The straight-up lowdown on Apple TV annoyances

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Everyone has their way of justifying an expensive purchase—need, overwhelming desire, whim. In the case of my clan, it’s the vodka martini (straight up and with a twist, thank you). The purchase, which, just minutes ago, seemed superfluous and excessive suddenly becomes practical and necessary. Such, for example, was the case with my sister’s procurement of an Apple TV.

Some months ago, over the evening cocktail, I begin to wax enthusiastic about the Apple TV, in terms of both its use and potential. Sister says “Show me!” with the same vim and after traipsing through the interface and renting a movie she exclaims, “I’m in. Lead me to your Internet. I’ve got a purchase to make!”

And so she did.

The hitch in the martini-as-motivator scheme is that this libation has the special talent of reminding you of past experiences similarly push along by fermented potato products. Such was the case last week when I stopped by my sister’s house on the way back from a business trip.

During the welcoming martini we sat in the living room and, after dispensing with the family gossip, she cocked a dismissive thumb at the Apple TV sitting below her Big Screen and said, “Sometimes that thing sucks.”

“Ah?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Hmm,” I hmmed.

And I sipped and said, “Well…” and sipped again and after that sip finally admitted “Yeah, you’re right.”

And I went through all that dissembling and sipping and acknowledging because, much as I hate to admit it, sometimes the Apple TV does suck. And I felt responsible because if it weren’t for the martini poured by my own hand and my later enthusiasm for the thing, I would not be on the receiving end of the familial stink-eye over something that didn’t work as perfectly as we both hoped it might.

And what, you ask, might turn that eye from stink to admiration? Nothing more than a robust software update to address these issues:

Where oh where is my Apple TV? I’ve made the point several times that the capacity of the Apple TV’s hard drive is largely unimportant because the device streams so well. However, in order for it to do that, it has to talk to a computer running iTunes and too often it doesn’t. You fire up iTunes and the Apple TV is there one minute and gone the next. Some have suggested that this is a Bonjour issue and that by quitting and restarting Bonjour you can force iTunes and the Apple TV to see eye-to-eye. I’ve given it a whirl, using the Terminal commands found on this Art of Geek page (search for Bonjour), and it does seem to help reestablish the relationship between the two. But this isn’t something anyone should have to do.

Lock out the lock ups When I push a button on my universal remote I expect things to happen—volume up, change channels, switch inputs… whatever. When operating my Apple TV, I likewise expect it to do what I ask—change menus, restart paused videos, leave the screensaver and return control of the device to me. And it often doesn’t. I can push the remote’s button again and again and while the Apple TV’s LED lights up, that small light seems to be the only thing on the device that responds.

Although I haven’t been afflicted by this particular problem, some others who have their Apple TV’s plugged into an AV receiver’s HDMI port find their Apple TV stuck on the Apple logo screen. Likewise, unresponsive.

I wish I could say that holding down the remote’s Play/Pause button for many seconds reset the Apple TV as it should, but it doesn’t always. Far too often the only solution for resetting the Apple TV is to deprive it of power. If you’ve done this by pulling the power cable at the back of the device you know that when you plug it back in, you can get an electrical arc, which can’t be good. (I’ve now resolved to put my Apple TV on a power-strip and, when I need to reset, switch that strip on and off to avoid this arcing and the damage it might cause.)

I’m sympathetic to the notion that network streaming and syncing operations can cause some delays—which is why I use a wired Ethernet connection rather than wireless in the hope that a fast network connection will help minimize such delays. But I see these kinds of delays when trying to play content stored on the Apple TV’s hard drive. iTunes and the Apple TV are supposed to prioritize playback so that when I want to watch or play something, performance-sucking activities such as syncing are given a rest. This doesn’t appear to be happening as consistently as it should.

And so, like other Apple TV owners, I wait until Apple can get around to digging down into the guts of the device to cure its ills. And, as I later mentioned to my sister, I’m confident it will. I remain convinced that Apple TV is an important product and one that Apple cares about. Once the smoke has cleared from a likely iPhone 2.0 launch, I’m hopeful that Apple’s engineers will focus the kind of attention on the Apple TV that it deserves. I’m not one to threaten, but I think it’s fair to say that any future martini-fueled purchases from my family depend on it.

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