What’s the size, weight, and color of a hockey puck, is evil, and wants to control you, your computer, and much, much more?

This weekend I spend a few hours playing with an Apple TV. It was a gift. A really thoughtful gift that someone with a geek in their lives could do well to choose for them. And it looks great, works exactly as advertised, and like so many of Apple’s creations does what it does in a way that you can’t help but be impressed by.

And other than serving as the least obtrusive, most energy-efficient Netflix movie streaming device you’re likely to see outside the casing of a has-it-already-built-in television, is useless to anyone who hasn’t drunk gallons of the Apple Kool-Aid.

With Apple TV, Apple once again reminds me of why I love their products but hate the company.

I don’t have a problem with Apple’s insistence that if I want media stored in my computer to stream to my Apple TV I have to do it through iTunes. While it’s a big, bloated pig of a piece of software, iTunes is also the single best-designed, does-exactly-what-you-think-it-will-do application I’ve ever seen. And it’s free.

But as “a Windows guy”  I have a big problem with Apple TV’s insistence that if I want to stream music, movies or pictures from my iTunes-enabled computer to an Apple TV I need to have iTunes running. It simply isn’t necessary since iTunes starts a little stub of itself in the background as soon as you turn your computer on. Whether this is bad design (a decidedly un-Apple-like trait) or a not-so-subtle way to get people to buy a Macintosh next time around, it just isn’t OK.

Now, it gets worse.

Since iTunes is the only conduit for getting your media to your Apple TV, your media needs to be iTunes compatible. Got a digital camcorder? You know those .AVI files it creates that you upload to your computer, or the ones you create by editing clips? iTunes won’t play them.

That’s right: your not-specifically-created-to-run-in-iTunes movies can’t get to your Apple TV. You could convert them, but besides that being too geeky a task for most users it takes so long that the beauty of the box . . . “now I can stream my media to my TV as soon as I get it!” . . . is gone.

Who else thinks this sounds exactly like Apple’s strategy with the iPad ? Don’t be too surprised; the Apple TV, powered by Apple’s A4 processor and running iOS 4.0,  essentially is an iPad, albeit one without a screen or storage.

At the end of the day, no matter how cool the Apple TV is—and allow me to repeat . . . it’s very, very cool—it’s more of another weapon in Apple’s play to control Internet TV than a useful device for you. Apple’s in the process of making deals to stream movies and TV shows to your Apple TV, but so far those prongs in their control-the-media-world strategy are disappointing; there just isn’t very much available on Apple TV.

Apple TV

But man, oh man: Apple TV sure is the best Netflix streaming option out there.

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