Apple TV 3: Is it us?  Or Them?

| Editorial

Apple continues to post updates to Apple TV that disappoint a segment of the customer base and TV industry experts. This time around, the update 3.0 merely adds a new top level shell for navigating and some minor enhancements such as iTunes LP and Internet radio stations. The big question is: should we really feel disappointed?

Let's face it. Netflix is the arch enemy of Apple TV. Recently, Netflix tightened the noose around the Apple TV by one more notch with the announcement of support for the Sony Playstation 3. Hulu has its own problems and need for control, and except for hacked Apple TVs and Hulu in a browser, we aren't going to see Hulu on the Apple TV. Or Netflix. Ever. Live with it.

Apple TV 3

Apple TV 3: New, top level, navigation shell and modest feature gains

I more or less agree with Dan Frommer. He isn't bashful about blasting the Apple TV for not expanding its scope. The conventional wisdom is that a version 3.0 upgrade ought to offer us something much more exciting. But is technical excitement what it's all about?

Indeed, I keep asking myself, why is Apple taking such baby steps with the Apple TV? The answer has to be the disconnect between the technical level of Internet tech writers and experts -- and the average customer. People buy the Apple TV for a specific reason: a focused device with a simple remote. One pays for content to avoid commercials. That's a vision to be sure, and Apple is a company that continually tests its vision again the Sturm and Drang of the rest of the industry.

Consider also, Apple TV has a catalog of 8,000 Hollywood films of which 2,000 are in HD, 50,000 TV episodes, and 10,000 music videos. And access to YouTube. So one has to soberly ask: what kind of mental excess and frenzy leads one to believe that this isn't enough?

In the end, Apple TV is not something for everyone, especially the technically savvy. It has to be augmented. For example, there are some really nice Blu-ray players out there, like the LG BD 390, that offer Netflix streaming in HD -- albeit with stereo sound right now. Netflix says they're working on Dolby 5.1 for the future. And this player only runs about $270 at Amazon. I'm eyeing one myself for Christmas.

So I think the bottom line is this. For all the tech savvy hobbyists and tinkerers, go ahead and connect your Mac mini with DisplayPort/DVI/HDMI to a Plasma display or hack your Apple TV to run Boxee. For the rest of the Apple TV customers, they just want to be left alone, happy to watch TV and movies without commercials. They wonder why we whine so much, and we wonder why they aren't outraged by Apple's baby steps. The debate is not going to end soon. We'll learn to live with ambiguity and moderation in all things.

Meanwhile, Apple turns everything it does into mountains of cash.

Comments

John Martellaro

I will admit to being in the middle on this.  On one hand, I’d really like to see Apple do something dramatic to compete against Netflix.

On the other hand, Apple is *never* happy with a failing product, and the Apple TV sells just fine, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.  As a result, we’re just going to have to live in a twilight zone for a bit longer: modest updates, slow and steady as she goes.

Glenn

What I find disappointing is that Apple TV is under powered, the hardware is reaching the stoneage in terms of what is available now.

All I want apple TV for is to keep all my iTunes and Photo’s and share that through my TV and Stereo so I don’t have to have my computer on to listen to music.

They need to desperately upgrade their hardware and spec it out a bit more. Wow us not bore us.

Gino

Apple TV is no more and no less than what it started out to be and that was a way to bring your iTunes content into the living room so you could enjoy that content where it was meant to be enjoyed while you were at home. In my case it also means that I no longer have to deal with Blockbuster when it comes to video rentals. I no longer have to waste time driving to the nearest store only to find that the video I was hoping to rent is not available and/or I no longer have to worry about wasting time to returning those same videos.

Physical media is dead to me. That even extends to purchases. Blu-Ray was a dead technology even before it hit the market. Apple knows this, so does Microsoft. That’s why Apple will skip Blu-Ray on their Macs and Microsoft continues to ignore Blu-Ray on the Xbox.

As iTunes content evolves so will the Apple TV as evidenced by the inclusion of iTunes Extras, iTunes LP & Genius Mixes. It will never be a Netfix or hulu device as those services compete directly with iTunes. It will never support the various codecs that are associated with pirated content. If Apple TV were to include a subscription service for TV content you can pretty much say good bye to the Cable and Satellite industry as well. They will merely become providers of dumb internet pipes.

