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Summary:

So is Apple TV still only a hobby for Jobs and company? Because if it isn’t, then I’m missing something from yesterday’s presentation. The new Apple TV is smaller, cheaper and sexier, I’ll grant it that, but what else does it really have going for it?

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So is Apple TV still only a hobby for Jobs and company? Because if it isn’t, then I’m missing something from yesterday’s presentation when the new iteration of Apple’s set-top device was unveiled. The new Apple TV is smaller, cheaper and sexier, I’ll grant it that, but what else does it really have going for it?

Let’s start with rental only. That’s right, you can only rent content from the Apple TV, not purchase it. It makes sense given the device’s lack of onboard storage, but does it make sense for a buying public that’s only just now moving past the point of physical media ownership? All of a sudden, not only do you not have a disc you own when you pay for content, you also don’t even have a file. Instead you get a window of opportunity.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like archiving my material and I like to have it available whenever I want to review it, or just revisit a favorite scene to make sure I remember it correctly. True, as Steve Jobs said in the presentation, I’ll be able to rent it multiple times for cheaper than I’d be able to buy it, but then I can’t lend it to friends and family, pass it on to my kids or view it again 50 years down the road when its gone out of print.

Putting aside the tyranny of streaming-only, at least you can access your media on your computer, where it is comfortably stored, right? Well, only if you’ve adhered to Apple’s way of doing media, and haven’t strayed to any of the other terrific and much more popular video formats out there. Apple TV remains closed, and as a result, any machine running Boxee hooked up to my TV remains a better option, even considering the price differential for the original purchase.

Speaking of price, let’s look at that $99 tag Jobs dangled in our salivating faces. It’s almost an impulse buy at that point, and I know a few people who indulged that impulse. But you know what else is a good price? $10 for a fancy razor with replaceable heads. Those heads will cost you $40 for a four-pack, sure, but that’s later. Apple isn’t going to make most (if any) of its money on the Apple TV itself (though without much onboard storage, it’s cheap enough to build), but on the gobs of media you’re almost forced to purchase from them as a result.

The inclusion of Netflix is one of the few genuinely impressive things about the new Apple TV. It means that people who already have a subscription don’t need to go in for Apple’s pricier rental options, and the implementation looks pretty impressive as compared to its counterparts on other platforms.

But even if you exclusively use the Netflix option, which means being behind in terms of release dates on TV and movies, you’ll end up paying much more for the hardware than you probably would if you opted for a media PC (or Mac mini, even) purchase and just depended on free streaming from network websites. Occasionally you’d still run up against content you have to pay for, but you can own it, and you options for sourcing that could equate to a much better per purchase price.

In general, I’m willing to deal with Apple’s closed systems and devices because of the trade-offs I get in terms of quality. But third-party apps and desktop software make it possible for me to still use Apple hardware with my own content, regardless of format and point of origin. That’s not likely going to be the case with the Apple TV, and until it is, it won’t find a place in my living room, regardless of cost and cosmetics.

  1. And let’s not forget Roku, which offers more than the AppleTV, but costs $40 less than the AppleTV.

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    1. The $40 is true, if you want everything in standard def and not high-def. Also the $69 Roku only supports wireless G and not N. If you want to compare Apples to Rokus, they are fairly even at $99 with the HD-XR.

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      1. This might be an impressive feature if you or I had a broadband connection approaching anything close to the speed it would take to saturate a wireless G connection.

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  2. You can still buy — so you still have access to the networks other than FOX and ABC. The catch is the need for a computer on your home LAN. I’ve got an ancient G4 mini running iTunes. For things I want to actually purchase, I do that on that machine — then stream that file around my local LAN. The addition of Netflix is a welcome addition… now add Pandora or Last.FM and it would be perfection in my book. (of course this is speculation until I see one streaming purchased content from a local iTunes host …but the docs do not imply otherwise.)

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  3. I am considering getting one of these. Mainly to stream media to from a network server machine I am looking to build so the rental only option doesn’t bug me (in fact at $.99 I will probably use it).

    I am planning to research the alternative first though and I need to find out how the AppleTV handles 1080p files (does it scale them to 720p or just refuse to play them?).

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  4. I completely agree, it’s not appealing enough for mass user adoption. You can rent from Apple for a $1, or buy from Amazon for a $1… Apple might need to rethink this strategy. Also, how long do you get to “rent” the episode for – a few days, a week, a month? What if I want to re-watch last weeks episode to get ready for the new one. Do I have to re-download it? That would be a serious drag.

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  5. Scott Rose, the Roku equivalent to the AppleTV is $69.99 and outputs 720p video. The SD version is $59.99. The Roku offers ‘channels’ which deliver content other than Netflix to your TV, so there’s something to consider. However, the latest Netflix interface update to the Roku has set it back, in my opinion. I typically use my PS3 now because the interface on the Roku isn’t appealing to me and it has several bugs yet to be addressed.

    To comment on the article, I like that this site is honest in its reviews and editorials rather than catering to the fanboys. I enjoy Apple products as well, but the ‘closed system’ model is becoming increasingly concerning.

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    1. Aren’t the Roku, TiVo etc all closed systems?

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  6. Your article seems a bit one sided given that you can instantly stream the movies you buy from any itunes computer or event stream them straight from any iphone or ipad. You certainly can buy and enjoy forever.

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  7. current movie rentals ‘expire’ 24 hours after you start playing them… unfortunately, I don’t see that changing for TV shows — unless they are true streams vs. the movies download+play+delete. I don’t think the ATV will attempt to process a 1080p file.

