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Apple TV: What you can't do

With hacks of all kinds appearing at lightning speed to make the Apple TV do everything from play XviD movies to store more than a mere 40GB, I thought it might be time to step back and look at some of the things it can't do. Granted, many things are possible when a device like this lands in the hands of those who don't take no for an answer, but most of these issues I've found are rooted in features that Apple neglected to create (or in some cases, mimic from their other software and devices). So until someone hacks and slashes their way through the Apple TV's closed source software, let's examine some of the tricks it can't do:
  • Rate items - In terms of interacting with your iTunes library and being an extension of it, the Apple TV is more of a 'dumping grounds' than a try syncing device. Outside of removing media files when you uncheck them in iTunes, the Apple TV is more or less incapable of truly *syncing* with your library like an iPod does. Case in point: rating items. There's no way to add 5 stars to that rockin' song or video from the Apple TV. However, to be fair, you can't rate videos on an iPod either.
  • On-The-Go Playlists - This one is a particular bummer for me, as I use On-The-Go Playlists on my iPod quite a bit.
  • Sync from more than one computer - Apple has been pretty up-front about how syncing works vs. streaming (you can stream from up to 5 sources), but I figured it was still worth a mention in case anyone is still curious about how and from where the Apple TV can actually snag its media.
  • Enable shuffling - the iPod has a master preference (under its Settings menu) to turn on the shuffle feature across the entire iPod - why not the Apple TV? Each list of media (all songs from an artist, an entire playlist, etc.) has a Shuffle option at the very top, but this means I need to begin with using that shuffle feature - I can't enter a list of items, pick one that I'd like to start out with and let the shuffle kick in afterwards.
  • Interrupt a shuffle - Speaking of shuffling - a feature Apple made quite a big deal over back in the day and even named an entire product after - it's beginning to feel like the company took a step backwards when designing the Apple TV's experience. If I begin a list of items with that aforementioned shuffle option and later select a specific song I'm jonesing for, the shuffle is broken; the Apple TV begins playing the rest of the media items in order.
  • Display a video timeline - when watching any kind of video, the Apple TV cannot display a timeline without me having to either pause, rewind or fast-forward said video. This is a particularly jarring UI quirk, as I was watching that Camino tech talk on my Apple TV and I had to interrupt the experience just to find out how much time was left.
Now some of these gripes obviously stem from expectations fostered from years of living in iTunes and the iPod for all my media, but I feel they're worth mentioning since the Apple TV is more or less a natural extension of this experience.

Ultimately, the Apple TV is still a 1.0 product though, and Apple will surely tweak aspects of the experience with software updates as users begin sounding off on what's missing. Besides the obvious gripes that have already been mentioned to death - no 1080p output, small hard drive, etc. - who else has gripes with the Apple TV experience?

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1. TV Series are not listed by season. This one constantly bugs me. Front Row was nice enough to break things like South Park (9 Seasons) into seasons. Now with Apple TV, you have to deal with a 100+ episode list always sorted in reverse chronological order. Bummer.

Posted at 5:48PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Brandon

2. is it true people are hacking the apple tv and make it capable of installing full mac os x?

Posted at 6:13PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Eric Chiu

3. I like Apple TV a lot, but have a couple gripes on the photos.

- if you leave the unit playing a slideshow, you can't sync the machine from a remote computer. It says "busy." so you have to walk back across the house to end the slideshow.

- there doesn't seem to be any way to browse photos, choose where to start the slideshow, or skip around in the slideshow.

Posted at 6:44PM on Mar 29th 2007 by MasterLeep

4. Does anyone know if you can sync and stream from the same computer/iTunes Library?

In other words lets say I have 80 Gigs of music. Can I go ahead and sync 30 Gigs or so until in fills up the Apple TV’s hard drive and then stream the rest of my collection from the same Computer/iTunes Library? Will all of my collection show up in the Apple TV’s menu system even though it is not all actually synced?



Posted at 7:18PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Tom

5. Let us not forget that Apple TV cannot handle AC3 audio, only stereo or Dolby Pro Logic.

Oh yeah, but you can heat a small apartment with it though.

Posted at 7:23PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Adam

6. #4: Yea, it looks like you can. I have a ~50GB library, and I've only synced about 25 of it. I can still see my main machine listed in the Apple TV's list of sources and stream all my other content from it.

Posted at 7:35PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Dave Chartier

7. Not True, about AC-3. It's a big myth promoted by people who
don't understand how self contained streams of digital audio work.
The device that moves the digital stream around does not need to
decode it, it only moves it around like Apple TV does. You use a
receiver to decode the stream, and if you stream a digital signal
with AC-3 in it, Apple TV will then output that stream to your
receiver just fine. The iTunes store does not have any files
you can buy or watch that have AC-3 in them, but that's
a separate issue. It's all detailed here:


Posted at 7:42PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Dan Riley

8. Yes, it can sync and stream from the same library. I set up mine to only sync the photos and then I connect to the same machine to stream the rest.

