Daniel Eran Dilger in San Francisco
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Should Apple TV Copy Tivo and Media Center?

200712112213
Daniel Eran Dilger
With Apple holding onto 91% of the market for digital video downloads, one might think that the company’s rapid ascendancy in movie sales would have received more attention by the media. Instead, reporters have suggested reasons why the figures don’t really matter and analysts are offering their advice on how to “fix” Apple’s digital strategy. Most of the suggestions involve Apple stooping to copy the failure of Microsoft’s DRM-centric rental revocations or the Media Center/Tivo DVR money pit between the rock of cable providers and the hard place of consumers looking for cheap hardware.


Apple TV Digital Disruption at Work: iTunes Takes 91% of Video Download Market

Apple TV Digital Disruption at Work: iTunes Takes 91% of Video Download Market

If It Ain’t Broke, Offer Fixes.

Some aspects of “fixing” Apple TV are as easy for pundits as fixing the iPhone: just add a bunch of expensive hardware, dial up all the specifications a couple notches, and then drop the price in half or so. It’s a good thing Apple isn’t run by a democratic vote.

Monday, Dan Frommer of Silicon Alley Insider published “How Steve Jobs Can Fix Apple TV,” recommending software updates for the existing model, and a whole new hardware strategy to follow up afterward. Here’s the steps he outlined.

How Steve Jobs Can Fix Apple TV (AAPL) – Silicon Alley Insider

Frommer’s Software Fixes for Apple TV.
Step 1: Get HD content on iTunes immediately.

HD content from iTunes would be great; the problem is bandwidth. It’s already a bit much for many US consumers to download existing iTunes content at “near-DVD” rates; that’s approximately 100 MB per 15 minutes, or almost half a gig for an hour long show. Will consumers pay any extra for HD content, which is far larger and subsequently slower to download? As Frommer admits, they’re not excitedly paying a premium for HD-DVD and Blu-ray.

Blu-ray vs HD-DVD

Blu-ray vs HD-DVD in Next Generation Game Consoles
Origins of the Blu-ray vs HD-DVD War

Step 2: get a ton more video content on iTunes, or partner with Netflix or someone who can. iTunes’ current selection (and grainy YouTube clips) won’t cut it.

The reality is that Apple’s current selection is “cutting it” in terms of majority market share. Netflix has a lot of DVDs to rent, but doesn’t have the rights to high quality downloads. Netflix’ Windows-only playback on demand service is interesting, but in terms of quality, it’s only a step above YouTube, not something you could watch on TV. And of course Apple is lining up new content as fast as it can. It’s the studios that are balking, because of fears they can rent their expiring content elsewhere or somehow monetize it with ads.

There’s also the worry that Apple will continue to push content prices down; many studios are hoping that HD discs will scale movie prices back up to $30 or more. Digital downloads will establish a lower average price for movies than DVDs. A few years ago, the music industry hoped to keep raising CD prices as well, and then blamed their slumping sales on piracy. NBC is following that strategy in withholding TV download sales from iTunes, ensuring that consumers either obtain content its from file sharing or spend their money elsewhere.

Movie studios also fear that major retailers such as WalMart will get angry if Apple can sell digital downloads concurrently with new DVD releases. Compared with DVD sales, Apple has less clout: iTunes’ digital downloads only account for 1% of the video market when DVD sales are rolled in. WalMart owns a 30-40% of that larger market, mostly comprised of DVD sales. NPD also lists Best Buy, Target, mail-order club Columbia House, Blockbuster, Amazon, and Circuit City ahead of iTunes in video sales overall.

Just a couple years ago however, the music business was tilted the same way. In just three years Apple crawled up the charts to become to the number three retailer of all music behind Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and now holds more than a 10% share of music sold in the US. Digital downloads are growing rapidly as CD sales stagnate. Big box retailers don’t even expect to make a profit on CD sales; they carry them as a loss leader to get consumers to visit stores.

Did iTunes Kill the Record Store?

WalMart is leveraging its current DVD sales volumes to exert pressure on the studios because once digital movies become as easy to download as iTunes music, there won’t be much WalMart can do to stop or reverse the slide. That also plays into the efforts of retailers to push HD discs, since they offer something that downloads can’t currently deliver. What is running in Apple’s favor is that the mass market doesn’t yet see an advantage in paying a steep premium for HD content, particularly with the extra DRM limitations involved.

