Television and computers have long been challenges for children. We want to give them television and Internet access in their bedrooms but from a very early age this is, obviously, problematic. Having spent some time about the mode in which the AppleTV operates I believe that this may be a really great solution to this continuing conundrum.
AppleTV is a versatile device that works in several different modes. It has direct Internet access through YouTube. It can play media files that are loaded onto it. And it can play media files provided to it through an iTunes “server” application running on a host computer. It is these later modes that are of the most interest to parents looking for a “controlled” solution for their children.
The first thing to mention is that the AppleTV has very good parental controls built in. With these control parents can do a range of locks including removing all access to YouTube and Internet direct content, removing the ability to access the iTunes Store to obtain new, external material and can control the ratings of movies and television shows that will be allowed even when access to them is permitted. So right away there are a range of options that make the AppleTV safe and simple for parents to provide.
The true versatility of the AppleTV for youngsters comes from its “one level separation” from being directly connected to the Internet. Because there is a complete separation between the AppleTV and content on the Internet it is far easier and more secure for parental supervision to be enforced.
The AppleTV gets its content from an “iTunes Server” – that is a computer on your home network that is actively running iTunes and is paired with the AppleTV. Because iTunes is used to feed media to the AppleTV there is a level of direct control that does not readily exist in other systems. Here the iTunes can be set to subscribe only to trusted channels or not to have any subscriptions at all. iTunes can be set to allow nothing but audio and video files loaded onto it by the parents. This is an extremely simple and effective means of content control far beyond what is possible with a DVD player since any DVD can be put into the player but the AppleTV can allow only that content that is preapproved.
Content on iTunes can be purchased through the iTunes store, purchased elsewhere online or can be generated locally either as home movies or by using tools like Handbrake to convert purchased legacy media into AppleTV ready h.264 files. AppleTV’s native video format, h.264, makes for some extremely small video files at very good quality. Perfect for storing large collections of childrens’ shows.
If access to your entire media collection hosted on iTunes is still too wide of content access (perhaps you have some PG movies in there and want to limit accessibility to just a select few films or television shows) you can choose to lock iTunes so that only content that you explicitly load onto the AppleTV through iTunes sync mechanism will be available. This makes it simple to load a large amount of media and then to limit it on a very granular level for very exacting control.
No matter which method or group of methods that you choose to limit content access the AppleTV is truly an answered prayer for parents looking to provide content access in a safe and simple manner for their children. The ease with which it can be used and the level of security that it offers is really remarkable. And because the device requires no physical contact to operate it can be installed safely out of reach of young children who can operate all of its functionality using nothing more than its small, plastic remote. This will relieve much of the concern over putting an expensive electronic device into a young child’s room or den where accidents will often happen.
Unlike services which are purely Internet streaming in nature the AppleTV’s local caching makes their device also work even with unstable Internet connection or even in situations where there is no connection at all. This type of media device will operate surprisingly like a DVD jukebox when pre-cached with content. Children could have as much as 160GB of media sitting ready to go at any time for themselves or for watching with their friends without needing intervention from you.
The AppleTV really represents an opportunity to feel confident about having control of children’s content availability in an age of much uncertain access.