Apple TV – not quite the full picture

Posted: September 2, 2010 in Apple, Apple TV, internet, Mac, Uncategorized, video

Without being able to test-drive it, it’s hard to know quite what to make of the revamped Apple TV.

Apple TV has become an integral and much-loved part of our family’s leisure time – as much for the promise of TV a la carte as for the convenience of renting movies on a whim and banishing video store late fees forever – and we’d just picked up a 160Gb version as we are increasingly loading it up with family movies and slideshows from the Mac. Even with Bermuda’s sluggish speeds, it works well enough for us to never go back to renting DVDs. Ever.

But I have to say I was hoping for a bit more from this next generation. Netflix is nice but you can’t get access from Bermuda without a US VPN – and given that the new Apple TV is apparently a purely streaming device with no storage, I’m not sure how that might work. At present you have to do a hack using aTV, and my experience is that the VPN doesn’t work easily – and of course there’s the hassle of having to renstall aTV if you update the Apple software.

In fact the lack of storage seems odd. Streaming wirelessly from our main family Mac to the lounge isn’t always brilliant plus if I’m working on my Mac and the family want to watch a movie in the  lounge, isn’t streaming going to hog a lot of my Mac’s resources? Am I going to be able to stream video BitTorrent files OK? However if it works as well as advertised, it at least promises to do away with occasional but irritating syncing issues.

Which brings me to content. Or rather the lack of it. It is not the cable-cutting breakthrough I was hoping for although 99 cent TV rentals are a definite step in the right direction. I wanted to see some sort of iOS and a TV App Store that would allow me to buy or subscribe to current content instead of wasting a monthly cable bill on scores of channels I don’t watch. I would much rather buy iTunes season passes to, say, Mad Men than fart around with WOW’s clunky PVR system.

Wired sees the iPad/iPhone/iTouch and the next iOS as the hub of a new media ecosystem that will herald a paradigm shift in how we use our TVs. Apple’s new AirPlay feature is a hint of the future, allowing you to switch playback seamlessly from iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to Apple TV. I hope so – give me apps for ESPN, Fox Soccer, stuff like HBO, and a handful of kids channels, and WOW is history. [See PC Mag for more in this vein.]

Although there’s some great films and TV shows on iTunes, there’s still nowhere near enough choice (but that is probably more to do with film and TV companies playing tough with Apple) and Apple TV still doesn’t provide access to as many other online video sources as Boxee, for example, or even a Mac Mini. [Incidentally Boxee’s new $199 Box will reportedly let you watch anything you can watch on your computer on your TV – and in 1080p too, far superior to the Apple TV’s 720p.]

On the plus side, the smaller size and $99 price point is attractive

It may be the right price for a device that one tweeter described this week as “like a shit, single purpose Mac Mini for people who don’t know what BitTorrent is”. I love my Apple TV but Wired’s 5 Reasons Why Apple TV is (still) boring hints at how utterly compelling it could yet be.

For more Apple TV info and reviews:

  1. Alex says:

    But when you can rent an entire DVD series from LT for $5 (or $10 if its more than 4 discs), the $0.99 a show isn’t attractive at all.

    As an aside — can/would you not be able to run it through a DVR? That way you could keep the shows and/or shuffle through them without streaming woes. And the ones you wanted to ‘own’ could just be burned off to DVD..

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Agreed, but for me the convenience of Apple TV is compelling. Not sure about the DVR option – can’t imagine Apple will let you keep streamed shows! I’m all for anything that makes TV viewing easy. This is a step in the right direction but not as much as many of us hoped. Incidentally, I did a check on my Apple TV transactions and guess what, apart from series like Mad Men, Sopranos, etc., we only bought two movies to keep. So maybe that streaming rental only idea isn’t so dumb after all!

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