In terms of quality, purchased iTunes video looks better on HDTV than most digital cable programming. It’s not Blu-ray, but it also doesn’t cost $400-600 for the player and $40 a movie. From 10 feet away, users will not see much of a difference if any between Apple TV movies and HD content. And again, for TV content, iTunes is typically better than the highly compressed digital HD cable users will compare it against, plus there’s no ads and no $50-100 monthly fee.

Why Low Def is the New HD

A lot of ignorant reviewers have plugged in the Apple TV, described the way pixels look 6“ away from the screen, and dismissed it as poor quality. That’s because they are morons who have no practical experience in critically reviewing technology or what consumers want, and can only parrot press releases and cite specification numbers.

Brent Schlender’s Apple TV: Fortune Dud or Fortune FUD?

Step 3: Let people rip their DVDs to their Apple TVs/computers the same way they can rip CDs to play on iPods.

Apple does nothing to limit users from doing this using Handbrake. However, Apple can’t directly provide the tools because it is limited by DVD licensing legalese. Additionally, ripping DVDs is not the same as ripping a CD; DVDs are already compressed with MPEG-2, but to really be portable enough, they need to be transcoded into H.264. That makes an 8 GB movie closer to 1 GB, but literally takes hours of heavy processing work to accomplish. Most consumers are more likely to wait around for a download to finish.

Apple TV: Using DVDs and other Video Sources

Apple TV: Using DVDs and other Video Sources

Step 4: Open Apple TV to any videos we have on our computers, whether downloaded from iTunes or not.

Has Frommer actually used an Apple TV? It can play ”any video you have on your computer,“ either directly or by converting it within iTunes, just like an iPod. It’s not just a movie watcher box, but also works with home movies, video captured with a DVR such as EyeTV, and other sources. One expansion Frommer didn’t note was rental movies in iTunes, which could make sense if executed properly.

How Apple Could Deliver Workable iTunes Rentals

Step 5: Put a Web browser and an email app on Apple TV, and let us use the USB port for a wireless keyboard/mouse.

I’m all in favor of extending the Apple TV in new directions, but prepare to be underwhelmed when using a processor architecture designed only to run Front Row to use significant desktop applications like a web browser. Apple’s best bet is to open an SDK that allows direct development of Front Row modules and see what third parties dream up.

Inside Apple TV
Why Apple Will Change TV

Will Apple TV 2.0 Become Last Year’s Media Center PC/Tivo?
Frommer next described his vision for fixing the Apple TV in hardware by imagining a product that has already failed. He suggests adding DVR software and interfacing with the cable box to transcode content for iTunes and the iPod, alternatively adding a CableCARD slot and tuner, throwing in a bigger hard drive, a fancier remote, and keeping the price the same or dropping it by a third to $200.

It’s hard to see why it would make sense for Apple to copy existing products that don’t sell well rather than keeping the Apple TV as what it was intended to do. Part of the reason why decent products like the TiVo aren’t selling is that, as Fommer noted, ”cable boxes rent devices out for $8 a month.“ There is no market for third party cable set top boxes when the provider is renting out units at cost in the hopes subscribers will blindly pay rent for several years without thinking about it.

If Tivo–which has a devoted following and a highly regarded product–is struggling to sell its DVR in competition with those offered by cable and satellite providers, how will Apple jump into that market and dramatically accomplish anything different using Tivo’s same strategy?

Apple TV & the Case of the Missing DVR

Apple’s iTV & The Case of the Missing DVR

Expensive Hardware, No Market: Media Center.
The FCC’s CableCARD was supposed to open the set top box market up, using a PC Card that could plug into any DVR. In theory, it would enable any device the user selected to decipher encrypted cable channels that the subscriber purchased. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple; CableCARD turned out to be a failure for consumers, did nothing to really open up the playing field, and suffers technical deficiencies and compatibility problems. It also only applies to cable, not satellite service, so it would make the Apple TV more expensive for everyone while only being of any potential use to cable users.

