Apple TV: Sharp or Not?

Microsoft’s Mike Torres notes that Apple TV — to his eyes — doesn’t look sharp on HDTV screens (he’s not alone, several of my friends saw them in Apple stores and say they don’t look sharp). I saw one on display that wasn’t set properly. Mine came by default set to something other than 1080i. When I changed the setting to 1080i it got a TON sharper. I’m wondering if the ones in the stores aren’t set to the best resolution? I’ll have to go back to the store and see what they’re set at. Or, do they look unsharp just cause of the Internet video content they are displaying on them (iTunes content is NOT HD stuff, so if you are expecting HD, you’ll be disappointed)? Or, are they just unsharp because the video card inside sucks (I don’t think that’s it, cause when I put HD content on my Apple TV it looks just as sharp as stuff coming off of my Media Center/Xbox 360 setup).

But, I want to test it out — and not with a biased dude like me. Anyone got a good way to test out the Apple TV? Anyone want to meet up this weekend and check out mine next to a Windows Media Center PC (high-end AMD box)?

What should we use as the test as to whether it’s sharp or not?

79 thoughts on “Apple TV: Sharp or Not?

  1. Well if a Microsoftie claims it so, it must be true :p
    Even that Zunester guy claimed you needed a Mac to use .aac files, even though his own Zune supports the format. I think MS must be having their guys out in full force running the FUD machine lately.

  2. Well if a Microsoftie claims it so, it must be true :p
    Even that Zunester guy claimed you needed a Mac to use .aac files, even though his own Zune supports the format. I think MS must be having their guys out in full force running the FUD machine lately.

  3. I suspect the reason that ITMS doesn’t sell HD content (particularly movies) is that they are huge files (10-20 Gig) that take forever to download.

    IP distribution of feature length HD content to a mainstream audience is still a ways away.

  4. I suspect the reason that ITMS doesn’t sell HD content (particularly movies) is that they are huge files (10-20 Gig) that take forever to download.

    IP distribution of feature length HD content to a mainstream audience is still a ways away.

  5. LOL @ The Firm! This thread really did turn into ‘Mine is bigger than yours.’

    Notice that Torres has tried to retreat from the idiotic entry on his blog about the Apple TV. Better late than never, I guess.

  6. LOL @ The Firm! This thread really did turn into ‘Mine is bigger than yours.’

    Notice that Torres has tried to retreat from the idiotic entry on his blog about the Apple TV. Better late than never, I guess.

  7. I never got why I’d want to spend so much money to watch these things on TV when you see so much more in person. When I attended one of the NCAA games at Rupp Arena a few weeks ago, the resolution beat everything else to snot.

    I can buy tickets to go where I want, when I want, and get full range audio and video. My next step is to use my disposable income to smugly make everyone else on the planet feel bad about their choices (and therefore demonstrate how smart I am), instead of just being happy with what I have. I may even buy a Zune, effectively doubling the installed base.

  8. I never got why I’d want to spend so much money to watch these things on TV when you see so much more in person. When I attended one of the NCAA games at Rupp Arena a few weeks ago, the resolution beat everything else to snot.

    I can buy tickets to go where I want, when I want, and get full range audio and video. My next step is to use my disposable income to smugly make everyone else on the planet feel bad about their choices (and therefore demonstrate how smart I am), instead of just being happy with what I have. I may even buy a Zune, effectively doubling the installed base.

  9. I never got why I’d want to spend more money to get less features with less choice. My 360 + bittorrent + media center + zune + slingbox pro is more than enough for a truly connected, HD, high fidelity experience.

    I watch what I want, where I want, in whatever format I want (and ditto with audio). Next step for me is a Home Server so all my data can live in my personal “cloud” instead of being sync’d all over the place (and equipping the rest of my gear with 802.11n so I can stream HD in real-time).

  10. I never got why I’d want to spend more money to get less features with less choice. My 360 + bittorrent + media center + zune + slingbox pro is more than enough for a truly connected, HD, high fidelity experience.

    I watch what I want, where I want, in whatever format I want (and ditto with audio). Next step for me is a Home Server so all my data can live in my personal “cloud” instead of being sync’d all over the place (and equipping the rest of my gear with 802.11n so I can stream HD in real-time).

  11. Apple TV uses an Intel integrated graphics chipset that is also used on Windows laptops.

    The word from Vista users with these laptops is that it is capable of the nice Aero glass look, but has to work hard. HD is slow and not worth while.

    With this in mind, I decided Apple TV just wasn’t worth looking at. The price point is good, and yes, you can probably hack it to do DIVX/XVID/etc, but I could do without the headache. Give me native true HD support and not Apple’s mpeg-4 pretend HD.

    M

  12. Apple TV uses an Intel integrated graphics chipset that is also used on Windows laptops.

    The word from Vista users with these laptops is that it is capable of the nice Aero glass look, but has to work hard. HD is slow and not worth while.

