After getting two Android TV boxes which failed to live to my expectation, I’ve decided to try a different ecosystem altogether. Something quite plain and obvious to Apple users like me but for some reason I have not considered before in the search for my ideal streaming solution. It's none other than the Apple TV of course. Now why didn’t I get an Apple TV earlier before? Well for a few valid reasons. First of all it doesn’t support external hard drives. How am I suppose to watch all my downloaded movies then? And then for the more affordable 3rd generation Apple TVs, you cannot download more apps other than the ones pre-installed on the device which I thought rather limits the ability of this digital media player.
Despite those limitations, I decided to give it a try anyway. So I got myself a used 3rd generation Apple TV online for 2/3 of the original brand new price. It’s a pretty sweet deal too, cause the unit I got was not really used yet and still in its original packaging. I suspect the seller got it free from a lucky draw or something. Now I’ve been installing about a dozen Apple TVs at work before so I’m pretty familiar with them. As always, this version of the Apple TV comes with an Apple TV remote and power cable, that’s all. You need to get your own HDMI cable to connect to your TV set. Aside from the provided physical remote, you can also install the Apple TV remote app on your iOS device. The virtual remote app works exactly like the physical remote which is highly useful since many of us tend to misplace the tiny original Apple TV.
Setup is straightforward and simple enough. Connect Wi-Fi and/or ethernet, sign in to your Apple ID and that’s it. The only usable app I found pre-installed on this Apple TV are the YouTube and Netflix apps. The rest are pretty useless to me because they're mostly paid but relatively unpopular American-based content provider. Unlike the pricier 4th generation Apple TV, you can’t download more apps on this 3rd gen Apple TV. In spite of that, the real killer application for this older Apple TV is the AirPlay capabilities. Basically you can stream audio and video straight from a lot of apps on your iOS device to the Apple TV and subsequently your TV. Even if your multimedia app doesn’t support direct streaming to AirPlay, you can always turn on mirroring on your iPhones or iPads and mirror everything on your device’s screen to your TV screen, practically magic.
This way, I can stream videos from the YouTube or VLC app on my iPhone to the TV, mirror a movie from my favorite pirate site or stream music from my Music app. Streaming quality is pretty good and determined by the speed or your Internet connection. This AirPlay feature is also supported on most Mac computers and laptops so you can stream stuff from those devices too. The possibilities are endless. What’s more, you can also play audio and video files straight from your Mac computer from the Apple TV provided they’re in the file format supported by iTunes/Apple TV. So far that includes MP3, AIFF, WAV, MP4, AAC and Apple Lossless (.m4a) file formats. So if your video file is in say AVI or MKV format, you’ll have to convert them to MP4 first to be able to play on the Apple TV. Sometimes I do that, sometimes I just mirror the files unconverted via AirPlay. From within the Apple TV menu, you just select the Computers button and select the audio/video files you want to play. Refer to this excellent guide from How-To-Geek website.
So how does the Apple TV compare to my previous Android boxes? As an avid Apple user like me, it’s a match made in heaven. I have several Apple devices including a MacBook and they work seamlessly with the Apple TV. The AirPlay streaming technology is the main selling point for this older generation Apple TV and it’s a worthy buy even with the limited number of apps. If you have more budget, you should totally get the latest version of the Apple TV with 16/32GB space for apps download. However if you’re in a tight budget (like me), the 3rd gen Apple TV should suffice for all your streaming needs at home. Other than that, the Apple TV is pretty small so you could hide it behind your TV if you want to or just let it be unnoticed under your TV set. Plus it doesn't use much power and goes into sleep mode when not in use. You can get a second hand unit for under 300 ringgit right now on Mudah.my or similar sites. Now that I’ve owned one, I must say they’re miles better than all the Android boxes that I’ve tried. Why I didn’t get one much earlier escapes me.
Posted on Friday, February 17, 2017
It all started when our youngest child Hana Alisha occasionally asks us whether we’ve been to Cameron Highlands or not. Our usual answer would that we had, both her sister and brother had but she hasn’t because she was not born yet at that time. Which means that we haven’t been to Cameron Highlands together as a family since 6 years ago. Sure Linda and I had been to Cameron a few times since for our hiking trips but we didn’t bring the kids along for obvious reasons. So after a while we kinda feel sorry for Hana and decided to go for an impromptu weekend getaway visit to Cameron Highlands.
