Apple entered the battle for the living room entertainment market in 2007 with the release of the Apple TV device. It didn’t catch on immediately outside of the usual core group of customers who buy just about anything Steve Jobs hawks at Macworld (I might be a little bit guilty of this myself). It’s begun to claim a little more market share in the world of consumer set-top boxes lately, but it has professional applications too. Inside that unimposing plastic shell is a powerful multimedia device that can be invaluable in your studio.
Our studio switched to HDV fairly early for both acquisition and editing. The one area where we have not been able to maintain HD quality is in the delivery stage. At the time at which this article was written—early March—Apple still hadn’t integrated Blu-ray Disc authoring into its Final Cut Studio suite. Now that Toshiba has announced it will no longer be manufacturing HD DVD hardware and HD DVD support from the major movie studios has dried up, it seems like this should be changing soon. In the meantime—and beyond, potentially, when you think of all the things Apple TV can do that a Blu-ray player can’t, like sync with iTunes movie downloads—Apple TV is a great way to present HD-quality videos to your clients.
In our studio, we no longer have to go searching through bins of DVDs when a client wants to see a specific venue. Nor do we have to connect a high-definition VCR to our TV so that clients can see the product in HD. With Apple TV, all our favorite wedding clips are preloaded onto the machine’s built-in hard drive.
Apple TV comes in two configurations (both with the same footprint): the 40GB version ($229) and the 160GB version ($329). Should you need more capacity, Apple TV will stream content from your computer through your high-speed wireless connection. At less than 8"x8", it lets you keep your studio less cluttered. We prefer a more relaxing environment for clients while they watch our videos, so we have eliminated any video equipment from the room aside from the monitor, Apple TV, and a DVD player.
Exporting Video for Apple TV
For Apple TV, Apple has adopted an interface similar to the Front Row software that is loaded onto all new Macs, and the device will work with any Apple remote. Encoding your videos for Apple TV is easy, and it doesn’t even require a Mac. All you need to do is load your video into QuickTime Pro and export it as an Apple TV movie—no messing with settings, as shown below.
From Final Cut, the process is almost the same, except this time you select Export using QuickTime Conversion and select Apple TV from the drop-down menu (see figure below).
If you’re using Compressor, just select the H.264 for Apple TV codec from the Apple devices menu. Compressor gives you a little more control over the encoding process, although, generally, I find that the basic settings produce excellent results (see figure below). The final video isn’t quite HDV quality, but it’s pretty close. Plus the file sizes are nice and small, which is why you can pack so much video onto the device, especially if you are using the larger 160GB model (our studio has the 40GB model).
Although it’s easy to export video to your Apple TV using the presets in QuickTime Pro, Final Cut, and Compressor, it’s worth knowing a little about the specs your video must meet to be supported by Apple TV. Your content must be in 720p (up to 1280x720 pixels) using the H.264 video codec at 24fps for the best results.
The device will also accept 720x432 or 640x480 using MPEG-4. A wide variety of audio formats are supported, including Apple Lossless, AAC, WAV, AIFF, and MP3. Although most people will want to use the built-in HDMI connection to connect to their TVs, component video and optical audio ports are also included.
Using Apple TV for Demo Playback
At a recent bridal show, we loaded our demo material onto the Apple TV hard drive and connected it through HDMI to the TV. We then used our Apple TV as the video source for all the video we presented at the show. It was the easiest setup we ever had at a bridal show, requiring us to bring only the monitor, Apple TV, a remote, and one cable. The device ran nonstop both days of the show, never once overheating or skipping—something I can’t say about the various DVD players and computers we brought for playback in the past.
In the studio, we use it not only to play back videos but also to stream music off our computer’s iTunes library if we have a client who needs some music suggestions. We also use it to show them images from our photo library (this would be great for studios that provide both photography and video). You can also retrieve videos from YouTube should you need to (or if your own clips are offered there) and display them via Apple TV. While we don’t do a lot of same-day edits, the Apple TV has all the right connectors to easily connect to the projector and sound system and may even eliminate the dreaded hum that can happen when laptops are connected to DJs’ soundboards using the mini-plug connector.
Apple TV for HD Delivery
While we only go as far as showing videos to our clients in the studio with the device, other studios, such as Elysium Productions of Orange County, Calif., go a step further and actually use the Apple TV as a final delivery medium for their videos. "We use it to demo videos in our consultation so they see the interface," says Elysium’s Julie Hill. "Usually, if the groom is there, he asks what it is. If they don’t ask, when the subject of HD comes up, we explain what the device is. I explain it as a bigger iPod, as it works basically the same way."
When delivering a wedding in Apple TV format, Elysium breaks up the various portions of the video as separate files, usually following the same breaks as the chapter stops on the DVD. This is an important step because the encoding software does not allow you to add chapter stops. The client can still skip ahead with the remote, just not to specific points. While Elysium doesn’t provide the Apple TV device to its clients, it does provide all the necessary files on disc. Adding the files is a simple drag and drop into iTunes, so even the more computer-illiterate clients should be able to handle the process.
I asked Julie if she still plans on offering Apple TV as a delivery medium once Blu-ray Disc burning is available for DVD Studio Pro (although it should be noted that it is possible to burn Blu-ray Discs on the Mac, using Adobe Encore and an external burner), and she said, "We’ll still offer it because it’s a super-easy solution for us. All I do is send the files through Compressor at the same time that it’s encoding for DVD, so it takes little-to-no effort."
That about sums up my experiences with the Apple TV as well; it’s little effort for great results. If only everything was so easy.
Joe McManus (joe at fvpro.com) is co-founder of Future Vision Productions, an award-winning wedding and event videography outfit based in London, Ontario. He is the founder and president of the Ontario Professional Videographers Association (OPVA), and he was named to the 2005 EventDV 25.