There simply is no practical way to offer a universal DVR tuner that works with all the features of every cable system and satellite provider in the US, let alone a worldwide product. If DVRs were selling like smartphones and music players, it might make sense for Apple to target those markets. Since there’s already too many DVRs all fighting over a limited market, it makes more sense for Apple to create an independent service that directly delivers the TV programming consumers want, rather than salvaging through the river of content to dredge up clippings of TV from a provider’s raw feed.

Further, imagine the blog rage if Apple partnered with cable provider to roll out a DVR, which would be pretty much essential to selling any. Just as with AT&T and the iPhone in the mobile industry, pundits would howl that Apple isn’t spreading itself thin across every provider, and would stir up association of whoever Apple partnered with bad service and high rates, regardless of the fact that no dominant service providers anywhere are ever very good.

Outside of that, the expectation that Apple could somehow muscle in on the cable providers and compete against a $99 a year rental unit is absurd, especially after assuming Apple could also add Firewire DV input, CableCard DRM, and/or multiple DVR tuners. The Apple TV is already being offered for barely more than its hardware actually costs. It sure is easy to demand that Apple deliver hundreds of dollars of hardware that does everything while charging the user nothing, but that really isn’t really a fix, its a break.

Media Center vs Apple TV

Windows XP Media Center Edition vs Apple TV

Apple TV 2007 = Media Center/Tivo 2010.
Microsoft’s Media Center strategy is bogging the company down in supporting technologies that are rapidly becoming obsolete. Buying expensive TV tuner cards for Media Center PCs is the same upgrade game Microsoft facilitates on the PC gaming side with quickly outmoded video cards. That will keep the tinkerers busy, but won’t impress the mainstream market that wants content, not an indebted dependance upon cable companies.

For the record, users who bought $275 DVR tuner cards for their Media Center PCs in 2005 got to upgrade to a new $150 HD DVR card last year to replace it, or two if they wanted to watch and record video at the same time. This year, it’s time to upgrade to Windows Vista’s Media Center ($160 upgrade), which might force users upgrade to a new dual tuner HD card that can be had for $175. The great deal is that hardware keeps getting cheaper! Of course, cable adds another $600 – $1200 to the annual cost of a Media Center PC, too. That kind of money pays for a lot of downloads.

Tivo is losing tens of millions of dollars a quarter trying to sell boxes, and only has 1.7 million subscribers. Last year, it only added another 136,000 subscribers. That’s half the number of Apple TV units McQuivey estimated Apple has sold so far in two quarters of its being on sale at a sustainable profit.

If Apple TV sells anywhere close to the 800,000 unit figure McQuivey pulled out of a hat as the estimated sales for the entire year, it would be an outstanding success. It would be very good if it sold a quarter million units. It would be even better if the potential users of Apple TV all decided to buy a Mac mini instead. Apple itself hasn’t announced any plans to sell a certain amount, but has recognized that it is a tough market.

It’s also important to note that the ‘disappointing’ ratio of McQuivey’s projected estimate vs his sales guesstimates comes from the same critic of iTunes who has been wrong on Apple’s media efforts repeatedly this year. Why is McQuivey banging the drum about the ”failure“ of Apple TV and recommending an ad-sponsored alternative strategy like Tivo’s if in reality Tivo is the real failure, and direct downloads are doing fine? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Forrester’s James McQuivey Announces the Death of iTunes, Again

Forrester Research: Epic Terror of iTunes and Apple TV
Forrester’s James McQuivey Announces the Death of iTunes, Again


What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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35 comments

1 Metryq { 12.12.07 at 7:55 am }

“described the way pixels look 6“ away from the screen”

A fellow video engineer once pointed to the fading waveform on a scope — barely more than ringing — of a resolution pattern and called it “the tailwind spec.” (This camera gets 900 lines! Right.)

2 cubeeggs { 12.12.07 at 8:00 am }

Will consumers pay any extra for HD content, which is far larger and subsequently slower to download? As Frommer admits, they’re not excitedly paying a premium for HD-DVD and Blu-ray.

I think they would. People aren’t buying the disc formats because they’re in a format war. On a computer screen or the target TV of most Apple TV users, HD would look noticeably better. x264 can compress a 43-minute TV show at 720p to 1.1GB with decent quality. I’m not sure how will QuickTime would do.

