If the Apple TV were a character from a sitcom, it would have to be Jan Brady of The Brady Bunch. It hasn't gotten much love from the media since its March debut (or much before, for that matter), unlike its sister product, the iPhone. Though the media of late has been accused of knee-jerk swooning over most everything Apple does, deserved or not, how does one explain the far more subdued reaction to Apple TV?
A bit of background: Apple TV is a set-top box containing a 40- or 160-gigabyte hard drive ($299 or $399, respectively) that provides access to digital content on your computer, such as video, music or photos, from the comfort of your living room sofa. Apple TV connects to a TV via component video or HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface – get used to it, it's a new standard) while connecting to a PC running Mac OS X or Windows via a home wireless network (Wi-Fi). The device uses Apple's Front Row software, included on most new Macs, supplies the on-screen navigation of the content on the computer.
Steve Jobs has downplayed the Apple TV as a "hobby," reviewers gave it a lukewarm response upon its release, and no one has said much about it since, particularly since the iPhone sucked all the air out of the room. The problem with Apple TV is that it doesn't address existing consumer dissatisfaction the way the iPod and iPhone do.
One of the main reasons Apple decided to jump into the cell phone business is that its research determined most people hate their cell phones, particularly when trying to use it for anything other than making a call. Apple entered the MP3 player market in 2001 for much the same reason: it saw that existing players had significant flaws.
People who already own some sort of set-top box, like Tivo, are generally happy with them. But Apple TV is a different animal; it doesn't record content for later viewing like Tivo, it's essentially a bridge for content between your TV and your computer – a function most people have yet to feel they need. Eventually, as more people accumulate digital content on their PCs they want to view on their TVs, and Apple properly integrates the device with the Internet, Apple TV should get more attention.
And one more thing for folks who, as I was, intrigued by the concept of Apple TV but reluctant to shell out the dough: I soon realized I already owned all the tools necessary to jury-rig my own crude but effective version of Apple TV. With the help of a $20 video adapter I plugged my MacBook into my A/V receiver in my living room. The MacBook connected to my wireless network automatically and was able to stream content not only from my PowerMac G4 tower upstairs, but also from a networked hard drive. I even was able to use Front Row to access the G4's music and photos, though the video refused to play. However, using iTunes to access the G4's video files directly via the Shared Library feature, I launched the series finale of Stargate SG-1 and watched the whole episode with nary a hiccup. And my MacBook uses the 802.11g wireless protocol, not the newer, faster 802.11n standard built into Apple TV.