Blog Post

Why the New Apple TV Isn’t Something I’ll Be Watching

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 (s aapl) 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 (s nflx) 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.

64 Responses to “Why the New Apple TV Isn’t Something I’ll Be Watching”

  1. “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”

    Really, you plan on passing on DVD’s or some sort of digital file to your kids when you depart? Hmmm…

    “Lending” copyrighted/protected material to friends and family is illegal. I have no problem not being able to do that.

    It’s not perfect, nothing is yet, but the current version of Apple TV is a stride forward and as mentioned, the potential is huge. For 99 bucks, it’s a no-brainer in my book…ordered one as soon as Chris stopped singing. ;)

  2. jan swesey

    As with most things, something is good or bad depending on whether we think it will make our lives easier and more simple or save us money. We all love tools that enhance our lives. The internet exists and I love it. It gives me most of the information that I want, when ever I want it with out having to get into the car to get it.
    What companies are looking for are ways to make the internet make money for them. Apple has been working on this for a very long time. No one seems to have mentioned the fact that Apple has been building a HUGE server farm in the SE of the USA. I met a sales man from Seattle that works for the company that is selling the hardware server modules to Apple and is working on getting the server farm installed and running.
    He was very impressed with all the tech and the speed and price and size that is being committed to by Apple, for this farm. As I have said this server farm is supposed to be huge. Now for my point.
    Please keep in mind that Apple is all about where it WANTS TO BE and not about where it is. Nothing that Apple produces in the way of a product should be seen as a thing in it’s own right, but a part of an expanding whole. The Apple TV is just such an item. Rather then worry about what it will let you do to day, rather think about what it will let you do tomorrow. When I hear people talk about Apples products it sounds so much like the “poem of the blind men and the elephant”. Every one touches a different part of the elephant and thinks that it is a different thing all together. The key thing about Apple and all this stuff about the internet and all of these electronic devices is the term: Disintermediation, the removal of the middle man. The real question is what is the WHOLE system that Apple is currently building and who’s lunch will be eaten by the final system when it is done. Right now it is the publishing industry ie., magazines, newspapers, books and text books that is under attack. Soon with all the arsenal of e-products that Apple will be introducing and enhancing with software updates, it looks like the Video Delivery industry is in Apples cross hairs. The question is not whether the Video/Movie industry will fall to “disintermediation” but what Apple will have to do to scoop up all their lunch money and call it their own. When we look at music it seems so inevitable. In retrospect, what else will seem so INEVITABLE? This article is not written by a Astro Physicist looking through a massive telescope at the heavens. It was written by a five year old looking at an ant through a small plastic handheld magnifying glass. Apple is all about the cosmos. Raise your sights gentlemen.

  3. I think what’s important to remember is that this is not a ‘replacement’ but rather an addition to your home theater experience.

    I know I will be purchasing it (half as an impulse buy because of the low price) simply for the ability to stream my Netflix videos.

  4. I agree with a lot that has been said here. I held out not getting an iPod for the longest time (in a way, to date) because it did not support about 20% of my music that was in ogg. I did end up getting an iPhone so Apple won. But still. I fully sympathize with sentiment expressed concerning the unsupported formats.

    Ownership is a preference but I suspect many people have the preference described here.

    Here’s the biggie for me. I always appreciate how iTunes did not really care where the hell you are in the world. I am a resident of the US with US billing address and US credit card on file with iTunes. But I do travel a lot. Most every legal service I know of that would give me audiovisual content was blocked outside the US. But iTunes worked. I was planning on getting an Apple TV specifically because of this.

    Now Netflix has made it on there. I wonder if this changed the status quo? Is Netflix still blocking content on the Apple TV if you wonder outside of the US? I suspect it does. And I wonder if iTunes now followed suite. This will be the main factor in my decision to buy or not.

  5. I’ve owned 3 ATVs for over a year and have 300 DVDs and BDs ripped to 5.1 480p/720p HD. Still have 900+ DVDs to go, but nothing beats the VOD from any room in the house. For me, all media streams from a centrally located 6TB RAID 5 server in my office that I built. It streams flawlessly. I just preordered one of the $99 units. Beats $229 each for my units with hard drives that I never used. $99 for a rental box, while more affordable than DVD and VCR players of days gone by, is a bit steep compared to other available options if you’re technically inclined enough. For me, having NEVER rented a flick, I buy or DL everything. Streaming video, whole house audio and instant access to 7,000+ photos in my Flickr account easily translate into justified space in my media cabinets.

