Recently Apple opened up parts of their iTunes online store to Saffers who were buying music albums and singles from the iTunes service. Not only has Apple opened up their entire music catalog, but they also allowed use of the iTunes Matching service, which allows you to host your music files using the iCloud service to be streamed to any Apple device, provided you pay the yearly subscription fee. So that might be sweet, but iTunes also now offers movie rentals to local users, beginning last year December. That meant only one thing…

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Apple TV was on its way!

And it will officially be available to buy tomorrow. Apple’s TV is a set-top box that connects to the iTunes service using your Wi-Fi connection and allows streaming using the iTunes app on a desktop computer acting as a media server, or the iTunes store where you can rent or buy movies using your local credit card and iTunes account. You can also use Airplay, wirelessly streaming video content from your phone, Macbook or iPad to the Apple TV. As a networkable set-top box for your home network, it pretty much does all you’d want it to.

Now obviously this could make DSTV’s parent company, Naspers, a little uncomfortable. DSTV On Demand has been well-received since its launch and, especially for high-definition content, delivers a very stable service to DSTV Premium subscribers. The service also offers TV shows but it doesn’t show them at the same time they’re being viewed in the US and other countries. It also has “expired shows”, a strange notion for a Video-on-Demand service: once the current airing of a movie or TV show ends on the On Demand service, you can’t re-watch or re-hire it again until they do reruns or it shows up on MNet. Obviously, that’s a pain in the ass if you’re not always in front of the TV during the season runs to catch up. This is where Apple has the advantage.

If Apple manages to get around the massively slow behemoth that is ICASA, they may be able to offer TV shows locally, which gets around most of what we’re missing because our country doesn’t qualify for Hulu or Netflix support. It won’t be a perfect setup but it is a service that currently works and doesn’t have the limitations DSTV On Demand does.

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Caveats? Obviously, you’re initially limited to using iTunes for streaming to the box and there’s no local storage on the device, so you’re left to streaming across local Wi-Fi or getting your entertainment fix over the internet. You’ll also need uncapped ADSL and if you’re planning on streaming 720p or higher content straight from iTunes, you’ll need a 4Mb/s or faster service (slower speeds will work, but will take longer to buffer). Since most Apple TV users set up a home server for local storage, this might not be a big hurdle in any case. The iTunes Home Sharing service is free with your account, so at least you’re covered for that. Airplay also works like a charm – one of the benefits of a closed-off OS environment.

All in all, though, its a huge opportunity/win for Apple and for local users as well. Its possible to re-encode your movies and TV shows into the Apple TV format and hosting them locally using iTunes is a cinch. While SA has had its fair share of competitive media player offerings, from Western Digital’s WDTV to the entire Mede8er lineup, we’ve been spoilt for choice but never given a solution that works without too much fiddling (mkv support, for example, is still a hit-and-miss with most players). Many people go through the trouble of using solutions like OpenElec and PS3 Media server and they don’t always work or their devices aren’t DLNA-capable.

Apple TV, then, at least offers a service that is commercially supported and should work as advertised. You’ll be able to buy the Apple TV from Incredible Connection, Dion Wired, Makro and Hi-Fi Corporation, as well as iStore and Digicape¬†starting from tomorrow at a RRP of R1099.

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