For this trip I’ve decided to try AirBNB, an online marketplace and hospitality service, where you can rent short-term lodging including vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds, or hotel rooms straight from just one website. It’s kinda like Booking.com and Trivago except that those two only offer mostly hotel rooms and not private properties. I’ve heard about them for a while now so I thought it’s time to give it a try. At first I looked for the usual hotel room deals first and although some were relatively cheap, the rooms are quite small and the beds are rather limited too. I found one hotel room with two single beds for RM170++ but since my children are all quite grown up now, it’s difficult to fit them all on a single bed this time. Hotels with more beds or bigger rooms will be out of our budget naturally hence why I decided to give AirBNB a try.
The one we booked cost RM227 including service fees (which will go to AirBNB). Just like hotels, AirBNB uses dynamic pricing mechanism where it would be cheaper to book rooms for weekdays compared to weekends and public holidays. The place where we stayed is a brand new apartment studio unit near Jalan Golden Hills in Brinchang. It has one master bedroom with one big queen-sized bed inside. Just like any other apartment studio, the kitchen area is adjoined with the living room. In the living room you get one sofa bed which pulls out as two singles bed. So altogether they have 3 beds for guests which suit all five of us just nice. The bathroom is clean and they also provided an induction cooker to use in the kitchen. Since my wife is not confident of using the shared pot for personal reasons, we didn’t get to use the cooker provided. Next time remind us to bring our own camping stove and butane gas can for cooking.
We happen to come during one of the coldest days of the year in Cameron Highlands that week where the temperature drops to a shivering 16° celcius. Coupled with cold wind and rain, the place got really cold during our stay especially at night. They just moved the popular Brinchang night market just across the street to our apartment that weekend so we could just go downstairs and take a really short walk to the market. Other than that, there’s nothing much to do nearby. The Internet connection in the area is basically non-existent and had they not provide (basic) Astro and a fairly new LED TV with USB ports to watch movies we’d be bored out of our wits. Despite that, it’s been a pleasant stay at our first AirBNB apartment. The room is big and spacious and although we had wished they provide towels there’s nothing much I can complain about.
Of course a visit to Cameron Highlands would not be complete if we didn’t visit some of its tourist attractions. Later that afternoon we visited the Bharat Tea plantation and cafe for a walk among the tea shrubs. It was cloudy and drizzly back then so I didn’t get to snap any spectacular sunset pictures. Still it was a fun and memorable visit.
In the evening we visited the famous night market that I mentioned earlier. It was crowded with people as usual but unlike the old location, we get better parking spots for visitors and there was no unnecessary traffic jam along the main road of Brinchang which is the main purpose of the relocation (I presume). And just like the old place, we saw the same kind of produce and merchandise - strawberries, vegetables, souvenirs and a variety of food for sale. I must say though that the entire housing area where our apartment and the night market are situated is quite windy especially during rainy days. I saw quite a few vendors and sellers struggling to hang on to their merchandise and labels when the wind blew so strongly. I’m not sure if they researched about that beforehand but the place is indeed windy it could affect the businesses somehow in the long run.
The next day we checked out early and visited one of the many strawberries farm in Brinchang. It was a small farm really with less than a dozen rows of strawberries and we couldn’t even pluck them ourselves. We had scones and strawberries, among others at the farm. The scones were good and much cheaper than what they sell at those tea plantation cafes but I can’t say the same about the home-made strawberry jam. After that we stopped by a bee farm, more like a bee shop with a tiny bee apiary by the road side. Honestly I wouldn’t even bother stopping if not for the kids.
And that concludes our short but relaxing weekend getaway to Cameron Highlands. This time around I was wise enough to take the Simpang Pulai exit instead of the regular Tapah exit from the PLUS highway. Sure this one is 30 kilometres further away but the road is much better and less winding. If you plan to book an AirBNB unit there in Cameron Highlands, make sure you don’t do it last minute. Book a week or two early and you get 30-40% cheaper accommodation. As always dress warm and don’t forget to plan your itinerary in advance because most of the tourist attractions close early in the evening. Now that we’ve brought Hana to Cameron Highlands you can’t say we never bring you anywhere again okay?
Posted on Sunday, February 12, 2017