  6. Cold Water

    The Netflix feature is impressive, especially if you don’t already have a:
    * Roku
    * TiVo
    * Boxee
    * Any current game console
    * DVD/Blu-Ray players with Netflix streaming (there are dozens)
    * Newer television with native support

    Now subtract all the people who don’t have broadband. *crickets*

    Are there other decent features? Yeah, I guess… kinda. I’m still not getting everything I hoped for out of the AirPort Express.

  7. While I am impressed with the new Apple TV form factor, and the inclusion of Netflix, the Apple TV does not work for me because I have access to a much greater selection of streaming TV via a Hulu Plus subscription using the Hulu Desktop on my Mac Mini connected to my TV via HDMI. I pay $9.95 per month for unlimited Hulu TV. At 99 cents a show, I would be limited to 10 shows if I keep my bill under $10.

    In summary, when the iTunes APPS, including the Hulu Plus APP are available on Apple TV, I think Apple will have a real winner. Until then, I am going to probably stick with my Mac Mini.

  8. I don’t think Apple missed the point at all. Despite what you prefer, the masses at large rent far more movies and TV shows than they buy. That’s why Netflix (and video rental stores before them) have been so popular. Most people just don’t care about owning most of what they watch. A cheaper, rental-only, box makes perfect sense.

  9. Some on raised a very good idea, you should be able to buy and apple store your purchases in the cloud for you. This is a great idea, since Apple would only need one copy of the movie / music shared across everywhere.

    Also, maybe if the iTunes in the cloud does ever become reality, maybe we won’t have to worry about uploading content, Apple could simply upload your iTunes database and then activate those songs / movies etc already stored in the cloud so you can access them without having to upload terabytes of data. Obviously, your content would need to be correctly tagged and likely already available on itunes but it’s a simple low cost easy solution to get your library in the cloud. Cool hey.

    Does anyone know if this apple Tv update will work on the old apple tv? I suspect not.

    • “I can view as many flics as I can handle on netflix”

      I like Netflix as well, but $4.99 is the cost for first-day releases only; the day the DVD is available to the public, something Netflix does not stream. Other rentals are cheaper and may or may not make sense as YMMV.

  10. I sadly agree with some of these comments, I’m an avid Apple fan but no storage, not even optional leaves me thinking, what the…. Ok so you can stream content from you PC, iPad right but that isn’t environmentally friendly, now I need two devices on, just to show some family pics. Duh!

    Ok, I can upload them all to mobile me but it’s not realistic with the paltry download / upload limits we get, let alone the speed.

    If it could have streamed from time machine great but from yet another on device is crappy. Apple are clearly gearing this up for the iTunes in the cloud but for me it’s sadly fallen short.

    It would be great if Apple could get together with the likes of BBC and other content providers internationally so we can start streaming their content, it’s all typically geared towards US users at the moment, unfortunately,

    Fox and most notably James “not so smart” Murdoch and daddy Murdoch would clearly be very afraid though if the BBC did start broadcasting via Apple Tv but we can only hope.

  11. I have been an Apple TV user for many years and this new one addresses many issues I have with it. I would rather rent than buy. Storage is an issue, and “the cloud” is not a really economical answer for someone like me with 1.2TB of music and video hanging around at any given time. I don’t throw TV shows and movies away because I paid a lot for them, like we don’t buy a DVD and throw it away after watching it once. It sits on a shelf waiting for a second chance, which is never gets, collecting dust. That’s why renting is a good option for DVDs, just like it is for an Apple TV.

    Syncing the Apple TV seems to be resource-heavy, sometimes causing it to hang. I’m glad syncing is gone. I can still buy or download to iTunes on my computer and then stream to the Apple TV. I don’t know why the author complains about no longer being able to store on the Apple TV. I would bet he’s never owned one, probably never used one. He makes arguments just to make them, without thinking, wanting only to find fault so that he can fill his 1000 words or whatever. Besides, this guy is clearly a geek (even if he is clueless), so tell me his parent’s basement, where he undoubtedly lives, is not already wi-fied and wired completely. Why is he worried about storage on an Apple TV? Aren’t all the bittorrent downloads already on his computer? Why create another copy? (I say that bit about where he lives because he writes like he’s in junior high school. This is clearly not an experienced writer. If you are an adult, then, well, I’m sorry.)

    Some people like watching video on their computers. I do not. I’d rather sit on the sofa in the comfort of my living room, preferably with a plate of carbs in front of me. For those of you who don’t know, there is a wealth of viewing for free in the iTunes store. Podcasts are great. I love The Onion and watch it widescreen in my living room on my Apple TV all the time, streamed directly to my Apple TV. The same with iTunes U. content. There’s some great stuff there as well. And when someone comes over wanting to watch something on YouTube, we don’t hover over a computer screen, we go to the living room and sit comfortably. It can be hours of fun.

