What Features Should the New Apple TV Have?

43 Comments

The consumer electronics industry, like its mobile phone counterpart, is going into a phase of flux, where Moore’s law and smart software and services would dictate how tomorrow’s consumer devices are built. Everyone — from start-ups such as Sonos to Microsoft (s MSFT) and Sony (s SNE)  — is trying to figure out their next move.

Apple (s AAPL), which has been great so far at building clever products that leverage software, services and commodity hardware, has so far lagged in its efforts. Apple TV, its Internet set-top box, has been a disappointment. Michael Wolf, who spearheads GigaOM Pro, thinks it is time for Apple to refocus its attention on this device.

“Since the launch of Apple TV, the company has launched its app store, pushed into gaming, and started offering HD video content on iTunes,” he writes (subscription required). “Add it all together on a refreshed box, and it could be a potent combination.” Higher video quality and adding gaming capabilities are two of his picks. I was wondering if you would like to share your perspective in the comments section.

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43 Comments

Bob Parish

I think Apple TV needs a bigger hard drive, maybe the newest WD Scorpio 1TB and the COAXIAL digital output replacing the Toslink.
This way, it will be the definitive iTunes Audio Center, and with an iTouch nobody needs anymore a TV/Monitor for listen HIGH QUALITY music!

Ryan Belisle

I would just like them to fix the 5.1 surround sound support. I currently am encoding all of my movies via Handbrake using the 5.1 AC3 passthru. With the latest updates, I can no longer hold down play/pause and select the 5.1 audio track.

ACM23

I will gladly pay more for an updated Apple TV with these features (in order of descending importance):
1) Tuner for Live TV – this would be a pain to do with the MacMini as it is – and a DVR. As it was said above, this makes it immediately a strong option for those of us who haven’t replaced our DVR/VCRs with analog tuners yet.
2) Netflix streaming video support.
3) TiVO would be great- Hulu not so much. I don’t need to watch streaming commercials.

The price would have to be better than the Mini, since most of us could do all of this with this machine. However, I bet most potential buyers of an improved Apple TV already have at least one MacBook or Pro at home and don’t really need yet another full-on Mac connected to a TV.

Scott

Here we are wishing for a set-top box to be a computer. As the world is changing and consumers are consuming media through multiple sources, the traditional set-top box will become obsolete for mainstream consumers and be confined further to a niche. Only a computer will provide everything a user wants now and in the future.

If you were to go to an Apple Store and/or do a little light reading, you would learn Apple has provided this “ultimate” set-top box for some time now. It is called the Mac Mini and is used frequently used for simultaneously as a DVR, streaming, downloading, gaming, internet, and networking machine. It has a higher price point because it requires better hardware to do everything and anything.

I understand the average consumer is not so savvy and doesn’t know what to buy. However, hoards of savvy consumers are buying nettops and small form-factor computers to connect to their new LCD TVs. It will eventually catch on, hurting the internet set-top box market. The obvious problem is simply confusion in the marketplace, as there is nothing inherently wrong with the Apple TV which is designed only to cater to iTunes aficionados.

andrew

My opinion is Apple’s interests as a company and mine as a viewer are at fundamental odds when it comes to the Apple TV. Apple wants to sell/rent content from iTunes store. I want to view the content I already have or buy in other formats in the future.

I bought a Mac Mini a few months ago and run Plex. It allows me to view the content I put on the Mini. I can stream content from a variety of sources (even though streaming doesn’t really interest me much) and back up to a NAS or other computer if wanted. I can pop in a DVD and view it on the TV if I want.

A UPnP server would be nice as well, but then I’m not using iTunes to manage my content like Apple wants.

I thought I could have my PS3 be my media server, but the interface doesn’t stand up to more than 5 or 6 items. Why is it so hard to find one device to store and playback all my media and have a decent interface doing so?

Bob K

It needs to be less like a glorified iPod and more like an entertainment-oriented Mac. Let Apple TV be the home’s media server, and allow iTunes products around the house to store, stream and borrow files from it instead of the other way around.

Stephen

The Apple TV is easily Apple’s worse product they currently sell. I needs to be more than a hobby and a real product! Just hook one up to try and sync with a large iTunes library and watch it choke!

It needs better hardware and to interface with a REAL media server. Having to keep iTunes OPEN just to use it is crazy. Apple needs a software based media server that can run on any Mac (or Mac mini!). Adding more sources for streaming media (Netflix, Hulu, etc) should be a priority. Adding Blue-ray player would make it interesting. Giving it TiVo functionality would be a home run. Adding iChat would be extra bases.

