I love the AppleTV. It's my "gadget" of 2012 despite it being out for 3 years and it's all because I'm fed up with Cabletv and it's providers. So what does Apple TV offer you and why should you care? For me I was able to cable cut (see: save money,) go after the shows I want, increase my quality of tv watching, cut down on commercials, obtain a great library of content to watch at any time, look awesome on my tv stand, and all for the one time cost of $99 for the box.
First it provides you the means to cable-cut. Essentially you toss away that 149.99+ subscription (the one that gives you hbo and showtime) and buy only what you want via the iTunes store where you have access to nearly every TV show made within moments of it's airing. If we break down the numbers cable cutting starts to make sense. If you kept your internet only connection and even kept basic your bill will run about $50 or so. Right there is a $100 drop in spending habits. Push that out to a year and you're looking at $1,200. In purchase power terms you would have to buy 401 episodes in HD at 2.99 a pop to match that sum. With an average season at 20 episodes that means you get 20 full shows. At $1.99 in 480p quality it's a whopping 603 episodes. Also understand that once you buy it you now have access to it via the Cloud for as long as iTunes is around whereas with regular cable
Having worked for a Cable TV channel I can tell you each channel charges money to you the consumer via your cable bill. Don't watch NBC Sports Network? You're still paying for it. Admittedly it's about $0.23 and fairly paltry sum but you are paying. Fact: ESPN charges the most of all channels at 4.69. My point of that is to say there's a lot of tv I pay for but don't watch and what is on is generally me just "surfing". By cutting out that extra content it allows me to allocate that money towards other shows I want .
Another aspect is the quality of TV watching. If you're like the rest of us you channel surf. Apple TV cuts down on the channel bouncing and being tied to a TV show time as much - on Apple TV you can watch it just after airing in most cases. No need to DVR (and run out of space) just go purchase it or get a season pass at a reduced price and notifies you when it's available. Also in my case I found that I watch less junk tv. In the past I would watch shows kind of like honey boo boo child because watching tv was easy and I just continued to do it. To say the value of my life by cutting out those train wrecks was anything less than great is putting it mildly. I realize many people enjoy shows like that for the fact it is a train wreck so this may not appeal to you. Another huge selling point is you can cut out commercials. To not feel like I'm marketed to 100% of my day is fairly nice once you realize it's happening.
Another selling point is the size of the box and also remote. The box is only a few inches wide and an inch tall. You can hold it in your hand! It's a vanity issue I know but I can't stand the huge cable boxes and how much space they take up. Plus they look hideous. In addition to that there are various types of cable boxes and many work enormously slow. With AppleTV it's seamless. And that terrible on-demand menu? GONE. In it's place the glorious UX of Apple designers looking just like your iPad. The remote is also a thin silver one with 3 buttons. I love it for it's simplicity, but I do lose it on occasion. I imagine kids might break it too.
A few side notes to mention. Gone are the ever present awful customer service calls or those pesky bargaings we have to do every year over your bill increases or contracts. That's a huge PLUS in my book. There are a few more things to note such as access to netflix via an app on the main menu which can help defray your loss of tv shows. There's also 1080p streaming of video. I know we're lead to believe we get HD tv via cable but it's not entirely accurate. Another cool little bonus is you can even use your iPhone as a TV REMOTE (for when your kids break the other one). Oh and you can also stream music and photos right to your tv via Airplay. Neat for parties. Also great if you have files already.
It's not all upside however. The downside is you somewhat miss out on live sports. There are app's such as MLB, NBA and NHL so you do get something. However it is area restricted meaning you can't watch the Phillies live if you're in town. Even if they're out of town you can't. You can thank old cable contracts for that and the silly old man's notion of thinking if it's on air people won't go to the game en masse. The local games are available but after airing. And there's no NFL package. Do note you can get over the air games on channels such as NBC, CBS and ABC. All still accessible via your tuner or basic. Also, No espn. But you can get everything on espn.com anyways, same with CSNphilly.com. But you probably knew that already.
In time more apps will arrive and things will change because the way we consume media has changed. While I try to list in detail as many positives I do understand AppleTV may not replace every single users TV watching habits, but there's a target audience that is growing. Join now, save a little cash, watch commercial free shows, and start using those iTunes gift cards you get on tv shows!
All for a total one time cost of $99.
Watch that CNET review for a 2 minute run-down of the box.