3 Silver_Surfer1931 { 12.12.07 at 9:57 am }

Daniel,

You know you’ve made it big when you’re quoted by other media outlets. I just want to thank you for your candor when writing these articles. It shows indepth knowledge of what you speak, attention to details, with technical know-how…and of course, inserted with insightful arguments.

4 tomreeves { 12.12.07 at 10:03 am }

RE: mini. I use a mini for remote Time-machine purposes, video download from iTunes and to stream my video library to my Apple TV. The combination of those uses makes the mini a great machine. It also improved the value of the Apple TV. Tom / pwnership.com

5 chefmitch { 12.12.07 at 11:27 am }

Daniel,

I am now sure that you don’t know anything about High Definition TV. Have you ever even seen it in person?

You say “From 10 feet away, users will not see much of a difference if any between Apple TV movies and HD content.”

That’s a ludicrous statement.

You are coming across much worse that the “ignorant reviewers / morons” you accuse of not being able to accurately judge picture quality of the Apple TV.

You are way off base with your attempts to try and convince people that High Definition does not offer noticeably better picture quality.

The last comment I left in your Why Low Def is the New HD post asked what equipment / service combination you are using to watch HD. You didn’t respond.

Please let your readers know what equipment you are using to form your opinions. It is only fair.

6 Rich { 12.12.07 at 11:54 am }

I love my Apple TV. I’d tried Windows Media Center with my Xbox 360 beforehand and it was an absolute nightmare to set up. Even once set up, performance was poor and the PC side software was a joke too. In the best traditional of Apple, my Apple TV “just worked”.

“Has Frommer actually used an Apple TV? It can play ”any video you have on your computer,“ either directly or by converting it within iTunes, just like an iPod.”

Hmm.. got any links on this? iTunes certainly won’t recognise or convert the XVid video files I’ve tried throwing at it. How do I get iTunes to transcode video? I’d love to see native DivX/XVid support.

It was also be great if it did have DVR functionality. I use a separate DVB recorder and I’d love to have one less box under my TV. DVB in the UK is free to all so Apple wouldn’t even need to deal with any cable companies.

I’d much rather see wider codec support than DVR support though.

7 brett_x { 12.12.07 at 12:01 pm }

I love the article, but this part:
“users who bought $275 DVR tuner cards for their Media Center PCs in 2005 got to upgrade to a new $150 HD DVR card last year to replace it…”
seems to be dismissive of the fact that early adopters knowingly take a chance on emerging technology. And I think we’ve heard that from you before (iPhone?). Lets be sure not to call the kettle “black” when we look like a pot.
Great article though. Very insightful as usual.

8 tooslo { 12.12.07 at 1:00 pm }

“CableCARD turned out to be a failure for consumers, did nothing to really open up the playing field, and suffers technical deficiencies and compatibility problems”
I just bought 3 Tivo HDs and set them up with CableCARDs. I’ll admit that the setup process was unrefined, but once setup, they work flawlessly. And, the $99 a year I’m paying Tivo for the service on one box beats the $20 a month I was paying Comcast for their HD DVR.

9 Jesse { 12.12.07 at 1:11 pm }

I’m not a fan of the name-calling, there, Dan. It’s puerile. I like it when you build up a head of righteous steam using facts and pointing out contradictions, but when you stoop to name-calling it’s a sour note. It’s like the minister farted.

Otherwise, I liked the article, as I usually do. I disagree with one of your points, though: I do think there’s a noticeable difference in HD video and AppleTV video from 10′ away. I agree with the substance of your argument, if not the detail, however: it doesn’t matter.

For videophiles and such, HD is a must-have, but for everyone else it’s kind of a yawn. I just watched a football game on Sunday at a friend’s house. He had HDTV, and afterwards I said to my fiancee, “I don’t think HD made me enjoy the game any more than I would have otherwise.” She agreed.

Audiophiles want to have the best, latest gear in their homes–most of the rest of us just listen to iPods. Videophiles want to have the biggest screen and the sharpest picture–most of the rest of us just want to watch the game. So while HD may give a noticeably better picture than AppleTV, the point is it’s not better enough to make me want to pay the price.

Another thing I have to disagree with Dan about is that DRM has anything to do with me delaying a purchase of Blu-Ray or HD-DVD.

