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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 April 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 4

Product Evaluations

Apple TV (2nd generation): Apple Continues to Set the Accessibility Standard

I've turned on my TV and cable box, and now what do I do? Can I access the menu, guide, or on-demand features? Is the cable box accessible? Not really! Comcast allows you to adjust the size and contrast of the text in the menu guide, but without speech or voice overlay I wouldn't call it accessible—not even for persons with low vision.

My colleague at AFB, Darren Burton, kept telling me about Apple TV. I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew it provided access to iTunes and Netflix through your television. Most of the new DVD players or gaming systems provide access to Netflix, but not in an accessible format. Though I was skeptical, Darren kept mentioning things that he watched via Apple TV. When the opportunity to evaluate the product for AccessWorld came along, I was interested to see what I would find.

If you read AccessWorld regularly, you know that Apple is a leader in mainstream product accessibility for persons who are blind or visually impaired. They wowed us with built-in accessibility for the iPhone, iPod, and the iPad, and the standard Apple OS also includes great accessibility tools. Apple's accessibility page has information on the accessibility of Apple products and the company's goal to provide universal design.

For some context on my vision: I operate as a person who is blind and also as a person who has low vision. I use my iPhone with the VoiceOver feature and I have a screen reader and magnification on my computer, each of which I use for different tasks.

Cost

The Apple TV unit itself costs $99. Your television needs to have a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port and you will need a HDMI cable (about $20) to connect the unit to your television. There is no subscription cost to use Apple TV. Costs for other services (e.g., Netflix subscriptions, iTunes purchases) remain the same, whether you access them through Apple TV or a computer.

Subscriptions and purchases can add up, so choose carefully and keep track of what you're buying through iTunes. Keep in mind that there is some free content available in the Movies, TV, and Podcasts sections of iTunes. YouTube via Apple TV is simple to use and also free.

Setup

You can find the setup guide for Apple TV in Apple's online support section or under the Help menu in iTunes.

You will need:

  • An HD TV or monitor with an available HDMI port. In order to satisfy Apple's standards for copyright protection, your HD TV must also have the ability to enable High Definition Content Protection (HDCP) to play video from Apple TV. Some televisions may not have this capability.
  • An HDMI cable long enough to reach from the Apple TV unit to your monitor or TV.
  • To change the input setting on your monitor or TV to the one associated with the HDMI port.
  • High speed Internet in the location where you want to use Apple TV. You need to have Wi-Fi (wireless Internet connection) or an Ethernet cable long enough to reach the unit.
  • An Apple iTunes account, with an associated credit card or iTunes gift card account if you plan on making content purchases.

Using Apple TV

Unit Information
  • Dimensions: 3.9" by 3.9" by 0.9"
  • Weight: 0.6 lbs.
  • Port to connect power cord
  • Ethernet port
  • HDMI port (connect to TV or Monitor)
Remote Control

The remote is thin and sleek. It boasts just a few buttons with a different tactile feel to each. At the top of the remote, you will find a 5-way control (a circle of arrow buttons) in a natural sequence for Up, Right, Down, and Left surrounding a Select/Enter button. Below the circle, you will find the Menu button on the left and the Play/Pause button on the right. The Menu button acts as a Back button when you want to exit out of screens, sections, music, movies, etc. In my opinion, the remote is easy to use and get adjusted to. I asked a few people to test it; one tester felt that the circle of arrows wasn't raised enough.

Activating Apple TV

Start by turning on your television. Then, you will most likely have to press the Input button on your television/cable box or remote control (depends on if you are using the cable box control as a universal remote). Press Input until finding an HDMI channel on your television (there may be more than one).

Next, press any button on the remote to wake the Apple TV system. It can take about 15 or 20 seconds to activate or wake the Apple TV system, so be patient. If your Internet connection goes out or the signal is low, you may be able to get into the main menu but not have further access. During the evaluation, I had a few minutes when my signal was low and the system would not access my associated accounts, but this resolved itself when my Internet signal became stronger.

Menus

The main menu for Apple TV has five categories: Movies, TV Shows, Internet, Computers, and Settings. The main menu is well laid out and very user friendly, as is typical for Apple.