    With this in mind, I decided Apple TV just wasn’t worth looking at. The price point is good, and yes, you can probably hack it to do DIVX/XVID/etc, but I could do without the headache. Give me native true HD support and not Apple’s mpeg-4 pretend HD.

    M

  13. Master William – thanks for calling me an ass :)

    “Either run a HD podcast or a trailer from the Quicktime site.”

    Normal people don’t watch podcasts – they want TV shows, movies, music videos – and they don’t get excited about spending $300 to watch movie trailers in high-def. Come on.

    Apple will up the quality of the shows on iTunes – it’s a matter of time. The point is that current state of the world is weak at best.

    Quick: you missed your favorite show last week and didn’t record it. What do you do? Until it’s obvious, there’s a problem. It’s not specific to Apple – it’s the industry’s problem.

    ABC is taking some major steps though.

  14. Master William – thanks for calling me an ass :)

    “Either run a HD podcast or a trailer from the Quicktime site.”

    Normal people don’t watch podcasts – they want TV shows, movies, music videos – and they don’t get excited about spending $300 to watch movie trailers in high-def. Come on.

    Apple will up the quality of the shows on iTunes – it’s a matter of time. The point is that current state of the world is weak at best.

    Quick: you missed your favorite show last week and didn’t record it. What do you do? Until it’s obvious, there’s a problem. It’s not specific to Apple – it’s the industry’s problem.

    ABC is taking some major steps though.

  15. Using an ATV in UK, attached to 36″ EDTV 576p Toshiba CRT, looks as good as I would expect for SD widescreen TV, although some Podcasts including The Scoble Show, get clipped at the edges, not sure why they don’t scale correctly.

  16. Using an ATV in UK, attached to 36″ EDTV 576p Toshiba CRT, looks as good as I would expect for SD widescreen TV, although some Podcasts including The Scoble Show, get clipped at the edges, not sure why they don’t scale correctly.

  17. Whether the picture is soft or not depends on many, many factors:

    (1) The resolution of the original source material. TV from the iTunes Store is intrinsically not as sharp as a 720p QuickTime movie.

    (2) The resolution selected on the television.

    (3) The scaler in the television. Low-res originals scaled up to 1080p on a TV with a lousy scaler will look terrible.

    (4) The settings on the TV. You can easily make a great TV look terrible with bad (or factory default) settings for contrast, brightness, and color.

    (5) The person viewing the image. Some people have crummy eyes. Some people prefer the exaggerated edge sharpness introduced by high contrast settings and aren’t used to a smoother, more film-like image.

    My Apple TV’s video looks pretty good to my eyes with my 34″ CRT HDTV viewed from about twelve feet away. When I get my 60″ Sony SXRD RPTV this weekend, I’m sure the video will look much worse by comparison even though of course it’s still the same video.

    But don’t despair! I’m sure Apple will be introducing 720p video content as well as some simple way of recording TV from HD sources. You can already do this with third party software (MediaFork, anyone) and EyeTV or Miglia’s HDTV tuner. It’s early days yet. Apple will undoubtedly solve the content problem.

  18. Whether the picture is soft or not depends on many, many factors:

    (1) The resolution of the original source material. TV from the iTunes Store is intrinsically not as sharp as a 720p QuickTime movie.

    (2) The resolution selected on the television.

    (3) The scaler in the television. Low-res originals scaled up to 1080p on a TV with a lousy scaler will look terrible.

    (4) The settings on the TV. You can easily make a great TV look terrible with bad (or factory default) settings for contrast, brightness, and color.

    (5) The person viewing the image. Some people have crummy eyes. Some people prefer the exaggerated edge sharpness introduced by high contrast settings and aren’t used to a smoother, more film-like image.

    My Apple TV’s video looks pretty good to my eyes with my 34″ CRT HDTV viewed from about twelve feet away. When I get my 60″ Sony SXRD RPTV this weekend, I’m sure the video will look much worse by comparison even though of course it’s still the same video.

    But don’t despair! I’m sure Apple will be introducing 720p video content as well as some simple way of recording TV from HD sources. You can already do this with third party software (MediaFork, anyone) and EyeTV or Miglia’s HDTV tuner. It’s early days yet. Apple will undoubtedly solve the content problem.

  19. I’ve looked at a lot of content on the Apple TV, and while some of it (320×240 video podcasts and such) can look blocky at 1080i, it’s nowhere near Mike’s “tequila shot” analogy. iTunes-purchased movies and music videos, hand-ripped dvd’s, episodes of BSG (both old resolution and new), and The Merlin Show all look great on my set (an old 36″ CRT VEGA set to 1080i) and on a 40″ Bravia set to 720P.

