Praise for Apple TV's AirTunes Support

Posted Thursday, February 21, 2008

In my previous post, I criticized the Flickr support in the Apple TV "Take Two" update.

Now it's time for some Apple TV praise.

One of the new additions to Apple TV is support for AirTunes, the Apple technology that enables you to wirelessly beam music from iTunes. AirTunes has been around for a while, having debuted in Apple's AirPort Express mini-wireless base stations. But support for AirTunes is new in Apple TV, and it's a big deal.

"But," you say, "why use AirTunes when you can connect to a shared iTunes library with Apple TV? After all, Apple TV has always been able to do that."

You are correct, astute reader. But there are some excellent reasons to use Apple TV's new AirTunes support.

Crossfades. When playing music in iTunes, you can have the program crossfade songs: one song fades out while the next fades in -- like on the radio. Apple TV can't do crossfades with the music on its hard drive, nor can it crossfade tunes that it's accessing from a shared iTunes library. Ah, but by playing back in iTunes and beaming to AirTunes, crossfades are yours. They add a professional-sounding touch to your playlists.

To set up iTunes to do crossfades, choose iTunes > Preferences, click the Playback button in the Preferences dialog box, then click the Crossfade Playback box. Adjust the slider to specify a duration for your crossfades. Tip: To quickly navigate the many panes in the Preferences dialog box, press Command-(left bracket) and Command-(right bracket). These shortcuts also work in the Song Info dialog box. They're in the book!

Better still, you can even use your Apple TV remote control to pause and resume playback and skip to the next and previous songs.

Radio. Like the Internet radio stations in iTunes? With AirTunes, you can stream them to your Apple TV -- and your stereo. Bliss.

AirFoil. Want to stream any audio from your Mac to your Apple TV? Get AirFoil, from Rogue Amoeba Software. This $25 wonder lets you beam any audio your Mac produces to your Apple TV. Play radio stations that use RealPlayer, QuickTime Player, or Flash.

AirTunes on Apple TV? A good thing.

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Apple TV "Take Two" Flickrs Dimly

Posted Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I've been a happy Apple TV owner since last year, when I bought one so that I could cover it in the new edition of my book. I love Apple TV's ability to store my iTunes library and tap into the libraries of other computers on my network. Music, videos, movies, playlists, all accessible through my TV and stereo system? Yay.

But as an obsessed amateur photographer, I was particularly smitten by the ability to view my photos on my flat-screen TV. Indeed, in a world where high-definition video is relatively sparse (how many times can you watch a high-def cheetah tear apart a wildebeest?), I found that my photos were the best way to show off what a high-definition TV set can really do.

So you can imagine my delight when Apple announced that its Apple TV "Take 2" software update would support Flickr, the online photo sharing service that I am, um, somewhat fond of.

Last week, I downloaded the "Take 2" update. Its enhancements have been described in great detail elsewhere, and they're generally terrific. The ability to buy music from the iTunes Store from the comfort of my Barcalounger is not going to help lower my credit card balance.

But I haven't seen a detailed look at the Flickr support in Apple TV "Take Two". It's a bittersweet story, exciting and disappointing at the same time.

The Sweet Part
Setting up Apple TV to view Flickr photos is easy. Navigate to the Flickr screen, and use the Apple TV remote control to enter the name of a Flickrite. Apple TV displays a menu showing that person's most recent photos as well as his or her sets (Flickr's term for what iPhoto calls an album), favorites, and Flickr contacts.

Flickr on Your TV
(Click the photo for a larger version.)

To view a set of photos, use the Apple Remote to select the set, then press its Play button. And this is when the sweet part kicks in: Apple TV displays a slide show of the photos, with a cross-dissolve transition between each. You can also set up slide shows to automatically pan and zoom across photos (the so-called Ken Burns effect). And, as with photos stored on Apple TV's hard drive, you can have a music soundtrack play.

It's sheer bliss.

Sitting back and immersing yourself in photos like Roamin's on a flat-screen TV as music plays through your stereo? That, my friends, is my idea of must-see TV. Flickr never looked as good as it does through Apple TV. It's spectacular. You'll want to empty your living room of furniture and install a massive video screen and refrigerator-sized speakers.

You can also set up Apple TV's screen saver to display Flickr photos -- also sweet.

The Bitter Part
So what's not to like? Alas, many things, and most of them trace back to one fundamental shortcoming in Apple TV's Flickr support: unlike with YouTube, you can't sign in to Flickr using Apple TV.

No private photos. Flickr lets you upload photos as "private" -- intended for only those contacts who you designate as friend or family. Alas, because Apple TV doesn't let you sign in to Flickr, neither Apple TV nor Flickr knows who you are. If you post photos as private, you won't be able to see them on Apple TV -- nor will you be able to see contacts' photos that are posted as private either. Many Flickrites have complained about this on Apple's support forums. Permit me to add my voice to the chorus.

No adding to favorites. When you encounter a photo you like on Flickr, you can add it to your favorites -- essentially bookmarking it so you can return to it later. Apple TV doesn't let you add a photo to your list of favorites -- again, that would require that you be able to sign in to Flickr.

No groups, no searching. One of the best things about Flickr is the ability to join, contribute to, and browse groups containing similar photos -- such as the Polaroid group, whose members are lamenting Polaroid's recent announcement to discontinue instant film next year. I'd love to be able to view a group's photos as a slide show on my TV. Can't do it.

Similarly, you can't search for photos using Apple TV.

No Explore! Flickr's Explore page is the gateway to the most "interesting" photos uploaded to Flickr. I'd love to be able to view a slide show of Flickr's most interesting photos. Can't do it.

Think of It as Flickr "Take One"
I realize that Apple TV "Take Two" wasn't about creating the perfect marriage between Flickr and your TV. No, the new software update was about introducing movie rentals and iTunes Store purchasing.

But now that Apple has accomplished that, I hope future Apple TV software updates will add the same degree of support for Flickr that Apple TV provides for YouTube -- the ability to sign in, to search for photos, to add items to your favorites, and so on. The Flickr support in Apple's "Take Two" update is a great start, but it's just a glimmr of what's possible.

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