It’s hard to move the TV and video industries forward. They are used to doing things a certain way and are loath to make any changes but technology has evolved and so have people’s viewing habits. Apple TV and devices like it are addressing those changes but because they rely on content they are beholden to the content providers and their archaic restrictions.

nik

AppleTV has a single vendor problem, and a price problem. I don’t know whether it’s heavily subsidized in the USA but it’s around $400 anywhere outside of the US. So yeah I figure the price tag in the USA is low because they figure you must use iTunes to get content.

That’s the second problem. I don’t want to be locked into iTunes - I want to get my movies and series any way I want to get them. At the current moment, when big media companies simply are unable or unwilling to offer what their customers want to buy, that means downloaded content. But in the future, it would mean movies and series downloaded from Netflix or Amazon.

I am not going to invest in hardware that ties me into the iTunes store. No matter how good that store is today - and it’s missing lots of stuff I want to have - I know the content companies are desperate to avoid a sales monopoly for iTunes, and they will go to lengths to make sure this never happens. Then there are idiotic per-country licensing issues which are not going to go away for maybe a decade. “Oh on, you cannot watch this, not for love or money - you live in the wrong country”. Well.

AppleTV means either hacking the device to do what I want. Or to wait for media companies to get their collective heads our of their behinds and start offering legal content the way we want it - cheap and with no restrictions of any kind. No country code. No copy protection (I want to be able to see my content 10 years from now too).

Neither is currently a very convincing sales argument. The movie industry will be stuck in its current predicament for God knows how long, pretty much forcing everyone to use ThePirateBay even if we want to pay for content.

In the meantime, I bought a WD TV. It has some usability issues that would never make it into an Apple product. But it was only $129 and it plays anything I throw at it in very good quality.

Glenn

The apple TV is a great device and I dont have a problem being tied to iTunes. It is suited to Mac lovers around the world. Yes, price is a bit probitive especially when you consider the actual hardware has not been updated in nearly 3 years. The processsor is old and it desperately needs more RAM and ideally a graphics card update.

However, the biggest problem for Apple at the moment (outside of the US) is that in most other countries around the world people’s broadband limits ares woefully inadequate, or in some cases slow, particularly in Australia where the telcos offer very low download limits for a high price. Only TPG seems to be offer something close to reasonable. One HD movie could effectively blow out your monthly limit.

Apple TV is a gem of a product and it has a fixed purpose. It will never be everything for everyone and that can be the beauty of it, but even with this update, the hardware is lacking behind.

I strongly agree though that digital media is the future and BlueRay will have at best 3-5 years life span. I would not be investing in a DVD store these days.

diverreb

I don’t believe Apple TV sells “Just Fine.”  I know tons of people with Macs & Zillions more with iPhones & iPods.  I don’t know of one person with Apple TV.

I doubt that the vast majority of Apple’s customers even know about Apple TV and if they’ve heard of it, they have no idea what it does.

As a former Apple Reseller we couldn’t give them away.

John Martellaro

In the meantime, I bought a WD TV. It has some usability issues that would never make it into an Apple product. But it was only $129 and it plays anything I throw at it in very good quality.

There’s the kicker.  Can your wife use it without complaining?

deasys

What I find disappointing is that Apple TV is under powered

No, the hardware is appropriately powered.

All I want apple TV for is to keep all my iTunes and Photo?s and share that through my TV and Stereo so I don?t have to have my computer on to listen to music.

No problem—get an Apple TV and do it.

jameskatt

Apple TV is just fine for what it is for its price.

If you want MORE, then get a $699 Mac Mini.  Then, you can’t complain since with the Mac Mini, you can do MUCH MUCH MUCH more, including playing NetFlix Videos.

Apple will create an Apple TV Pro when it sees a market where it can make HUGE PROFITS.  Perhaps this will be soon since Apple has an opportunity to create its own game console to take over from the failing Nintendo Wii.  I bet people would like simple games like on the iPhone for their Apple TV Pro. Something to spend a few minutes on, not for hours on end.

daemon

I know of no reason for anyone to purchase an Apple TV. There are cheaper and better solutions, WD TV being just one (although I have no idea what “usability issues” Nik refers to, mine worked without a hitch).

Simply put, Apple TV is a half baked product that Jobs pans as being a “hobby.”

jbruni

I think the AppleTV is the best device I’ve connected to my TV. I use it mostly for music, sometimes for showing off photos, and occasionally renting movies. Once in a rare while I’ll use it for watching a video podcast. The kids like to watch YouTube videos and movie trailers.

I prefer having a device that does a few things really well—features that I can actually use—instead of a device that does badly many things I don’t care for.

