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What exactly is Apple TV? Is it a television? Is it a Mac?
Please note that this Q&A specifically refers to the original Apple TV which was discontinued on September 1, 2010. For information on the current Apple TV models, see "What are all the differences between the Apple TV 3rd Gen and Apple TV 4th Gen (Siri)? Which is best for me?"
Judging from e-mails received, one potential disadvantage of the decision to release the final product as "Apple TV" rather than the codename of "Apple iTV" is that some new users asked why Apple had decided to sell a television.
Despite the name, Apple TV is not a television. It uses software similar to the MacOS X application Front Row -- and runs a scaled down version of "OS X" -- but it was not designed to run the gamut of MacOS X software, and consequently, it is not a Mac either.
The Apple TV is a simple, compact -- 1.1 inches tall, 7.7 inches wide, and 7.7 inches deep -- "set top box" that makes it possible to wirelessly "stream" iTunes content -- "music, audiobooks, videos, TV shows, and movies" -- from as many as five Macs or PCs to an enhanced-definition or high-definition TV (and as of January 15, 2008, rent movies directly). It officially works with EDTV or HDTV sets with HDMI or component video and audio ports, but it also works with a limited number of SDTV sets.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.
On the Apple website, the company explains:
Say you've just downloaded Cars from iTunes. Instead of huddling around your computer to watch, you pop some popcorn while your computer wirelessly syncs your new flick to Apple TV. Then you pull up a seat, put up your feet, and pick up the included Apple Remote to play your movie on TV. Give yourself a hand: You've just changed the way you watch digital media.
As of January 15, 2008, Apple added new software that also makes it possible to rent movies directly from the television using the Apple TV.
Apple reports that the original internal 40 GB hard drive 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". Apple likewise reports that the Apple TV released with a 160 GB hard drive on May 30, 2007 holds up to 200 hours of video, up to 36,000 songs, or up to 25,000 photos using the same formats.
It does not play CDs or DVDs nor does it allow one to record from television. However, for those accustomed to purchasing movies and television programs through the iTunes Store, the Apple TV does make it convenient to watch this content on a television, as well as most other content stored in iTunes, and starting January 15, 2008, it also provides an inexpensive "pay-per-view" option to rent movies directly from the television.