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Using AppleTV on Older Sets

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about using Apple TV with older sets, the pricing of Apple TV and using SmartSync Pro on Vista.

In your review of Apple TV last week you said it wouldn’t work on a standard, non-widescreen TV, but I have seen reports that it does work on these sets. How is that possible?

What we wrote was that it was designed for newer, widescreen sets, especially high-definition sets, and wouldn’t work on older, square-type sets, “unless they can display widescreen-formatted content and accept some newer types of cables.” Some older TVs can do this, but many cannot. The sets must have connections called component or HDMI, which many older sets lack, especially lower-priced ones, even if they can display widescreen content.

I have also heard reports that you can use Apple TV on older sets that cannot handle widescreen content. But my guess is that, on these sets, the menus and user interface are distorted.

I have just bought a new Dell Vista computer. None of my backup software now works. Does SmartSync Pro work with Vista? Do you have any suggestions?

SmartSync Pro, a program I have recommended in the past, regularly crashes on my own Vista desktop, though its maker, SmartSync Software, claims most features do work on Vista. The company says it is working on a new Vista version. In general, this is a major problem with adopting Vista. It is amazing to me that so many hardware and software vendors still haven’t issued Vista-compatible versions or drivers.

One suggestion might be to try the internal backup and restore function in Vista, which Microsoft claims is improved over what was available in Windows XP. I haven’t tested it, but more information is here.

In your Apple TV review, you said the Xbox 360 costs 50% more. But aren’t they priced the same, at $299?

I said the “comparable” Xbox 360 model was 50% more than Apple TV, and in making that calculation, I was being kind to the Xbox. The base, $299.99 “core” model of the Xbox 360 has no hard disk, so, to be comparable to Apple TV, which does, you would need the high-end Xbox 360, which costs $399.99 and includes a hard disk. But even this high-end Xbox 360 doesn’t have Wi-Fi wireless networking, which is built into Apple TV and is needed to stream PC-based content to TVs in the many, many homes that lack wired networks.

To get Wi-Fi on an Xbox 360, you must spend $100 for an optional adapter, which brings the cost to $499.99. But I assumed a user might be able to find a wireless adapter for $50, so I rounded the price down to $449.99, which is slightly greater than a 50% premium over the Apple TV. Even with that premium, the Xbox offers slower wireless speeds, and a hard disk only half as large.

Next month, a new Xbox 360 model is expected to be available that will have a 120-gigabyte hard disk — triple the size of the Apple TV’s disk. It is likely to cost $479.99, but still won’t include wireless networking.

As I noted in the column, the Xbox 360 can do some media tasks the Apple TV can’t do, and, of course, it is also a full-blown game console, unlike the Apple TV. That may make the Xbox’s higher price well worth it for some.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com

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