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    1. TV Show rental period is 48 hours.

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  8. That’s a bit of a pointless article. A hundred people could write an article why they will or will not buy a product based on their own situation. If its meant to highlight reasons why others shouldn’t/won’t buy the product, I think there are many flaws.
    1st: “a buying public that’s only just now moving past the point of physical media ownership?” – Not true. We’re talking about replacing the DVD rental store and cable/satellite TV – neither do you own any media.
    2nd: “the gobs of media you’re almost forced to purchase” – don’t be ridiculous.. who is going to rent a movie or a TV show they don’t want to rent?
    3rd: Aside from replacing a DVD rental store and TV shows, this works as a streaming station from your iPhone, iPad or Mac – photos or videos you took that day with your iPhone, movies that you wanted to buy on your computer (yes buy!) or to continue watching a movie on your iPad on your TV.

    Just because it doesn’t suit your [minority] particular needs, the emotional comments are unjustified.

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    1. Thank you for hitting pretty much every point inwas going to make, so I don’t have to, hehe.

      In my opinion, this article comes from a place of knee-jerk cynicism, and would have been more useful and compelling if it were more carefully considered.

      If the device isn’t for you, then fine, but if you’re claiming Apple missed the mark on this one, I fear you may be doing so yourself.

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      1. I completely agree with this also. What an appalling, self-richteous article.

        Also, the ‘misleadingly cheap razor’ comparison is way past a cliché, it is actually painful to read.

        If you want to purchase something via iTunes, do it through iTunes the way you already are, or if you really must then buy the DVD off amazon, convert it, and stream it that way. The Apple TV just makes this easier to do in a less convoluted way (I am already doing this also, and am very tempted by the Apple TV just to have a more elegant solution). Having said that, why anyone would want optical media any more, especially in a format such as DVD which isn’t getting any less obsolete, is beyond me.

        Article is a waste of space.

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    2. We’re starting to see more and more whiney posts coming from these guys. This one is making me finally delete them from my RSS feed.

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    3. I totally agree with all your points.

      Plus if AirPlay is integrated into iOS and apis provided for developers to integrate into their apps, they we could have third party apps also pushing audio/video to the apple tv (say pandora, last fm, npr, …)

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  9. As a usability engineer, a couple of things, though, based on my experience and what I know:

    1. 4 blade razors are safer (they cut more hair at a closer range and thus are less damaging to the skin – i.e., you take less hair with each blade but the blades that come after it get what is left and taking smaller amounts at a time means a much cleaner surface – chefs know this to – you also take more hair and less skin)

    2. It’s not about what people will use and buy NOW it’s about what this will spurn and lead to and grow (developing with a future in mind vs. stuff for an interim)

    3. In usability, we actually study what users do rather than what they think and what they like or don’t like or think they’ll like or don’t like or use. Actually, there is less viewing of stuff over and over again than you may like to think and what there is of that is often times because of the challenges involved in getting a new title. Trust me on this (I do know this ‘intimately’ – the user testing and research on this has been done – re this new Apple product)

    4. Passing along stuff to friends and relatives… uh… well… Artists (including myself who is a filmmaker) are not thrilled with people giving away their stuff to their family and friends for the price of basically one use as well know and that fight continues.

    5. Apple knows usability trumps EVERYthing. The success of the company has been built on that more than anything else. Perhaps you are happy to contend with multiple devices and boxes and connections and fiddling with them but actually for most users (usability = the 80/20 rule re that), the preference is for ‘plug and play’ and much less crap to deal with (i.e., this thing is still not the ideal but it’s better than the original Apple TV and anything else – like connecting one’s iPad, computer, or whatever – which 80% of users just won’t do – yes, the stats show that)

    Personally, I am waiting for an Apple TV as in TV screen PLUS the box is all in one box …and I do know that that is coming… Now THAT is a hot item. This thing is great but an interim step.

    There will always be doubters and nay-sayers but bottom line, Apple just about always ends up the winner re this stuff because it sinks most of its money into VERY high quality usability testing – much better than most other tech companies. The only co. that comes close to testing as well as Apple does is Google.

    Apple generally creates something and then a zillion others imitate it and put their own little spin on it but generally, that spin is almost always price differentiation …which is not good enough in this field.

    Anyway, someone call me when the Apple TV is actually a TV and not just a box connected TO a TV.

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    1. Interesting if true. Apple’s PR makes it seem like Steve Jobs has a hand in every single product decision, ruthlessly applying a brushed aluminum scalpel to feature after unnecessary feature to reduce any given product to a paragon of heightened efficiency and simplicity, according to some vaguely Zen-like contrived philosophy informed by his ascetic, spiritually enlightened existence on our plane.

      You also lost me with your mention of Google. While they have improved noticeably from 3-4 years ago for reasons that are unclear to me, Google is still renowned for having some of the least intuitive product UIs around, probably due in part to what I understood to be a religious objection to research on the part of Marissa Mayer.

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  10. a $99 rental video box…yeah…pass. i’d rather them giving it out for free and sign a rental subscription. even the netflix streaming comes built-in in most newer internet-connected TV, i don’t see the point of buying another box if it won’t work without me paying the rental price.

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    1. The point of the box is that you can stream/watch shows the day after they are aired and movies the same day they are released on DVD. Yes, it’s limited to only two networks (for TV shows) at this time but I expect that to change. I have Netflix and usually have to wait a year before I can stream a TV shows. As Netflix streaming movies – few and far between with the same day releases.

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