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Apple TV, the third cousin once removed?

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Apple TV

Everyone still seems hot and bothered that the Apple TV remains nothing more than a “hobby.” But if you consider a couple years ago, Steve Jobs assured us that Apple is listening, and that they understand user demands. What has this translated to us over time? Amazing products that usually go beyond our considerations, namely the iPhone. But will this translate down to a mere “hobby” product?

Hardware & Feature Upgrades

So far the expectations have always been centered on a complete digital media hub for the living room. Everyone’s trying out different methods, whether it’s the PS3, Xbox 360, or online, on-demand content. The second the Apple TV was announced, everyone screamed digital video recording (DVR). We all shared in the fantasy of hooking a tuner directly to it and being able to control TV content right from the box without a subscription fee. However, like good consumers we let it go; after all, hacking seemed to pacify the masses.

Still a possibility for a DVR? I don’t think so. Why would you rent, or purchase if you could hook up your Apple TV right to your cable and record on-demand content? I don’t see it shaping up from a marketing or consumer standpoint. Consumers aren’t jumping on board like they did with YouTube. Plus the price hike for a built in tuner could end up turning away more customers then it would gain.

External tuner? Without an open API I don’t see development gearing towards that possibility either. Sub channels, categories and functions could raise it much like the iPhone will be seeing. That said, I don’t see any further web elements coming to the Apple TV. No one’s been able to harness the web completely enough to access it from a television. Many will argue the Wii, but honestly how many people are purchasing a Wii specifically for its ability to surf the web? If Apple were to approach this segment, they would need something up their sleeve, much like they did with the iPhone’s browser.

A natural increase in hard drive space is much needed. The 40 gig could use a bump, and maybe even a model in between the lower end and the 160 gig end. I’m hoping for it, but I don’t see a flash version for at least another year.

Rentals or Subscriptions

It’s clear that a rental service is on its way to iTunes. Whether that translates to a rental service that will be immediately accessible from the Apple TV remains a conflicted issue. The answer is a definitive yes, the Apple TV will eventually have an incorporated store and rental service. Will it reach it this year? I’m on the fence, only because of the iPhone’s iTunes Store capability. I’m left in the dark wondering why the Apple TV didn’t receive a nice firmware update as well. I guess we’ll see what happens when January rolls around.

I think the larger question is what type of model the rental service will adopt. I’d love to see a Netflix style subscription model, one where for a set fee a month you receive unlimited rentals, with a set number at a time. Making new content, like TV shows available the day after airing would be icing on the cake. Quality control, and hopefully HD rentals, a subscription could prove cheaper than cable. But that comes down to viewing habits as much as it does to network allowances. More than likely it will be a pay-per-view rental feature. Will the market be as accepting of this? Depends on usability and practicality.

So while the Apple TV may have remained a hobby last year, I feel this coming year it will become more of a priority, and finally achieve the attention it deserves. Hopefully in the next round of updates, we’ll get a broader sense of appeal that will truly turn this device into a full fledged media hub.

14 Responses to “Apple TV, the third cousin once removed?”

  1. Something I believe would be a huge bonus for Apple TV owners would be the ability to specify the network location containing all of their media without the requirement that you must point it at another PC or Mac running iTunes. When the media is stored on a Network-attached Storage (NAS) device, this is not an efficient streaming solution (computer to router to NAS to router to computer to router to apple tv…) – not to mention this solution forces you to leave the computer running iTunes running constantly. This is #1 on my wish list, with DVD rentals coming in 2nd.

  2. @ YodaMac: my sources tell me that Apple is working on a solution for Apple TV and iPods to be able to play back the same file. I think you will be extremely happy if you own a current generation iPod!

  3. -YodaMac

    Brilliant stuff. Makes me want a QuadCore. I’ve been thinking about a Smart Codec idea too, one file that supports playback on multiple devices at multiple screen resolutions.

    You have hit one thing though, consumer viewing preference. Everyone seems different. Some prefer to archive their own media, be able to retain rights to it and physically own it. For others cost becomes a factor and they settle on downloading or renting.

