Set-top boxes match up: Apple TV vs. Google TV

Becky waring By Becky Waring

The secret to choosing the right set-top box for your TV is managing your expectations.

Although these devices give TVs access to more of your audio, video, and Web media, none of them provides the one thing we really want — lower cable bills.

The odd couple among set-top boxes is Apple’s second-generation Apple TV and Logitech’s Revue Google TV. Both let you stream audio,video, and digital images to your flat-panel screen; but beyond that, they could not be more dissimilar. Of the two, I prefer Apple TV — and here’s why.

Apple TV: Positive proof that less is more

Most notable about the U.S. $99 second-generation Apple TV is what’s missing. It has no Web browser, games, or storage. It can’t play any video formats other than those supported by iTunes (H.264 and MP4). And most surprisingly — from the company that invented the App Store — it has no apps.

Instead, Apple TV focuses on a few key capabilities and does them extremely well. It streams rental movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store plus music, photos, and videos from your PC or Mac — all through Apple’s iTunes app. The box also streams selected Internet content such as Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, and MobileMe Galleries.

And it has AirPlay, which lets you stream video and audio directly from iPads, iPod Touches, or iPhones (running iOS 4.2.1) to your TV. I’ll get to this amazingly fun feature in a bit.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2010-12-09:

Becky Waring

About Becky Waring

Becky Waring has worked as a writer and editor for CNET, ZDNET, Technology Review, Upside Magazine, and many other news sources. She alternates the Best Software column with Windows Secrets contributing editor Scott Spanbauer.