I never rip or copy or make back-ups of my DVDs. They never even go in my computer. They go from my shelf to the TV and back. I think most people are like me: they just watch DVDs on their TVs.

Which, for most of us, makes DRM a non-issue. Sure it’s heinous, but I don’t think it has anything to do with lack of consumer adoption.

It’s simple waiting out of the format wars, and that’s all.

10 thgd { 12.12.07 at 3:07 pm }

To chefmitch…

I have the newest Mitsubishi 52″ LT-52244 LCD HDTV and yes the picture is beautiful and I can see the difference…
BUT…
friends and family look at it and DONT see the picture quality as such a big deal.
You can argue all you want about the merits of HD but the average person doesn’t see enough difference to warrant the higher costs involved.

These articles aren’t trying to convince people that HD is inferior, they are insightful discussions of video realities.
The average viewer is probably smarter than you think and can judge for themselves if they think true HD is worth the trouble.

11 John E { 12.12.07 at 3:30 pm }

so … bottom line, the only major change in AppleTV Dan recommends is adding movie rentals to iTunes, right?

despite the bandwith constraint Dan argued, HD movie downloads work ok, especially at the smaller 720p file size. it just gets done overnight or during the workday – you schedule watching for “tomorrow.”

that is important, because Comcast On-Demand does deliver at least that lower level of HD quality (1080i even if compressed), and so AppleTV just has to match it. pooh-pooh HD all you want, fact still is it really is better PQ, and, second, it is important for marketing.

then Dan also seems to recommend opening AppleTV to third party software development with an SDK for Front Row to see what else others come up with. that’s a head spinner. doesn’t that raise all the same issues that came up with the iPhone? i dunno if there is anything real there. what would plug-ins do? (it’s iTunes thats needs some enhancements).

so i vote to just also enable the USB port to connect big external hard drives to AppleTV that can relocate or backup all the media stored on the individual computers in the house. this is a bit simpler than synching selected content as now, and has the practical advantage of getting those huge media files off our computer drives (the main reason we run out of space eventually).

dan didn’t get into fantasies, but my favorite would be to link AppleTV with iPhone so that what you saw on your iPhone screen held in your hand sitting on the sofa would be exactly replicated simultaneously on your big screen TV. now that would be the ultimate remote control!

12 skellener { 12.12.07 at 4:42 pm }

This article is fill of so many innacuracies, it’s staggering. Main point, AppleTV is dead without rentable HD content.

13 gus2000 { 12.12.07 at 5:21 pm }

Dan’s position on HD and Tivo really offends me, but it’s because 4:3 NTSC offends me as well. I am an HD elitest, to be sure. Despite my feelings on the subject, Dan is correct.

I will bring visitors into my home to view my 60″ Sony XBR HD set. I use OTA and DTV as video sources, avoiding the overcompression of crappy cable. It’s truly beautiful, and everyone thinks so. But…when pressed to actually go out and spend their hard-earned cash, most are content with the picture they have (and/or squat in my living room from time to time).

So THOSE people (which are in the majority) will not see the difference between HD and ED, despite the fact that we obsessive-compulsive types could point out the flaws from 100 feet away. I haven’t bought an AppleTV yet, since it doesn’t solve any of my problems; the quality I’ve seen demoed is so-so but that’s a function of the media, not the device.

The only “mistake” the AppleTV has is the exclusion of an analog video output (s-video/composite/RF). The customers that only have digital/component connections are the ones who care most about image quality.

14 boris-cleto { 12.12.07 at 5:23 pm }

“Step 3: Let people rip their DVDs to their Apple TVs/computers the same way they can rip CDs to play on iPods.”

ROTFLMAO

The RIAA has already filed legal briefs arguing that ripping CD’s is illegal. The MPAA will never allow legal ripping of DVD’s.

15 nat { 12.12.07 at 7:49 pm }

gus2000 said:
“The only ‘mistake’ the AppleTV has is the exclusion of an analog video output (s-video/composite/RF). The customers that only have digital/component connections are the ones who care most about image quality.”

Actually, most tube tvs built in the last several years feature component inputs. Bought an off brand Apex 27″ flat screen tube from Circuit City about 5 or 6 years ago for around $280 and it had component inputs. I believe there are component-to-composite and/or component-to-svideo adapters as well.