    Making blanket extreme statements without backing them up with facts is just linkbaiting and trolling, in my opinion. If Mike’s so sure of his poor quality statements he can grab a digital camera and post comparison shots. Where are the facts?

  20. I’ve looked at a lot of content on the Apple TV, and while some of it (320×240 video podcasts and such) can look blocky at 1080i, it’s nowhere near Mike’s “tequila shot” analogy. iTunes-purchased movies and music videos, hand-ripped dvd’s, episodes of BSG (both old resolution and new), and The Merlin Show all look great on my set (an old 36″ CRT VEGA set to 1080i) and on a 40″ Bravia set to 720P.

    Making blanket extreme statements without backing them up with facts is just linkbaiting and trolling, in my opinion. If Mike’s so sure of his poor quality statements he can grab a digital camera and post comparison shots. Where are the facts?

  21. What I suspect is going on is that the Apple stores are deliberately leaving 720P materials off of the Apple TV demo units, so that the existing iTunes Store materials don’t look bad in comparison. This is likely to change shortly.

    I’ve got an AppleTV hooked up to a 720P DLP projector with a 92 inch screen. Within 24 hours of getting my AppleTV, I had downloaded a number of 720P demos and trailers from Apple’s Quicktime HD Gallery and other places. Looking at the BBC Motion Gallery:Japan demo in 720P, or the Spiderman 3 trailer – the image is amazing. This is a trivial test for anyone who actually has an AppleTV in their home, versus a “review” based on an encounter in a showroom.

    One needs to keep in mind that most of the existing iTunes Store video materials were targeted primarily at the iPod, so it isn’t all that surprising that they don’t look great on a big screen. Anybody who thinks that this situation won’t change rather radically in the next 6 to 12 months, now that Apple has a product that ties nicely to an HD-TV, isn’t really thinking all that deeply.

  22. What I suspect is going on is that the Apple stores are deliberately leaving 720P materials off of the Apple TV demo units, so that the existing iTunes Store materials don’t look bad in comparison. This is likely to change shortly.

    I’ve got an AppleTV hooked up to a 720P DLP projector with a 92 inch screen. Within 24 hours of getting my AppleTV, I had downloaded a number of 720P demos and trailers from Apple’s Quicktime HD Gallery and other places. Looking at the BBC Motion Gallery:Japan demo in 720P, or the Spiderman 3 trailer – the image is amazing. This is a trivial test for anyone who actually has an AppleTV in their home, versus a “review” based on an encounter in a showroom.

    One needs to keep in mind that most of the existing iTunes Store video materials were targeted primarily at the iPod, so it isn’t all that surprising that they don’t look great on a big screen. Anybody who thinks that this situation won’t change rather radically in the next 6 to 12 months, now that Apple has a product that ties nicely to an HD-TV, isn’t really thinking all that deeply.

  23. Scoble: iTunes did make a deal with ABCTV — Lost and everything else, it’s up there on iTunes! I switch between watching the iTunes and ABC.com versions of Lost. I download iTunes when I’m traveling, and I watch the streaming version on ABC.com when I’m at wor^H^H^H home.

    Our company Schematic designed the interface for the ABC player along with a lot of other neat broadband, PC, ITV and Consumer Electronics products. Send an email if you’d like to get together at Mix07 (we’re a sponsor) for some demos.

    –Matthew

  24. Scoble: iTunes did make a deal with ABCTV — Lost and everything else, it’s up there on iTunes! I switch between watching the iTunes and ABC.com versions of Lost. I download iTunes when I’m traveling, and I watch the streaming version on ABC.com when I’m at wor^H^H^H home.

    Our company Schematic designed the interface for the ABC player along with a lot of other neat broadband, PC, ITV and Consumer Electronics products. Send an email if you’d like to get together at Mix07 (we’re a sponsor) for some demos.

    –Matthew

  25. @Robert:

    Yes, but Unbox is also standard-def. So theoretically Unbox and AppleTV should be equally sharp – but it’s just not the case. AppleTV is much softer.

    I haven’t seen any compression artifacts to speak of, though, so it doesn’t seem like it’s an issue with the bitrate per se, but possible more of a resolution or encoding issue. It’s entirely possible the folks at Apple intentionally encode it softer for some reason.

    The more likely, though, is resolution. Quicktime reports these video files as being 640×360. NTSC (aka SDTV in the US) is 720×480. If Unbox is 720×480 and AppleTV is 640×360, that would certainly explain the softness – 230K px vs 345K px (50% more!) is nothing to sneeze at. As the AppleTV up-rezzes the image, the image either has to get softer or blockier. Since blocky is bad, I’m sure they err on soft.

    Give it a shot yourself – try up-rezzing a 640×360 image in Photoshop to 720×480, or even better, one of the HD resolutions like you’re running your AppleTV at: 1280×720 or 1920×1080. See how soft it gets.

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