Sunday, October 12, 2014

Apple TV with PC Monitor

Apple TV is a great option for high-def video streaming to your TV.  We have it and love it.  But often forgotten is that Apple TV is a computer in and of itself.  What can Apple TV do if you untether it from your TV and get a little creative?

Apple TV on its own can handle the streaming and wifi connectivity part of the equation.  So if you take away the TV, you need display and sound capability, and a way to connect these to your Apple TV device.

Hmm.  Would Apple TV work with only a PC monitor? To test this,  I took my Dell monitor, connected it to Apple TV with an HDMI cable.  Turned on the Apple TV remote, and big as life the Apple TV start screen showed on the monitor!  The remote worked just like with a TV display, I could start up Netflix and stream a movie.

Now for the sound.  If your monitor has built-in speakers, your hdmi cable connection will bring both video and audio and you're set.  But my monitor does not have speakers.  However, looking at the back of the monitor, it did have a 3.5 audio out port.    Took a pair of PC speakers, plugged the green ourput 3.5 male plug into the monitor's audio out port, and tada: sound!

Here's my working bare-bones Apple TV configuration:

  • Apple TV
  • HDMI cable
  • PC Monitor
  • PC speakers (with audio out cable)

What if your monitor does not have an HDMI input?  Although I did not test it, using an HDMI-to-VGA cable should do the trick.

A little trickier is if your monitor doesn't support sound at all, i.e. no audio output. In this case, you have to connect speakers directly to the Apple TV device.  Not easy, because Apple TV only supports Digital Audio output. You need:

I have tested the above sound configuration and it works fine with Apple TV and PC speakers.

Where might a minimalist Apple TV setup come in handy? It could bring video streaming to rooms in your house where it would normally be impractical. Obviously, you don't want to be carting a 50 inch TV around the house - but moving a 24 inch PC monitor is no big deal. For example you could set up temporary video streaming for party purposes in non-TV rooms or outside.

Apple Airplay and mirroring works fine with this altered Apple TV setup. By adding an iPad or iPhone you could stream selected photos, videos or apps. Again, great for parties or other temporary setups.

Old PC that doesn't really handle video streaming?  Apple TV and a monitor could be a stopgap alternative.

Of course, Wifi is needed for all these options.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

iTunes Video Streaming: One Option

Having recently canceled our Netflix DVD subscription, our family has gone all in on streaming video. Mostly we stream TV shows, which Netflix is ideal for, which we do through Apple TV. But what about new movies? This is where Netflix is somewhat weak, so I figured I could stream rental movies from iTunes through my iPad to the TV big screen.

Renting my first iTunes movie, I just could not believe there was no streaming option. Seriously? But sure enough, my only choice was to download the movie to my iPad before being able to view it. Since the HD download ended up taking 2+ hours, there went our Saturday night movie. We were bummed.

Well, it's not obvious, but it turns out there is a way to stream iTunes movies. One Apple device will let you do it. But not the iPhone. Nor the iPad. Or the iPod touch. You can stream iTunes movies through Apple TV! Apple TV has only very limited storage - it couldn't hold a downloaded movie - hence the grudgingly-provided streaming option.

I needed to test this streaming option out before getting too excited. Sure enough, going into iTunes through Apple TV and choosing a rental, iTunes will stream the video to your TV.  It worked great, streaming was error-free with no hiccups.  No more super-long downloads before watching an iTunes movie rental!

Ah, think you're clever, and will start the stream on Apple TV and then switch to another device, say your iPad? Nope they thought of that. The rental is in "Apple TV format" and can only be watched through Apple TV.

Still, beggars can't be choosers. Once you rent the movie, you have 30 days to watch it. This doesn't mean you can watch part of it tonight, and the rest of it anytime before the 30 days are up. No, once you start the movie, you have to finish it in 24 hours. So the 30 days is really only procrastination time prior to starting the movie.

If it's within the 24 hours, technically you can watch the movie as much as you want. If you get to the end, and wanted to re-watch portions of the movie, no problem. Another family member could re-watch the entire movie as long as it was within the 24 hours.  And it seemed, once we were bumping up against the 24-hour deadline, if you were in the middle of the movie it wouldn't cut you off. But you might run into trouble if you exited iTunes; I believe we saw a warning message that that was the point of no return: you exit you're done.

A small loophole, but it's there: you can stream iTunes movies. But only through Apple TV.

Older TV?  Apple TV Works with That!