I would like to see Pandora, Last.fm, as Apple completely ignores Internet radio on the Apple TV, even though they include some in iTunes. How about HD radio with tagging? How about allowing some Slingbox/SlingCatcher type functions so you can stream anywhere?

Better performance is a MUST. Waiting until the Apple TV finally connects to your Library just SUCKS! Right now the Apple TV is a broken iPod for your TV!

Jason

Stephen: some of your info is just wrong. I sync a 70GB library to my AppleTV (maybe that’s small by your standards). Admittedly, I had to use the wired LAN connection to do it, because it would have taken about a week over the WiFi. But it worked, and subsequent syncs (which are usually just 40-50 songs or a couple hundred new photos) can be done wirelessly. And if you sync the library onto the AppleTV, you don’t need to have iTunes open on an external computer while you use the AppleTV.

The AppleTV is a bit slow, but its UI is simple, and combined with an iphone/ipod Remote, it’s pretty easy to navigate. I think it gives a great bang for the buck.

Weldon Dodd

The AppleTV only needs a couple things…

support for 1080p content (faster processor or hardware decoding)
7.1 digital audio (new chipset)

Beyond that, I’d like to see an interface makeover that puts the focus back on *my* content instead of the iTunes Store. Streaming content from the net would be nice (Pandora, Hulu, etc.) but that’s not as urgent in my mind.

Jack Chawla

Simple….make it more like iPhone. Open it up and let developers build cool apps for AppleTV and give an easy way for users to use this Apps. Within months, we will have apps like NetFlix Streaming, Hulu, iPlayer, etc, etc. for AppleTV and some cool apps we don’t even know we need.

Also, HD video chat (aka Personal Telepresence) kind of solution will be cool. Plug the camera with microphone in USB port and house the camera on top of TV and you have….one on one video+voip chat. Apple has all the necessary pieces to make this happen.

Why is Apple moving so slow on so many obvious opportunities???

Jeffrey

I bought a 50″ flat screen last year and as an experiment, didn’t hook it up to cable or satellite. Instead I hooked up a new Apple TV, our Wii, a Roku, and a Blu-Ray DVD player. Guess which device gets the most use? The Roku (which coincidentally happens to be the least expensive of the lot). The Apple TV gets the least use, and we don’t generally use it for watching TV — we mostly use it to shuffle music on those nights when we have guests over for dinner.

If the Apple TV (or some other device) had the ability to play or convert any video format it would place the device front and center in our living room. Apple insisting on exclusively using its own Martian video formats that don’t work on any other devices is a low-level form of DRM.

MIchael Brian Bentley

Consumers don’t take tight-fisted content providers seriously. It is obvious the content owners want to dictate all the terms, but ultimately they are going to have to surrender control to consumers. They do not get to expire content or remove it from consumer’s equipment. They do not get to spoonfeed content ala Hulu. The itunes model is the most straightforward: list each title and ep, provide a price. I need to be able to download at 720p or 1080p, and preserve those copies, using them as I see fit within reasonable law.

Muddybulldog

IP streaming services are a must. I realize that AppleTV is being used to push iTunes, but fact is Netflix is going virtually unopposed in the all you can eat streaming market on mass market devices. They’ve got the Roku and have not started getting themselves embedded into products that we may already have or are in the market for (XBOX 360, LG BR Players). Most people don’t want yet another set top box so they’re likely to pick the one that offers the most to them.

I’ve had problems with my ATV lately wherein purchased content becomes “unauthorized” on the box. Sometimes a reboot fixes it, sometime I have to do a factory restore (and then resync my content). It’s not worth the aggravation so I just don’t buy iTunes anymore. With no other real use for the ATV it has fallen by the wayside. I use Plex, but there’s too many glitches for my 4 year old to use when I’m not around so she falls back to Netflix or TiVo. You give me a device that can deliver Netflix, Hulu and (here’s hoping) BBC iPlayer in the US and I’ll replace all my devices, dump cabletv and get an antenna for local HD broadcasts. With the money I’m saving I’ll probably even spring for some first run content from iTunes or Amazon if it’s available.

Chad Spacey

I think the new Apple TV should have a built in iPhone / iPod dock and Sync.

Ravi

Surprising that I haven’t seen what would likely be the biggest factor in getting it into more living rooms (aside from built-in DVD player, of course): compatibility with more video formats.

The reason devices like the Popcorn Hour, the Xbox 360/PS3, and even Boxee are so popular is because they are able to play most of the content you already have. Throw some DivX/XviD compatibility in there, and I think the general populace would better understand why they need this box (pirates today = consumers tomorrow).