Also, plasmas and LCDs have become so fashionable the past few years, you’d be amazed how many people have them. However, I remember a few months back I read that less than 50% of people with HDTVs receive any HD content (as in, no HD-DVD or Blu-ray, no HD cable, with current-gen videogame consoles being the exception), which I kind of expected from the general public.

16 John E { 12.12.07 at 8:03 pm }

@gus – generally agree with you, but everyone focuses on HD resolution – 720p/1080i/1080p – but fail to notice the other huge and should-be-obvious difference compared with SD, which is the 16:9 widescreen. that is the most dramatic difference of all. no one can deny that a widescreen 16:9 movie the same or close to the original film aspect is not dramatically better than a panned/scanned 4:3 version, whatever the resolution. likewise, no one can deny that watching a football or basketball game in widescreen is much superior for any sports fan – you see a lot more of the action.

(many DVD’s are actually 9:6 @720/480, and even that lesser 12.5% greater width is noticeably better too. but you need a widescreen TV to see it. i don’t know if you call that ED or whatever.)

@boris – there is an alternative to ripping/compressing DVD’s for “fair use,” which is to make a full-sized disk image copy with the DRM intact using a program like Flip4Mac’s DriveIn (beta). and the legal issues of DVD’s and “fair use” have not worked their way through the courts and been finally resolved yet. But in any event the MPAA has lost the war – ripping DVD’s is as widespread now as file sharing, and that genie can never be put back in bottle.

17 worker201 { 12.12.07 at 8:43 pm }

I guess not to many people are aware of this, but there is free Linux software that you can use to make a DIY-Tivo. I know quite a few people who are saving TV content to their hard drives, with the aid of scheduling apps and program guides (like MythTV). The only expense was the TV capture card, which costs less than US$200. So in many ways, Tivo and Media Center are already outdated.

What remains for AppleTV, then, is to provide content. A quick browse through the iTunes TV store proves that they are definitely doing this. I don’t have cable or satellite TV, but there are certainly programs I would like to watch. Supplying only the content I want to see makes much more sense, both technologically and financially.

Regarding HD, I have a non-HD 42″ LCD TV, and everything, even old VHS tapes, looks great on it. I can’t imagine wanting any more resolution than that. So I guess I’m one of those ‘average Americans’, at least in this respect.

18 chefmitch { 12.12.07 at 11:25 pm }

@Daniel,

So, it seems you are talking about whether or not HD presents a good value not whether or not it is of noticeably higher quality.

Value is a very individual thing. I can’t say what HD should be worth to anyone other than myself, but I can say that it is a superior product.

As we all know electronics prices go down over time. At some point the value proposition shifts in the favor of HD even for the thriftiest of consumers.

The higher costs you mention are soon going to be non-optional. It is now very difficult to buy a TV set of any size that it is not HD ready. Best Buy only lists 2 TVs, 30″ or larger, that are not Hi-Def ready. Anybody who buys a flatscreen TV or wants a TV over 32″ will be buying a set that is HD ready. Or you can buy an HD flat panel for $539 (not on sale).

One HD cable box, satellite box, antenna (free Over the Air reception) and voila HD.

I think the higher costs you talk about are FUD.

19 roz { 12.13.07 at 4:21 am }

I think the problem with Apple TV is that it does not really solve a problem that many people have. Most people have little use for it. If you have a TV then you likely have TV service, either OTA, cable, sat and that is what you watch on TV. For most people, they have enough trouble getting all this to work. Then you add a DVD player or a DVD/VCR, most people can’t work that either. All of this stuff people have decided they need. The coffee table has all these remotes on it. They struggle doing the simplest things. Then Apple rolls up with yet another device and remote to deal with, why should anyone bother? To listen to iTunes or see pictures – those things are nice, but if you already annoying with all the crap you deal with just to watch tv, you might not be primed for additional complexity.

20 John E { 12.13.07 at 4:56 am }

@Roz you are so right. the whole point of AppleTV is to make non-sophisticated consumers life easy, not to thrill the technically sophisticated – they (we mostly who post comments) have many other additional options via shareware, add-ons, etc.

21 Soviet Microsoft: How Resistance to Free Markets and Open Ideas Will the Unravel the Software Superpower — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 12.13.07 at 5:50 am }

[...] ← Should Apple TV Copy Tivo and Media Center? [...]