There are a few features of the AppleTV that I never use: TV shows, buying music, music videos. I’m sure those are features some people many want.

However, I noticed with 3.0 they added the welcome addition of internet radio. I’ll probably use this a quite a bit since it is something I already use in iTunes on my computer.

Fanfoot

I have an Apple TV.  I think its interesting.  I like watching movies on it.  I think it does a good job making my music and photos available at parties.  But that’s about it.

My wife has trouble using it.  Partly its the fact that its rather unresponsive to the remote.  Partly its just not that clear how to use it.  Apple has pushed access to your own stuff down below buying new stuff.  We’ll see how the 3.0 interface pans out.  I’ll install it tomorrow.

I don’t think the Apple TV is selling enough units for Apple to be happy with it.  It certainly isn’t driving the market forward in any way.  Personally I don’t have any interest in a Blu-Ray player being built-in.  If I thought physical media wasn’t dead I wouldn’t have bought an Apple TV.  But I do want something more than what I’m getting to justify this product.  Yes I would *love* it if they offered widgets or apps for the Apple TV.  Yes I would *love* it if they allowed you to access internet streaming video (Hulu, Comcast, TV.com, Comedy Central, NFL, NBA, etc) using this device.  Or Pandora.  Or Spotify.  Or SOMETHING.  It just doesn’t quite get there. 

I’ve shown mine off to lots of people.  They all think its cool, but none of them have bought one.  That isn’t what I’d call a typical Apple product.  Its a little tiny niche product that needs to find a reason to exist.

wilf53

Netflix? Movies? TV-shows? It is all US-only. The Apple TV might begin to sell outside the US when we are allowed to rent and watch TV-shows and movies. As for now it is not a very interesting product outside the US, not for the average user, anyway.
I wonder if we ever will be able to rent movies through iTunes in Norway? Or TV-shows? If we will, how many more years will it take?

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

In the end, Apple TV is not something for everyone, especially the technically savvy.

Yeah, every time I turn the thing on, I feel like I need to use white out to correct spelling errors on my MacBook Pro.

ndciii

First off, let me say that I’ve owned an AppleTV for a couple of years now, and I love it.  I’ve ripped all of my CDs and DVDs to a Mac Mini and stream it all to the AppleTV.  My family finds it very easy to use.  It is a much more elegant solution than having to find storage space near the TV for 250 DVDs and 800 CDs.

Even though I prefer ripping physical media over downloading content due to quality issues, I can also see how the AppleTV/iTunes store combo is a winning combination for those that prefer purchasing and downloading their content.

What I fail to see is how the AppleTV/iTunes store combo is going to get any sort of market share in the RENTAL marketplace.  How can they justify to consumers that renting movies for $3-$5 for 24 hours is better than $9 “all-you-can-eat” Netflix movies that they can watch through their game console/blu-ray/smart TV/Roku device? 

Maybe they should take a look at how well the same business model is working out for Blockbuster?

ou8jonesy

I’ve had my Apple TV for almost a year now and absolutely love it.  I live in Canada and the selection of Movies and TV Shows is almost on par with the US.  I stream all my movies from a Network Drive with over 160 movies so far (still ripping my collection over).  Just being able to sit on the couch surfing what movie to watch is great.  It’s hard enough picking a movie with my wife at least I can veg while doing it now.

Would I like more features?  Sure who wouldn’t?  Does it do what it says it can do and doesn’t take a university course to teach my non-tech savvy wife?  It sure does!

Nemo

I think that there may be a grand design behind Apple’s seemingly slow movement with Apple TV.  To avoid being completely dependent on either the owners of the content or the networks that transmit that content, as is the case for Netflix, Apple must do three things:  (1) It must establish the physical/technical infrastructure to support business as both a subscription services and as a seller of content; (2) It must get out of the FCC a robust set of regulations that guarantee net neutrality; and (3) negotiate the necessary license agreements with the media companies that avoid inflicting rapacious fee on its customers.

Apple’s new billion dollar server farm in, I think, South Carolina will go a long way towards providing Apple with the necessary infrastructure to support a more competitive Apple TV, but, of course, that server farm is under construction and is at least a year away from going on line.