From left to right, the menu categories and their subsections are:

Movies (iTunes via Apple TV)

  • Top Movies
  • Genres
  • Search
  • In Theatres (descriptions and previews of films currently in theatres)

TV Shows (iTunes via Apple TV)

  • Top TV Shows
  • Genres
  • TV Networks
  • Search

Internet

  • Netflix (a subscription service that allows you to view streaming movies and TV shows and/or rent DVDs for a flat monthly fee)
  • MLB TV (scores and standings for free; access to games and more for a subscription)
  • NBA (scores and standings for free; games and more for a subscription)
  • YouTube (access YouTube and view YouTube content)
  • Podcasts
  • MobileMe
  • Flickr (online photo sharing site—you can post your photos to flickr.com, then access your account to view photos through Apple TV)
  • Radio

Computers

  • Nothing will show in this menu unless you have home sharing (which allows access to any iTunes movies, podcasts, music, audio books you have on your computer) activated in iTunes and through the settings in Apple TV.
  • If you use home sharing, you will find your Apple ID profile name here and you can access your computer's content through this menu.
  • Home sharing requires entry of the Apple ID for the computer with iTunes that you would like to associate or access through Apple TV.

Settings

  • General (you will find Accessibility as a submenu when you select this category)
  • Screen Saver
  • Audio & Video (basic settings, nothing specific that should effect accessibility)
  • Air Play (allows you to play audio content on sound systems/speakers around your home—this feature was not tested for this review)
  • Computers (allows you to set up home sharing for your Apple TV)
  • Sleep Now (turns off the device— you can also set the unit to go to sleep automatically after a few minutes or hours)

Types of Content

Radio

There are many radio and Internet radio stations available through iTunes/Apple TV. VoiceOver introduces each song.

Sports

Sports fans might want to think about subscriptions to either the NBA webcast or MLB TV, which would allow you access to all of the games. I am debating the MLB TV subscription versus the MLB At Bat app on my iPhone. I think I will be going with the app because it will save some money.

Movies

The Watch Instantly feature on Netflix that you have access to through Apple TV doesn't have all of the movies you would have access to with the DVD subscription. You may find that many of the newest releases are not available as streaming content, so you might want to consider a Netflix subscription that includes DVD rental, or renting/purchasing new releases through iTunes.

A bonus about renting films from iTunes versus most cable companies' on-demand systems is that you can hold a film for up to 30 days prior to watching. Once you start watching the film, you have 24 hours until the rental expires.

In the Movies section of the main menu, there are a few films that appear above the menu; press Up on the remote control and you can scroll through these films from left to right. You will find the movies that you rented in the past 24 hours in this section. To get out of this list of films, press Down, and you'll be back in the movie category of the main menu.

VoiceOver

The VoiceOver feature is great overall with a few minor issues. You can change the speech rate to fit your comfort. One issue I experienced was when VoiceOver requested the CVV credit card security to verify a purchase or rental. This probably occurred because I had changed the credit card associated with my iTunes account. I selected a film to watch, the screen showed a message asking for the CVV code from the credit card associated with my iTunes account, I entered the CVV, then it brought me back to the screen with the film. I didn't know if I had rented the movie properly or not. I went back to the film and considered renting the film for a second time, then VoiceOver came on and said that the film was loading. On later rentals it did not ask for the CVV code.

Low-vision Accessibility

If you are a user with low vision who is comfortable with VoiceOver, then accessibility will not be an issue with Apple TV. If you do not like using speech, however, low-vision accessibility on Apple TV may be problematic. You can't change the contrast, font size, or other display attributes. The size of your monitor or television screen will determine the size of the menu type display—the smaller the monitor, the smaller the type size. The contrast is not bad, but type sizes differ depending on which content area you're in. If you enter the Netflix area, for instance, the movie titles are tiny, even on a 42-inch screen. With such great accessibility through VoiceOver, I am a bit surprised low-vision accessibility features were not more carefully addressed.

The Bottom Line

I fully endorse Apple TV. As long as you're comfortable using VoiceOver, this device has great accessibility. Apple TV provides a feeling of freedom when accessing TV content that I've never felt before.

Product Information

Manufacturer: Apple, Inc.
Address: 1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
Website: www.apple.com
Phone: (877) 412-7753

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Copyright © 2011 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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