This morning, Apple announced that YouTube videos are currently available on the Apple TV and will also be on the upcoming iPhone when it's released. We fired up our Apple TV this morning, downloaded and installed the update, then took it for a spin.
The download itself took at least 5 minutes once we hit "Download Update" from the Settings menu. Once the download finished, it had to install the update and restart, which took another few minutes. Once the main menu screen loaded, the new "YouTube" option was available.
As you might expect, the interface is pretty slick. You can browse videos using the Featured, Most View, Most Recent, Top Rated and History menus, plus you can search. Once you go into one of the menus, there's a list of videos along the right-hand side--displaying the video's title, rating, length, and so on--and on the left-hand side you get to see more information about the video you currently have selected.
There's also the ability to add favorite videos, but you'll need to be logged in to your YouTube account for this to work. After each video, you'll be prompted with the option to "favorite" the video, and then it will be accessible from the Favorites menu. You'll also have access to the Favorites you've saved via YouTube on the Internet, but they might not all show up because not every YouTube video has been converted to Apple-friendly h.264 format. For example, we couldn't view any of our favorite CNET TV videos on YouTube via the Apple TV.
Searching for videos is done by selecting letters on the onscreen keyboard. It's definitely the biggest limiting factor of bringing the YouTube experience to your couch, as it gets a little tedious if you want to type in something specific like "presidential debates." Luckily, the results page updates as you're typing, so you often don't have to type your whole search phrase before you find what you're looking for. Still, there's no denying that we'd love the ability to grab a wireless keyboard and go to town.
Our experience playing back videos was just about as good as you can expect. Once we selected a video, it loaded up in just 1-2 seconds and started playing. You can pause, fast-forward and rewind via the Apple TV remote, although it didn't work flawlessly. For example, we tried pausing and then playing a few times quickly on one YouTube video, and the Apple TV seemed to hang a little bit, but it became responsive again after 10 seconds. It also takes a little while to get used to the controls--press fast-forward once and it skips ahead 30 seconds, hold it down and it fast-forwards, hold it down a little longer and it goes even faster. But this is the same as when you normally watch videos on the Apple TV, so you get the hang of it.
Video quality is somewhat of a moot point with YouTube videos, but in some cases we were pleasantly surprised. For example, one of the featured videos, "Space Intruder," actually looked pretty good on our 50-inch Pioneer PRO-FHD1 plasma HDTV. On the other hand, most of the time you can see plenty of compression artifacts, which are exaggerated even more when you blow it up to the big screen. But let's be honest--it's YouTube, so you're probably not expecting great video quality.
Overall, YouTube on Apple TV does almost exactly what it advertises--it brings the YouTube experience into your living room. The biggest limiting factor, at least to us, is that you can't use a keyboard, which hinders your ability to think of something and be watching a video of it within a few seconds, like you can on a regular computer. There's also the fact that not all of YouTube's videos are currently accessible, but YouTube is promising to have its entire library converted by the fall. Before this update, the Netgear EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD was the only network streaming device we'd seen that also did YouTube video, and now the choice is even harder between the stylish-but-limited Apple TV, and the more full-featured, but sometimes clunky competition.