Apple TV made a lot of news when it was released last March, two months after its debut at Macworld -- and then promptly fell off most people's radars in the wake of the iPhone. But for anyone with an HDTV sporting component or HDMI connections (or even a standard-definition TV -- though these are not officially supported), Apple TV is a great idea.
Apple TV brings all of the music, video and photos on a person's computer (Mac or PC) into the living room. Anything purchased from the iTunes Store can be viewed or listened to. Video podcasts can be watched like any TV show. And the screensaver includes a 3-D grid of floating pictures that offers a great way to have an ever-changing array of family photos in the background whenever the TV isn't in use.
One of the coolest features of the device has to be the ability to browse and watch YouTube videos from the comfort of the sofa using a remote control. Any YouTube fan will love this -- and it will probably make new YouTube fans as well.
Apple TV comes in two versions: One has a 40GB hard drive and sells for US$299; the other has a 160GB drive and sells for US$399.
Elgato's EyeTV and Turbo.264
If that special someone already has an Apple TV, then check out the offerings from Elgato Systems, which has two product lines that make excellent gifts. First is the EyeTV family of products, a series of TV tuner and personal video-recording devices for the Mac. In plain language, the EyeTV devices and bundled EyeTV software let users watch and record TV directly on their computers.
The devices offer digital-recording capabilities similar to TiVo and the DVR boxes offered by many cable and satellite providers -- but without the monthly subscription. The EyeTV software, which comes bundled with each device in the EyeTV lineup, also makes it easy to convert recorded programs for other uses (such as syncing to an Apple TV, iPod or iPhone, or burning to DVD).
Leading off the EyeTV lineup is the EyeTV Hybrid, a very compact device that retails for US$149.95 and supports viewing and recording both HD and analog television on Macs with a G4/G5/Intel processor (though for HD content a dual-core G5 or Intel Mac is required).
While the EyeTV Hybrid is a great choice for newer Macs (particularly those with Intel processors), older Macs may see better performance with the EyeTV 250 Plus (US$199.95), which includes video-encoding hardware and doesn't rely solely on the Mac's processor.
And for homes with multiple Macs, the US$199.95 HDHomeRun allows all Macs to access television signals over a home network and supports two separate Macs recording different content at the same time.
The Turbo.264, which sells for US$99.95, is a separate product that connects to a Mac and accelerates the conversion of video to H.264, a format that offers high quality and small file sizes and is used by iTunes, Apple TV, iPod and iPhone.
If you can't afford the turbo.264, another possibility is Techspansion's US$23 Visual Hub, which allows users to convert video but doesn't augment the Mac's own processing power. The turbo.264, in contrast, offloads the processing, resulting in much faster conversion and freed-up resources on the Mac for other uses.