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Frequently Asked Questions

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What audio and video formats does the Apple TV support? Does it support video streaming and purchase directly from the Internet?

Apple reports that the Apple TV supports "AAC (16 to 320 Kbps); protected AAC (from iTunes Store); MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps); MP3 VBR; Apple Lossless; AIFF; WAV" audio formats and the following video formats:

  • H.264 and protected H.264 (from iTunes Store): Up to 5 Mbps, Progressive Main Profile (CAVLC) with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps (maximum resolution: 1280 by 720 pixels at 24 fps, 960 by 540 pixels at 30 fps)

  • MPEG-4: Up to 3 Mbps, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps (maximum resolution: 720 by 432 pixels at 30 fps)
    The Apple Support Site also has more information about the officially compatible file formats. Although it is not supported by Apple, and using it may void your warranty, the hardworking hackers at AwkwardTV have released a plug-in with support for additional file formats.

In an in-depth review that should be read in its entirety, the always excellent iLounge provides details about what these formats mean in "real world" use as well as some of the problems that the Apple TV has using some video files even when encoded in the above formats but using non-Apple software to do so.

Originally, the Apple TV had limited support for streaming video directly from the Internet -- it could download and play short previews and trailers from the iTunes Store, but nothing else. Beginning January 15, 2008, however, Apple released new software available as a free update that also made it possible to rent movies directly from a widescreen television via the Apple TV.

What is the difference between "syncing" and "streaming"? How many computers does the Apple TV support for each?

Apple TV only can be "synced" with a single computer, just like the iPod. This means that movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, and photos organized with iTunes on the "synced" computer are copied to the Apple TV as well, provided that there is adequate storage space on the Apple TV hard drive.

However, Apple TV also allows five additional computers, to "stream" content to the Apple TV over a wireless network. This content is not copied to the Apple TV. You can stream movies, TV shows, music, and podcasts, but annoyingly, you cannot stream photos. Photos only can be viewed from the synced computer.

The Apple Support Site has more details covering the differences between importing, syncing, and streaming content to the Apple TV, as well as information on how to sync photos to the Apple TV.


Does the Apple TV support 5.1 channel surround sound?

The Apple TV outputs a Dolby Prologic stereo signal. It does not support "true" 5.1 channel surround sound.

What type of television supports Apple TV? Is Apple TV compatible with HDTV and SDTV?

Apple states that the Apple TV requires an EDTV (Enhanced-Definition Television) or HDTV (High-Definition Television) set with HDMI or component video and audio ports.

Consequently, at least officially, Apple TV is not compatible with SDTV (Standard Definition Television). However, as first discovered by Rouge Amoeba, Apple TV does have unadvertised "480i" (SDTV) support that will work at least with some SDTV sets provided that they have component (red, green, and blue) -- not composite (yellow, white, and red) -- inputs and a "simulated widescreen" mode.

How many movies, television shows, songs, and photos can the Apple TV hold?

Apple reports that the internal 40 GB hard drive in the Apple TV can hold up to 50 hours of movies and TV shows (at H.264 1.5-Mbps video at 640x480 with 128-Kbps audio, 720p maximum), up to 9,000 songs (assuming songs are 4 minutes long and encoded in 128-Kbps AAC), and up to 25,000 "Apple TV viewable photos transferred from iTunes" (JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF, and PNG).

What is the difference between 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p?

If you have not been following the changes in television technology in the last few years, the onslaught of new acronyms and terms can be daunting.

The "TV" portion of SDTV, EDTV, and HDTV is what you would expect -- television. SD stands for "Standard Definition", ED stands for "Enhanced Definition", and HD stands for "High Definition".

Before tackling the differences between 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p -- which in basic terms refer to the width of the image -- it is worthwhile to know that the "i" suffix stands for "interlaced" and the "p" suffix stands for "progressive".

Interlaced means that a single frame of television is presented in two parts -- first the television "loads" every other line of the picture (2, 4, 6, and so on), and then it loads the remaining lines (1, 3, 5, etc). Progressive means that all lines of the picture are loaded simultaneously, which can make a substantial difference in picture quality, particularly with fast moving images -- sports, action movies, and so forth.

SDTV -- which basically is the same as analog television, but transmitted digitally so that there is no signal loss regardless of distance -- is offered in 480i, EDTV is offered in 480p, and HDTV is offered in 720p, 1080i, and 1080p.

However, as of the date last updated (see top), 1080p is not used for broadcasts due to bandwidth constraints, but it is supported by the Blu-ray and HD-DVD standards. There are differences in aspect ratios (4:3 or 16:9) -- the ratio between the width and height of the display -- as well.

The Apple TV supports 720p as its maximum standard, and movies purchased from iTunes are encoded at 480p. Consequently, Apple TV might be of most interest to those with an EDTV (480p) or 720p HDTV.