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

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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.

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