(I should also note that those into HD files have probably moved onto MKV files and such support would be even more appreciated – but then the box would probably need to support true 1080p).

Fazal Majid

A CableCard socket so it can be used as a DVR, along with much expanded storage, of course. If possible also an analog video in with hardware H.264 compression.

Michael Wolf

@Fazal – I think Apple will likely avoid Cablecard, which would mean it would have to get entangled with Cable Labs and the MSOs. If it went Cablecard, it would also likely have a PVR, which I somehow think Apple would want to avoid as it would be giving away free video that could be purchased on iTunes.

Ben

Video Streaming – Netflix Instant to be more precise, Hulu would be great too but they clearly don’t like to be on televisions.

Dual Cable Card slot -. Basically Make the Apple TV a really Slick HDVR while keeping the small design. Who wouldn’t want one. I am sick of the big clunky cable box that sits under every tv. Especially since Comcast’s Menus are slow and ugly.

Travis

I’d love to see Hulu, Netflix or other third party content providers, but lets be honest, we’ll never see that from Apple because it would drive business away from the iTunes store. What I’d like to see is a subscription based iTunes movie rental service. Say, pay $20/mo for unlimited rentals.

I imagine the ISPs would hate this because their pipes would become “clogged” but it would accelerate the network neutrality debate. Right now, if throttling occurs or there are caps, most users never notice. A subscription rental service from Apple could change that.

Also the idea of App store access and the ability to run iPhone apps on the Apple TV would be great, especially the gaming side of things. Apple would need to develop some sort of Wii like motion based controller, or maybe just use the iPhone as a controller…

A DVD/BD player would be nice but the price would probably go up to $600 for the thing. Way too much. It needs to stay around $200-300.

Jeremy

It should be an actual LED TV. The hardware and software of the AppleTV box should be built in. Apple makes great displays and the AppleTV. Why not combine them?

Jesse Kopelman

Agreed. I’ve been suggesting this for a while now. Easier to hide the price of components too. The Apple crowd is surely willing to pay $2,000+ or more for a nice TV, but with a STB you are limited by the price ceiling of the entry level Mac Mini.

KD

just buy a Palm Pre. It does everthing you want and with Sprint TV you can watch all the channels you like.

nutmeg

Bullsh*t. Palm Pre sucks and it doesn’t do half the stuff I want.

Simon

If I buy an apple tv today, I have no content for it. A DVD/BD drive would solve that. Hulu would give me access to new stuff- some of which I’ll probably buy on iTS. I’ll likely rent some  movies too.  
That’s what most people do- buy a bit, rent a bit and get some free. 
But don’t bother with games- Certainly not until it has some momentum.  

Julian

There are two areas where Apple has weak brand and vision, namely in gaming and in Social Networks.
This is where Microsoft and Sony are far ahead.
For Apple to catch up in those areas will require unique visionary talent. I think gaming is really tricky, since it is an area you really need to be passionate about. Steve Jobs is passionate about movies and music, but not gaming (and social networking).
This is why I think that the AppleTV will not take off unless they pick an entirely different direction…

Usually Named

Weak vision in gaming? You’ve got to be kidding. The iPhone app store is a game changer. I think they have the gaming vision — and it doesn’t involve expensive consoles playing a visually tricked out FPS.

joshasbury

1. Netflix integration is a must-have.
2. Blu-Ray player
3. Live TV.

In essence, the Apple TV needs to be able to replace my cable box and add to its features. Until then, I’m not considering making a move.

YUvamani

After really really wanting to buy and try an Apple TV, I ended up with a macmini instead

I would love to avoid the extra cost and the clunky interface (for a box attached to a tv) and the need for a mouse. But here are some of the things missing from an apple tv …

1) DVD / BluRay – Hey thats still where I get most of my content.
2) Netflix support
3) Hulu support
4) Twitter / Facebook etc (Thats where I discover content)
5) Combining 1-4, A flash enabled web browser
6) Widgets for quick information consumption and looking up scores, weather etc
7) Pandora / Last.fm for great free music and music discovery (but as I say below less of a priority)
8) More storage space by attaching usb drives. This also enables me to look at files “borrowed” from friends in say USB sticks ;)

Currently the dominant devices connected to a tv are a cable box and a dvd player. the apple tv gives you very few capabilities over these 2. What you get is access to your music and photos. Photos is useful. Music arguably less so because few people want to listen to their music on their TV.