Posted at 9:24PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Ryan

9. What irritates me the most about the Apple TV is that it has a really hard time with HD content off my 1080i HDV cam..

It can do a 960x540 but it would be really nice to at least be able to do 1280x720 @ 30 fps.. Converting it to 720 @ 24P is just not cutting it for me.

Posted at 9:58PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Lon Seidman

10. Also you can't stream photos to the AppleTV, they need to be synced. What if a friend comes around with their laptop and they want to show you their photos up on the big screen...

Posted at 10:53PM on Mar 29th 2007 by Hugh

11. So, basically you say that, if I install Perian and the lib52ac codec on Apple TV, I can have Dolby Digital AC3 sound from Apple TV output if the xvid file has ac3 sound?
I'm asking because I've tried with quicktime on my macbook and the sound coming out my spdif was only stereo, while the same file played with VLC could output ac3 sound. If this work with Apple TV they got me as a buyer! :)

Posted at 3:38AM on Mar 30th 2007 by macshodan

12. The Apple TV ought to be the ideal vehicle for displaying the digital photos you have on your Mac via your HDTV. Only the Apple TV seems ridiculously short on photo features.
- First up, you can only display photos from one source. We have a MacBook on which my girlfriend, a keen photographer, does most of her work and stores her photos. Upstairs we have a PC (apologies) which due to its larger HDD stores our music, video and archived photos. So why can't I set the PC as the device to sync all content from, but aditionally choose to stream photos from the MacBook? It's not as if I'm infringing copyright!
- Second up, once you get your photos on the machine, you're pretty limited in what you can do with them. As pointed out by MasterLeep, you can't browse or skip through photos, only play them as a slideshow. I'm not asking for PhotoShop, just a couple of basic slideshow functions.

Given the video/audio sophistication of the AppleTV, you'd have thought a few more options for displaying static images would have been pretty easy to build in, but obviously not.

I'm disappointed because browsing photos on our 37-inch TV would have been a nice way for me to justify buying the thing to my girlfriend! :)

Posted at 10:23AM on Mar 30th 2007 by Gary

13. Justin,

You could try going on your Mac to System Prefs->Energy Saver->Options and checking the box next to "Wake for Ethernet network administrator access". I'm not promising it'll work, but it could be worth a shot.

Posted at 11:01AM on Mar 30th 2007 by Super Weiss

14. Here here regarding on-the-go! A few other things I've wished for:

Sort fields like Sort Artist and Sort Album are not supported in Apple TV. They work great in iTunes, but neither works in Apple TV, and only Sort Artist appears to work on my 80gb iPod Video.

Switching between syncing and streaming requires you to reload your iTunes Library each time, which can take a while if your library is large. I wish they'd cache it on the Apple TV, and have a choice for REloading, since it doesn't change too often. This makes it a bit of a pain to switch from photos to music.

Lastly, in the streaming scenario, it's unfortunate that album art does not come down locally. It appears that unless you sync music, you won't get anything for the album art screen saver.

That said, I think it's a great version 1 offering.

Posted at 2:12AM on Mar 31st 2007 by Danboe

15. I just wish it could wake up a computer it uses for syncing. I have no idea whether this is technically possible or even makes sense. However it would be nice to come home from work turn on the apple TV and be able to stream some stuff from my iMac. Instead I have to run upstairs and wake my computer first. Yeah I know I could just set it not to sleep or just not be lazy, but this feature would still be nice. Especially since syncing isn't a good option for me with that small hard drive. I also can't wait until the "use an external drive with the USB port" hack comes along, or is officially supported. It would also be nice if it could output 5.1 AAC encoded files over the optical cord that a receiver with Dolby Digital support could read as Dolby Digital (probably not even technically possible), as opposed to sending the receiver something similar to a Dolby Pro Logic soundtrack. Yeah, I have a lot of requests.

Posted at 12:16PM on Apr 2nd 2007 by Justin

16. I wish you could categorize your movies and choose a category and see all the movies in that category on the Apple TV. You can enter a category for the movie in iTunes but it is not used in Apple TV.

Posted at 6:03PM on Apr 2nd 2007 by Greg Williams

17. Does anyone know of a way to have the Apple TV shuffle music videos from a playlist? I have quite a few downloaded from the Music Store and have yet to figure out how to play more than one at a time, whether I stream directly from iTunes or sync to the Apple TV.

Posted at 1:51PM on Apr 8th 2007 by Brad Eckenroth

18. Anyone figure out how to connect a 30" apple display to apple TV?

Posted at 9:01PM on May 1st 2007 by jehu Garcia

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