22 pixelkisser { 12.13.07 at 6:10 am }

I’ve got an Apple TV and it is a brilliant device. It could be expanded in numerous ways, the easiest of which would be a ‘dashboard widgets’ type arrangement. Movie Showtimes, Local weather and a dinky Google Maps widget would all serve perfectly.

I’ve only bought a couple of videos from the store, but on a 42″ rear projection screen from 3 metres away they look as good as DVD. I’ve also experimented with ripping DVD content to Apple TV with handbrake and you can set the res higher to 720 if you like. I think with regards watching movies there needs to more ‘DVD style options’. I’d like the choice of buying a movie with a proper 5.1 surround track, (a surround sound kit is actually much cheaper than investing in HD and has more tangible benefits in giving people a ‘cinema like’ experience), I’d also want subtite options. I think Apple should provide a system whereby people can choose their soundtrack and titling options when they buy and/or ‘upgrade’ their films later.

Here in the UK they desperately need content deals. The ideal would be a ‘quick turnover’ deal with BBC WorldWide (BBC’s commercial arm) that would allow you to buy eposides of BBC content through iTunes a day or two after transmission. I’d much rather pay 75p an episode for the flexibility of having a prog on my Apple TV or iPod than use the nastiness of the BBC’s much criticized ‘iPlayer’ catch up service.

23 idkidd { 12.13.07 at 10:39 am }

<>

I’ve just started exploring the possibilities of playing tv shows to my tv from my iPod. If I download shows from a torrent site that are avi or xvid files, will running them through a program like iSquint (to convert to itunes compatible mp4s) add a lot of wear and tear to my 3 month old iMac? Is this the most efficient way to go about this process?

24 idkidd { 12.13.07 at 10:43 am }

my above post was meant to quote the text:

Additionally, ripping DVDs is not the same as ripping a CD; DVDs are already compressed with MPEG-2, but to really be portable enough, they need to be transcoded into H.264. That makes an 8 GB movie closer to 1 GB, but literally takes hours of heavy processing work to accomplish.

25 walkintruth { 12.13.07 at 11:00 am }

The only opinion I have about this subject, is I currently watch the Divx/Xvid TV Shows I download every day from known torrent RSS TV sites. I rarely watch tv shows on local tv. The downloaded shows look great on my 7 year old 22″ TV.. I recently bought a new 24″ Alum Imac and ran out to the local Apple Store and bought the video adapter for it. I was able to run into my existing S-video auto switcher which has Coax out to my TV.. it works great. I run Frontrow with a ATI All-in Wonder Remote I used from my old PC days.. The mac is in the Office and the TV is in the Family room, thus the Apple Remote will not work that far away, the ATI Remote is RF and it works great!

Running FrontRow off the Mac and the the appropriate codecs I’m able to watch just about anything I download off the internet through it.

Before the Mac, I was able to watch the same content with my PC hooked up the same way, but using the ATI All in Wonder Card and Remote.

With this setup I have no need for Apple TV at this time.

26 luckk { 12.13.07 at 2:40 pm }

To that, I would like to offer my take on how to fix the Apple TV.

I have written an article titled “Repurposing the Apple TV” on my site. It is located here:

http://appletvsource.com/content/view/464/1/

The premise is of the article is that Apple TV should not be dependent on iTunes Store content (rental, HD, etc.) , which is exactly why Apple TV is not so successful.

27 luckk { 12.13.07 at 2:42 pm }

One more thing. With all the complaints about not being able to find HD content, my site has a compilation of over 100 podcasts that are published in HD. It can be found here:

http://hd.appletvsource.com

28 ncollingridge { 12.13.07 at 6:03 pm }

“also works with home movies, video captured with a DVR such as EyeTV”.

Maybe, but only after a conversion process that takes forever. At least this is the case with most material captured from DVB-T source, most of which is essentially MPEG-2. If AppleTV were to support this format then it would be a quite wonderful device and I would use it all the time.

As it is I hardly ever use it and it sits gathering dust, except for the rare occasions when I dust it down and hook it up to play some music or watch YouTube on my TV. Otherwise it has proved pretty much a total waste of money and a waste of space.

the other functionality they could add to enhance its attractiveness is internet radio playback. This is available through iTunes and it could use the same radio tuning service – I would use it a lot alongside the other internet radio devices I have.