The FCC appears to be moving in Apple’s direction by supplying a robust set of regulations to insure net neutrality.  See FCC 09-93A1, GN Docket No. 09-191.  However, this is far from certain.  Already, the network carriers have mobilized their allies in Congress to halt the FCC’s proposed rules for net neutrality.  So we will see how this works out.  But, without net neutrality, Netflix or any business could find its business of selling or renting content to customers subject to a gatekeeper tax that would be much like what cable companies presently charge.  If Apple or Netflix were reduced to that, why bother?  You would simply stay with your cable provider.  That’s why strong net neutrality rules must be in place, before Apple ventures tens of millions on competing with Netflix.

Finally, Apple must enter into negotiations with the media companies to license subscription content at royalties that don’t make content on iTunes so expensive that Apple TV won’t be worth the trouble.  Netflix is paying low royalties now, which has meant that it can charge a reasonable fee, but it’s licenses give the content owners discretion to reset the royalties.  If Apple comes in and makes the business a success, it can’t expose that business to the risks of the media companies’ greed.  It has to have a deal in place so that it knows what it will be paying for content.  This becomes more important, when you remember that Apple run iTunes at only slightly more than break even, with its real payoff coming in selling its devices (e.g., iPhones, Macs, Apple TV, etc.).

Apple’s has to have the three components, supra, before it can seriously launch Apple TV as a contender.

Ratch

AppleTV is great for people who actually want to watch stuff, not geeks who need to jerk off about spec. It bugs the hell out of me that these are the types that trash it. I trash Apple when needs be, MobileMe sucks and Safari sucks even more, MacBook Air and it’s heat and static shock issues…

Bar needing more codec support (DIVX / WMV etc) and full 1080p support (which will need new hardware) it is the best product on the market of it’s type. On demand music, TV and movies and YouTube - what on earth more do you need.

Aaron Szabo

Apple TV is fantastic for its purpose, for streaming music, watching videos and seeing your photo’s. The biggest item missing on the device is a simple plug for your headphones. It has everything HMDI, Component etc but where is the jack for my headphones.

To listen to music I have to turn my TV as the only input for my sound system is a headphone jack. Simple things like this need adding to the new hardware if it ever gets released. Other than that it rocks.

Dean Lewis

As someone working in the retail industry who is seeing a big upswing in BluRay movie rentals, I can at provide one more anecdote that BluRay is not dead on arrival. (I’ll let others link to various industry research showing BluRay’s rising sales.) It serves a particular segment of the public, the majority of whom are not here reading MacObserver. They don’t have the fast internet to keep streaming or downloading HD films a good experience, and they don’t care to pay for internet to get it. They just want to rent a disc for a couple bucks and then bring it back on their way home from work a few days later.

I, too, believe electronic delivery will eventually be king. I wish our store chain would take an active part in it by providing manufacturing-on-demand and download to devices/memory sticks.etc. We are, however, far from it for several reasons.

Ken Hamlin

The biggest item missing on the device is a simple plug for your headphones. It has everything HMDI, Component etc but where is the jack for my headphones.

You just need to run to Radio Shack or your local gadget store. If you’re going HDMI to your TV then get a RCA to (whatever size headphone jack you need) adapter and plug into the red/white audio out of the Apple TV.  If you’re going RCA (the red/white cables) to your TV, then add a RCA splitter (sometimes called a RCA piggyback) to your list and you have what you want now for less than twenty bucks.

Dools

How about an iTunes DJ playlist for AppleTV?  Good god, how simple could that be but NO?

spaceagedevice

I have owned Apple TV for 2 years now. I love it, and it has served my needs. But, I also watch a lot of technology trends closely. I have to agree with those that say Blu-ray is dead on arrival mainly thanks to .MKV(Matroska) 720p & 1080p with DTS and Dolby. Unfortunately, Apple TV does not support this format natively, and even when hacking it doesn’t play 720p movies that well. The work around is to convert HD movies with software and import into iTunes which takes a while. Last month I bought the Seagate FreeAgent Theatre+($119) which plays just about EVERY codec including the popular growing MKV with DTS and Dolby, and it’s $100 less than ATV. The only other option is the WD TV, but it fails on DTS and NTFS+ hard drive support. The Theatre+ may not be “perfect” or have all of the perks and be hacked like ATV, but I think it has a lot of potential. For the price, it is a great companion next to ATV. If Apple is to step up their game, they’re gonna have to jump on this format, because it won’t be long before MKV hits mainstream and on-line stores start offering this format much like MP3.

spaceagedevice

Sorry I mean HFS+ not NTFS.. my bad.

Josephine

I’m doing a user review article on Apple TV for school. It would be greatly appreciated if you guys would take my survey.

SURVEY

Thanks!

Log-in to comment