Apple TV core of home media upgrade

About 3 weeks ago, I decided it was time to upgrade our ‘media center’. We have 2 boys (aged 8 and 6) with significant special-needs and the TV setup is an integral part of their daily lives. While the boys do have school, therapy, and are engaged in activities throughout the day with a nurse and PCA (personal care assistant), watching the TV is something they truly enjoy. We’ve pretty much got the entire collection of Veggie Tales, some good animated Catholic videos, and a huge selection of other DVD’s and VHS tapes.

One of the boys broke off the front-panel buttons on our TV and was starting to stick his fingers where he shouldn’t, so it was important to get something to replace our 4-yr old TV. In addition, we’ve decided to drop our satellite TV to save some money, so we looked at alternative sources of content.

Philips 32PFL3505 32-inch LCD HDTV

I started out by getting a 26-inch LCD, but it was just too small for our living room. Even though our old TV was a 27-inch screen, the widescreen format and increased resolution means you need to go larger than you’d think. Fortunately, there was a sale on the model we ended up getting, a Philips 32PFL3505 32-inch LCD HDTV.

Overall, we’re happy with the new TV. The colors are brilliant and HD content really pops out of the screen. It would be nice to have gotten something a bit larger, but we’re trying to control costs. My father helped mount it on the wall, so it’s out of reach of the kids and it also can be swiveled so our one boy who is often confined to a special chair can easily view it.

Apple TV - 2nd generation

Other than the DVD/VHS player, an Apple TV (second generation) has become the heart of the media center. I researched it and the Roku, Boxee, and Google TV offerings and decided this was a good fit for us. Since we’re dropping satellite, we signed up for Netflix which offers a decent selection of titles for streaming, and integrates perfectly with the Apple TV.

Here were the reasons we chose the Apple TV over the others. BTW…it really came down to Apple TV vs. Roku.

  • Low-cost. Only $100 for the device.
  • Netflix. Although they all support it…I’m impressed with the Apple integration.
  • TV and Movie rentals. We probably won’t do much of this, but again…the way it’s integrated is pretty slick.
  • YouTube. One of our boys really gets a kick out of video clips. His current fave is ‘Charlie bit my finger – remix‘.
  • It integrates perfectly with my other other Apple items. I can stream audio, photos, movies and videos right off my MacBook Pro.
  • Lastly, there’s a cool remote app for my iPhone and iPad. This is especially useful when trying to type into the unit, instead of clicking each alphabet letter with the included remote.

Logitech Harmony 300 universal remote

The piece that really pulls this whole setup together is the Logitech Harmony 300 universal remote. I’ve never used a universal remote before, mostly because I’ve always been skeptical of their purported ‘universality’. I’d heard good things about the Logitech Harmony line though, but some of the models I’ve seen were over $100…and that just seems like too much for a remote. I was happy to discover they had a sub-$50 model and the reviews looked good.

To my happy surprise…it really works! I grabbed the model numbers of all the devices in our setup, plugged in the remote to my computer via USB (sweet!) and downloaded all of my device settings with their included software. I re-mapped maybe 3 buttons, but it worked flawlessly on the first try. The only niggle that took some getting used to was after you select what the input is on the TV (video, HDM1, etc.), you then have to push the associated device button on the remote to begin controlling it. It’s really not a big deal though.

In the end, we’ve been very happy with the new setup and most importantly…the boys really like it as well. We’re saving money by dropping the satellite and we now have access to a huge number of movies and TV shows with Netflix.

If you’ve switched to something like Apple TV, Roku, Boxee or Google TV…I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Author:Craig Berry

Craig Berry is a Catholic web developer and musician.
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