I love the idea of AppleTV, and its execution is superb as far as it goes. But without more functionality it is dead in the water. I’m sure that the reason Apple don’t want to add this additional functionality (a trivial exercise) is because they are only interested in selling the material that people play through the device. This is simple greed and putting the company coffers before their customers.

As it stands, AppleTV is definitely their least finest hour, and it saddens me. It could be so great but it just falls so far short of greatness.

Daniel, your unquestioning defence of the product doesn’t do you any favors. This is a below-par exercise for Apple and you should call them on it, not blindly defend it. It undermines your other excellent work. You’ve called this one wrong, I’m afraid, as far as I am concerned.

29 serpicolugnut { 12.13.07 at 8:54 pm }

I ditched the cable this fall, and connected a spare PC to our Plasma HDT. The plan was to get our viewing content from iTunes (the office, heroes, bag), and from Netflix.

Well Nbc ruined getting the content from iTunes, but Netfli. Has been great. We get the shows, rip them via Handbrake, and ship them back. Their Watch It Now service has been great, allowing us to watch Heroes this season at pretty decent quality just two days after it airs. But the best way to get content has been Bittorrent. The files are up less than a day after they air, are in HD quality, weigh in at about 375mb for a 1 hr. show, and have no commercials. In short, as easy as iTunes, higher quality, better selection, and a better price.
If I could get something like Netflix’s Watch it now via AppleTV, I’d so be there

30 pbreit { 12.13.07 at 9:40 pm }

I disagree with almost all of Frommer’s suggestions.

Hardware-wise, Apple TV is fine as-is. The primary deficiency is what content it can play. What is needed are one or more of the following: 1) Netflix-style subscription-based video availability, 2) pay-per-view, 3) free, ad-supported (like cbs.com, Hulu and AOL Video).

HD is unnecessary for the reasons many have noted above. There is massive demand for video on demand. Witness NBC’s 300 million views in just its first ten months. And Netflix and pay-per-view have semi-proven demand. The one thing that really has not worked is high-priced downloadable video.

31 zek { 12.14.07 at 10:46 am }

The program MPEG Streamclip is useful. You can convert just about anything (DIVX, XVID etc) to .mov without re-encoding and thus losing quality. Good for FrontRow/iTunes.

32 sebastianlewis { 12.17.07 at 6:56 am }

Hmmm, you know something unrelated to the Apple TV crossed my mind today, broadcasting. Local news is well, local news and it comes in handy sometimes in the morning and having a nice little window up in the top left, about 320×240 is probably what I’d have it set to, essentially turning any computer into a digital TV. Yes I’m thinking specifically of laptops here, but it’d be trivial in Quicktime and over IP, although when I think of something like this it sounds more like something that Real would do which would be fine I guess since I have that blasted thing installed for only the occasion that I run into a Real file and don’t want to go through the hassle of having to get an email to download it.

Oh well, maybe the Apple TV should add a CableCARD, it could be a purely optional feature that wouldn’t just be restricted to DVR use, or at least some sort of digital tuner (2009 is approaching after all) to tune into local broadcasts. I guess there is podcasting but I’d rather stream instead of downloading.

Sebastian

33 GUS { 12.24.07 at 11:16 am }

I agree with the focus of the article, but I think Apple is missing a market opportunity. Your average WalMart piece of crap DVD player is good for a couple of years, so there is a lot of turn over (and multiple units in many households). Including a DVD drive (or superdrive) would have very little impact on cost per unit but could/would make many consumers (Apple owners and none-Apple product owners alike) give the AppleTV a serious look when DVD player replacement time comes around.

34 Practical Technology » Why Apple TV will win, and win big { 12.26.07 at 1:32 pm }

[...] of Roughly Drafted pointed it out in his stories, Apple TV Digital Disruption at Work and Should Apple TV Copy TiVo and Media Center? that Apple iTunes owns the TV episode market with over 99% of the legal downloads and has the [...]

35 How Apple TV can score at the big 3.0 — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 02.05.09 at 2:35 am }

[...] Apple’s iTV & The Case of the Missing DVR Should Apple TV Copy Tivo and Media Center? [...]

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