    You can go on and on about Hulu and the network sites, but not all of us live in the US and Apple doesn’t make products meant only for those who do. Hulu and ALL the TV network sites block foreign IPs – they even detect relays, those f***ers – so suggestions to use those sites instead do not apply to most of the world. Besides, the Apple TV is all about watching TV someplace other than your computer screen. I work on my computer. I would rather relax elsewhere, like the living room. I can’t wait to get a new Apple TV.

    • Agreed – and preordered.

      I have a first-gen ATV and never used more than 4-5gb of the available storage. That’s while watching movies and my wife and I sharing a dozen podcasts a week.

      I’m at the computer several times a day – and it takes a second or two to tell the AppleTV to refresh and sync. Generally, there’s enough on the HD for an evening or two and that’s plenty. Sometime during the following day[s] I’ll remember to delete and sync.

      The addition of NetFlix is a plus. We run 80211.n and streaming is never a problem though we’ve usually sync’d as a matter of practice.

      • Danfoy, this person may claim to be the Queen of England but that doesn’t negate the immature thought processes behind this article. As you can read in the comments, I’m not alone in my criticism even if others are not as blunt. As for his claim to be a “professional blogger”, that proves my point. Blogging is by nature an amateur endeavor (some would call it a “hobby”) and a “professional blogger” is most definitely a contradiction in terms.

      • @PD (sorry, apparently can’t nest replies this deep)

        lol this was the point I was trying to make. Poorly researched, clearly no experience with the current apple tv, assumtions about viewing habits, clichés like the razorblade comparison… all in all a very whiney and self-obsessed post. If he were someone with insider industry information or something then maybe his opinions would be more valid. As he is not, this article doesn’t belong anywhere other than a personal blog, rather than clogging up my feed reader, as the apple blog seems to be doing more and more recently.

  12. What Jobs presented was where the Apple TV will be out of the gate – but I’m guessing their commitment to this hobby is going to grow leaps and bounds with the new iOS platform. This is just the beginning.

    I like it. I’m buying.

  13. Michael Long

    “Call me old-fashioned, but I like archiving my material….”

    Which is the primary reason why the current Apple TV failed. Take TV shows, for example. A SD version of Criminal Minds season 4 takes up 16GB of HD space. Almost 30GB for the HD version. Buy all five seasons, and you burn 150GB of drive space!

    And that’s just ONE show. Steve is right. People don’t want to buy stuff that they have to manage and move around and backup. Buying episodes that you’ll probably never, ever watch again is wasteful.

    If you want to rant about something, you should go after the one missing link: buying… and letting Apple store your purchase in the cloud.

  14. This whole site has become a jaded anti-Apple rag. It seems every other article is another negative opinion piece. This isn’t why I signed up for this RSS feed many moons ago. In the competitive field of technology news and commentary, plenty of more informative and positive venues exist. This site is getting the heave ho.

    • I have to agree, ratio of quality, informative articles to poorly/un-researched crap and irrelevant sensationalist/antifanboy opinions from people I am uninterested in (who the hell is Darrell Etherington? A ‘professional blogger’? What sort of job title is that?! I sincerely hope he wasn’t paid for this editorial) as opposed to people actually working within the field that they’re writing about is becoming a bit skewed.

      I am genuinely upset about this, I used to love reading this blog.

  15. I don’t have much in the way of video content on my Mac that I would want to stream to my TV (although that may change over time as I move away from DVD ownership). Streaming photos is cool but not something I’d do often. Netflix integration is what did it for me. Now it is a product that I would use.

    Re: The cost of renting tv show episodes. $.99 per episode is quite reasonable when compared to the cost of renting a disc from a brick and mortar that contains three or four episodes.

  16. Uh, Darrell, where were you in the 80’s? Or the 90’s. You probably aren’t old enough to remember the days before ANYONE bought movies-when renting VHS tapes/DVD’s was the ONLY way to watch them. Give me a break-
    “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.”

    How many times have you actually done this, or better yet, how many times do you think the average watcher has?
    We haven’t yet “just now (moved) past the point of physical media ownership?” We’ve just barely arrived.
    You sound like the same pundits who wondered how they would survive without a floppy drive.
    I’m with panny and Jamie-your post is just nonsense.

  17. 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.

    • 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.

  18. 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.

    • 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.

  19. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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, …)

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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?).

  25. 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.)

    • 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.

      • Cold Water

        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.