The truth is you can get a lot more out of a device like the Apple TV if either Apple opened the device up or more probably developed these features / partnerships themselves.

BTW most of these capabilities are present in the XBox, But I am not really a gamer and so the value proposition does not make sense and again, A game controller is not the best way to control your media.

On a side note: a 6 button remote really is irritating to use. Apple needs a better controller. The Apple remote app to control the apple tv is really a great great step in the right direction.

And on an other note, I do not think Apple should/will do a gamebox. There is too much competition there and seriously why ?

Michael Wolf

@Yuvamani – I think Apple could do a gamebox since they would be able to leverage the active developer network they have established for Mac and iPhone and not have to do a billion dollar game console development cycle like the others. The Apple TV – this one and likely a future one- is really a purpose built Mac based appliance. If they can push a box with loads of apps, gaming (where iPhones are the remotes) and streaming video, I think they would. Clearly they need to do something to answer the Xbox 360, which is really Microsoft’s biggest unanswered advantage in the consumer space relative to Apple.

VoiceOver

My wish list is:
– App/widget channel for news, sports, stocks, weather, etc.
– Video/photos directly from iPhone using USB or Wi-Fi
– Video/photos from Facebook and Picasa

Neal

Navigation just bearable now if you have the iphone app – more films and more pay per view like sport and other events. Perhaps some widgets for news and instant weather , or a quick what’s new in the store feature. Watch content you converted automatically in itunes so you can take it away on your iphone/laptop to watch while you travel

Ben Dean

It seems counter-intuitive but I believe including a blu-ray/dvd drive is the key. Why?

Doing so makes it a drop-in upgrade for millions of aging DVD players that are already sitting on racks, under TVs, already wired in, whether in a $500 or $5000 home theater. No new wiring, no additional input needed on the TV/Receiver.

And as the A/V crowd would say, the WAF is huge. “Its not *another* box, it’s just replacing one thats there.”

SOLD.

martin_tf

You make a good point. Download IS the future but its not quite the present yet. DVD’s are cheaper than iTunes and everybody still has loads of them.

YUvamani

Yeah, you are right.

That is the reason I have a macmini attached to my tv and not an apple tv.

Edwin Khodabakchian

I unplugged Comcast 4 months ago to see if I could live off the Apple TV. I must say the the experience has been pretty positive. I really miss live sports and wish I could buy passed for Tennis tournaments for example. Access to Hulu would also be nice. Re: Games I am not sure because we have a wii and it works really well. Beside access to more content, there are 2 features I think would be nice. 1) the ability to rate podcast + a genius like system which would recommend more content and 2) the ability to share recommendations on twitter and facebook and access the recommendations of people in my twitter or facebook network. Navigating for content on the Apple TV is hard, voted and social recommendations could make content discovery more linear/simple

Sambeal

Streaming online coverage will only increase in choice, quality and features (such as user-controlled camera selection). The winning “box” must support the evolution of online content technology and business model. That means buying movies from Netflix, videos from Amazon or iTunes, and subscription services from MLB, F1, NASCAR, etc. I doubt that Apple will go there. Ultimately TVs will go there, e.g. Samsung’s decision to integrate ARM processors in future TVs. If the “box” will fit into a smartphone, why not a TV?

web-to-tv.com

Erik

The Apple TV currently seems to serve a niche market of consumers who want to enjoy the convenience and don’t mind paying a comparatively steep price for video content via the iTunes Music Store. If Apple’s goal is to offer a device that provides a convenient way to get content from the iTMS directly to their TV for those who need something that does specifically that, then they’ve succeeded. But I don’t think Apple can expect to gain significant market share against completing products if it doesn’t offer services such as Hulu and Netflix streaming in the near future. The device as it stands right now is far too limited for those who want access to a variety of video streaming/downloading sources.

martin_tf

I think that it needs to offer three things on top of the current functionality:

1. Access to streaming services such as iPlayer, Hulu etc as it already does with Youtube.

2. Games and other Apps via the App Store, suddenly you have a ready made console. The tricky part will be how powerful it needs to be, they probably won’t do an X360 PS3 rival but it needs to be competitive to the Wii on the graphics front.

3. Make it play a much wider range of video files. I want to be able to play my DVD’s that I have ripped to my Mac then I don’t need a DVD player and it is much easier to choose and navigate my content. I don’t want to buy everything again on iTunes, I want to rip them like I did with my CD’s and iPod. Obviously this has piracy complications.

The trouble is I am not convinced that any of them are very likely to happen. Good job you can plug a Mac Mini into a TV!

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