Updated, January 16 2009.
Let's get one issue straight from the outset: the Apple TV does not play TV. Or at least, not your usual programmes from Freeview or cable and satellite stations.
Apple TV connects to your broadband router or network and earns its name by working with your lounge television, acting as a conduit to allow you to enjoy music and video from the internet. Content can even be streamed from YouTube, and an onboard hard drive (40GB or 160GB) means video can be stored locally too.
You set up the Apple TV by wiring to your television through HDMI or component video. Content comes to the device over either ethernet, or wirelessly by 802.11n. Beware though that the video output is tuned to 16:9 widescreen TVs. If you choose a 16:10 ratio 1920x1200 monitor, for example, the image will be slightly skewed.
It works seamlessly with audio and video stored in your iTunes library on a nearby Mac or Windows PC. A wide selection of films and TV programmes can now be enjoyed in the UK, using the iTunes Music Store. You can also surf Flickr photo libraries.
Video material can be either bought outright, rented for a 48 hour period; or both, depending on the film or TV programme in question. Much of the film content is now available in high-definition quality, a service unavailable even to computer users via iTunes. Prices vary from £2.49 to rent an older film in Standard Definition, to £4.49 to rent a recent HD film. Picture quality is superb, and audio is encoded in multi-channel for playback through an AV receiver.
You can also buy some films outright, with prices starting at £6.99. Rentals and purchases are subject to playback restrictions, using the Fairplay DRM system introduced with Apple's music shop.
There's an option to add an Airport Express wireless adaptor, to stream music from your PC library or Apple TV to other rooms. An on-screen menu lets you choose where you want to send your sounds. We found this worked well, and it's even possible to control playback - of both film and music - via an iPhone, using a free app called Remote. This gives you the luxury of a full handheld qwerty keyboard, very handy when searching for clips on YouTube, for example.
The Apple TV is not the only set-top box to integrate computer-hosted media with your lounge TV – but it is the easiest to use. It’s superbly made and crucially boasts a clear and simple interface. It’s a doddle to find anything you need with a simple six-button remote control.