Give Apple credit for identifying and exploiting needs we didn't even know we had.
In their annual fall conference, Steve Jobs showed off a few new products that will be released in the next few months, including a new iPod Nano with a touch screen, a revamped iPod Touch with built-in cameras and an improved screen, some improvements to software, a new gaming service that's being launched for the iPad/iPhone/iPod, yadda yadda.
But one of the most interesting things in the lineup was Apple's revamp of the Apple TV concept. Already nicknamed "the hockey puck," it's a small, black rectangle that you hook up to your television that you can use to stream music and video content to your television from the web or wirelessly from another computer in your home network. You can use it to surf the web, rent content from iTunes and Netflix, and do a few other things besides. It's a nifty device and for about $100 it's probably going to be a minor hit among people that are already Apple'd up to the teats.
However, while Apple's form factor is obviously a huge selling point, it's not exactly a new product. It's not even as good as many of the existing products that are available, and might not be as good as Google TV that is due out in a month or so.
There are some obvious drawbacks uch as the lack of storage - you can't use this thing to store content, just stream it, which puts it at a serious disadvantage with other gadgets. It doesn't play any media, DVD or Blu-ray, which means you'll need another device for those things. It can do 720 HD, but not 1080i or 1080p like some of its similarly-priced competitors. It doesn't do a whole lot of different video codecs (no .ai files, .wmv files, etc.) so it might not be able to stream the content you already have in your collection. The remote is somewhat scanty, and it's not clear yet how it will work with universal remotes. Although it seems pretty simple and straightforward, some people are already complaining about the user interface.
The bottom line is that this is a nice gadget to add to your home theatre, but it's not the best. And if you have certain things already - such as an Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, net-ready television and/or a media PC, then it's not really all that necessary.
If you want to look at what the AppleTV competitors have to offer, then check out the Roku Digital Video Player (www.roku.com), the LG BD570 Blu-ray player (www.lg.com), any of the three major video game consoles, the Dell Zinio (www.dell.ca), the Boxee Box (www.boxee.tv - coming soon) and Google TV (www.google.com/tv - coming soon). All are priced differently (and Apple is definitely at the low-end) but you'll want to compare features yourself before you decide what is the best value.