    For the Apple TV to succeed it needs to strike a chord with all types of viewing habits. For those who are digital packrats, it needs storage space, and a vast array of available content. For the miserly user, it needs cheap rentals, cheap purchases but with more flexible viewing freedom (where and when to watch the video). There needs to be a one stop solution that appeases everyone, and I felt a purchase/subscription model satisfied that.

    Purchasing allows users similar to you, to download to own their videos, and maintain them forever. Whereas users perhaps more like me, could subscribe to a show and borrow new episodes as they are released and delete them when watched. But I find myself in between. If I love something, I want access to it whenever and wherever I am. In that case movies become very similar to music. I need it, I need it now. And the miser in me says don’t buy it, so what do I have left to do? If network companies offered an EXTENSIVE archive of ALL their TV shows, movies, etc, for a monthly fee, I’d be satisfied. And I believe you could be too.

  4. My Apple TV has worked fine from day one, and it has no problem going to sleep and having to re-connect to my wireless network. The only time I ever have to put in my password again is if I unplug or re-boot it.

    That being said, I really was hoping that Apple was making a seriously mad dash to online video in 2007, and I hoped this would be the last year I ever had to buy DVDs… but not so…

    I’m not interested in a DVD player included, because the whole point for me is to get AWAY from DVDs and other “hard” media.

    If I love a movie then I want to own it, and if I don’t bother seeing it in the theatre then I probably wont ever bother seeing it – therefore I rarely rent anything, and would prefer to buy and own the movie, TV show, etc. from iTunes though my Apple TV.

    Yes there will be download times sure, but those will eventually be less than the time it takes me to rip & handbrake a DVD currently. (My QuadCore G5 can handle about 6 or 8 movies overnight – so I’ve got over 100 movies I now watch on my Apple TV)

    What I also want to see is a “smart” codec that allows you to own one HD version of a movie, and have it somehow be smart enough for lower end (iPod, iPhone) devices to play the same file.

    I too hope to see the Apple TV move to the forefront in 2008, but after 2007’s slow pace I’m not holding my breath…

  5. Gary

    Would you rather pay extra for the included DVD player in an Apple TV, or just upgrade to a Mac Mini and stick with FrontRow? Honestly I feel most consumers would rather just do that, and it wouldn’t be in Apples interest do so. But if you’re interested in still retaining DVD functionality on your Apple TV be sure to check out Handbrake.

  6. I agree that Apple tries, but yet while it achieves expectations in providing the service, it’s not without the kinks. I was one of the first people to buy the iPhone and loved it, but now have grown bored with it because … well, because when I shell out $500 I expect to be able to customize the device and make it “mine.” Compared to all other phones out there, which you can get unlocked, like Nokia – Apple’s iPhone is not revolutionary, other than for its touchscreen interface. So while the technology is great, the product itself is average since you can’t add programs, customize it, etc…

    Same goes for Apple TV – I own one – it’s a great concept and great technology, but just like the iPhone – with a mediocre delivery. The first Apple TV I bought – crashed within 2 minutes of plugging it in. I got another one, which works well and demonstrates the technology, but is still an average product when it comes to useability. For instance:

    1. every time you put it to sleep, you have to reconnect to your wireless network and there is no way for the device to automatically do that and remember your network password. This is a pain!
    2. out of the blue once in a while the Apple TV stops playback. Just stops – in the middle of a song or a movie, whether you play it over WiFi or directly from the Apple TV.

    So, while all Apple technologies are revolutionary and they definitely are at the forefront of the technological revolution, they need to work out the kinks and finer points in how the technology is being delivered to the consumers, i.e. usability and reliability of their existing products. I’d like them to improve that first, before devising a portable spaceship that may not fly all that well.

  7. Easy: the Apple TV just needs a DVD player added to it. Not a DVD recorder or anything like that — just a standard DVD player, so I can watch any movies I already have on it. I do this all the time with my iMac (use it to watch movies) because with FrontRow, it’s easy to pop in a DVD and go. As long as iTunes lacks a burn-to-computer option for DVDs like exists for CDs, I think adding a DVD drive to Apple TV would make them sell like hotcakes.

  8. I wanna see a movie and TV show rental service. Then I could cancel my DirecTV service, which is getting far too expensive for the amount that I watch, even with all of the HD goodness they have now.
    An iTunes Store on Apple TV is a no-brainer.