “new”, in the box Prismiq for $25. I jumped on it. Now why, you might ask, would I do that after not getting the first device to work? The answer is easy. I had just purchased an Xbox 360, and had ran ethernet to my front room, so I could use Xbox Live. I figured ethernet would be the solution to the Prismiq’s problems. When my Prismiq #2 arrived, I set it up, plugged in the ethernet cable, and the device worked pretty good. It stumbled every now and then on some video codecs, but could stream more types of video than my Xbox, and I did not have to convert videos from my video camera, – they all worked in my Prismiq. Success, for awhile…………
When I bought a flat screen LCD HD TV, I wanted all my video to be 1080p, which required the use of HDMI cables. The Prismiq only had S-video, so I was in the market for a new media player. After some study, I settled on a Seagate FreeAgent Theater + HD Media Player. I also decided to get an 880 gig Free Agent Go hard drive. Netflix played well on the Seagate, as did my own movies, photos looked great, and my audio sounded really good. At this time, I had moved all my media files to a file server I had built, and the Seagate accessed this Unix server without issue. All was well until the Digital Specter of Death arrived. Maybe it’s just me, but my luck with Seagate drives over the years has not been very good, and knowing this I hesitated in making the purchase of this media player. Unfortunately, I talked myself out of not buying the device: “I haven’t owned a Seagate drive in years and surely the quality of their products has improved”. Hmmmmmmmm. After about 6 months (and six months of very little use for this hard drive), the Digital Specter of Death claimed the 880 gig drive. Eight months later, the Specter returned, this time it claimed the media player, – the audio was in a permanent state of hiccuping.
Saddened by the recent demise of my Seagate, I decided to try yet again another media player. I looked at both Apple and the Western Digital TV Live media players. The specs were pretty close, the price was the same ($100 each), and at least in this decision, I had two brands for which I have always had good experiences. I went with the Western Digital because, in the end, I would not have to do anything but hook it up and turn it on. Like the Prismiq, the Apple requires software in the computer for it to operate. For the Apple, the computer has to be “on” and iTunes running anytime you want to use many of the features of Apple’s media player. In contrast, the Western Digital device only required my server to be “on”, and in my house, the server is always on. In addition, going with the Apple would mean I would have to transfer my videos from my server to iTunes on my iMac, and doing possibly some conversion of the videos in the process so they would be able to play on the Apple device. I went to my local Best Buy, and returned home with the Western Digital media player.
Set up on the Western Digital was not too complex, and I was up and running in 10 minutes or so. It immediately hooked up to my Unix server. Video and audio quality were excellent. Lot’s of internet content was available. I had reached Media Player Nirvana, or so I thought. It was two days after I brought it home. I was watching a movie streaming from my server, when all of a sudden, the screen went black. This was not a “fade”. After a couple of seconds, video returned. I thought maybe Unix may have been running some cron process, and had grabbed some resources and that caused the problem. I forgot about it, until it happened again about 30 minutes later. I turned the box off, and then turned it back on, only to find that my entire “setup” configuration for the media player had disappeared. My server had nothing to do with this. I set everything back up again, and endured several more blackouts, but at least the setup configuration stayed in memory. Well, the configuration stayed intact until the next morning when I turned the media player on again, only to find I had to reset everything one more time. The Digital Specter of Death seemed to be lurking around the Western Digital too. I figured the problem was not going to get better, and boxed everything back up, and with receipt in hand, I went back to Best Buy. There, at the customer support counter, a very friendly employee handled the refund, and I left the store with the AppleTV.
After owning three different devices, I am fairly adept in setting up media players, and the Apple was the easiest of all. On the back of the device, there are connections for ethernet, HDMI, fiber-optic audio, and power. After 30 days of use, what I thought would be a detriment, the proprietary use of iTunes on the computer, has really been no big deal. Besides having access to the iTunes “store”, whatever you have in your iTunes on your PC, you have available to you through the media player. Think of this media device as a way of adapting iTunes to your TV set, with the bonus of being able to have Netflix, YouTube, Flicker, and other media content available for your TV as well. I already had my music in iTunes, and the transfer of my movies went without a hitch, and I did no reformatting of any of them. The movies play perfectly.
There are some other fun features with the AppleTV as well. When I offload pictures from my digital camera to my iMac or iPad, the photos enter “Photo Stream” and are sent to all my Apple devices, AppleTV included. Though I have not used this feature, “Air Play”(this requires a wireless network access and my AppleTV is ethernet connected) , some programs on your iPhone or iPad can play on your TV set through AppleTV.
The only downsides that I see is that the device lacks a variety of available internet content when compared to Roku or Western Digital. Also, though the interface performs well, it could be even more functional if it more closely emulated Apple’s IOS devices. On the other hand, as of this writing, the AppleTV has worked flawlessly for me.
My journey is now over. Finally, a media player I am happy with, and the Digital Specter of Death has moved on as well. If you are looking for a reliable media player with solid performance, the AppleTV deserves some serious consideration.