Tag Archives | Apple TV

Maybe Apple TV Should Be a TV

Apple TVAlas, poor Apple TV. Its manufacturer likes to treat nearly everything it makes as both a technological breakthrough and sales blockbuster, but when it discusses Apple TV at all, it usually dismisses it as a “hobby.” As New TeeVee’s Chris Albrecht points out, the little white set-top box got nary a mention during Apple’s financial conference call yesterday.

Apple TV is actually pretty good–I own one and use it with a TV that has no other means of receiving programming–but it’s a nice product in a category that may never change the world in the way that the Mac, iPod, and iPhone have. There just seem to be a limited number of folks out there who want Internet-based entertainment in the living room enough to go through the cost and hassle of installing a box. Apple TV competitors Vudu and Roku–both of which I also like–face the same issue, but as the products of much smaller companies, they presumably can be counted as successes even if sales never explode. Apple, on the other hand, is used to selling its gadgets by the tens of millions.

When you come down to it, though, Apple TV isn’t about being a box: It’s about giving you access to tons of content on your TV. The box itself is an encumbrance, especially if your entertainment center is already as crammed with stuff as mine is. Wouldn’t Apple TV be cooler if it went boxless–by being built into new TVs?

This isn’t a new idea–in fact, it’s one of those persistent Apple rumors that hasn’t come true to date, but might someday. In its usual form, it involves Apple getting into the HDTV biz itself. I’d like to see that happen, but I can think of more reasons why Apple might not want to make TVs than ones why it would. TVs are a commodity; TVs come in too many sizes; TVs wouldn’t give Apple true control over the user experience. (There’s no way the company could completely disintermediate the cable company or mask all of its bad interface decisions.)

But even if Apple doesn’t want to make TVs, it could integrate Apple TV into TVs–by offering the platform as a feature which TV companies can integrate into their sets, in a fashion similar to Yahoo’s cool Internet TV platform. You gotta think that TV manufacturers would jump at the chance to sell an iTunes-ready TV. And when I buy a new HDTV, built-in access to the music and movies I’ve already bought from Apple would be a meaningful selling point.

TV makers might not want to build a hard drive into their sets to accommodate Apple TV, but that’s okay–another unfulfilled Apple rumor involves something called iTunes Replay, which would store your entertainment on a distant server and stream it to your devices on demand. Such as…your TV!

Yes, I know that Apple has a lousy track record when it comes to putting its technology into other companies’ products. (Exhibit A: the Motorola iTunes phone.) But it surely wants to establish an outpost in our living rooms, in a way that goes beyond being a mere hobby. I’m willing to be surprised–and knowing Apple, I probably have this all wrong–but the moment, I can’t think of a more logical way for it to do that than to build the iTunes experience right into our TVs.


Life Without Comcast: An Update

Life Without ComcastI’ve been remiss in not updating you on my experiment in using an Apple TV with Boxee’s media-center software as a substitute for my pricey Comcast service. “Life Without Comcast” may be a misleading title, since I haven’t tried to go cold turkey–instead, I’ve done some of my TV watching via cable, and some via the Internet, and have been comparing the two experiences as I did so.

So far, my main conclusion is that these two ways to consume video content are just…different. To wit:

Pro-Comcast Points:

Cable isn’t a victim of the Hulu-Boxee debacle. The single thing that played the biggest role in making my Apple TV/Boxee setup a plausible Comcast substitute was the fact that it let my watch Hulu, the Web’s leading source of broadcast TV programming. Last week, however, Hulu reluctantly asked Boxee to remove its Hulu support, and Boxee complied. End result: A lot of mainstay cable TV programming is no longer available on Boxee. True, it still has Joost, CBS, and other content providers, and Apple TV offers a wealth of for-pay movies and TV shows (as well as some stuff for free, in podcast form). But if I’d known that I wouldn’t be able to view Hulu on my TV, I would have been a lot less gung-ho about this whole experiment.

Cable is still a must for news junkies. Live streaming of broadcast news coverage over the Internet is rare, and often iffy when it does occur. Podcasts are available of some shows, but they’re always delayed, and often cut down. So I’m still doing much of my consuming of news via various all-news channels. And when major stories break, I still want the option of turning on the TV and surfing the coverage on multiple stations.

Cable is a heck of a lot closer to being glitch-free. Most means of watching video across the Internet are subject to at least occasional hiccups, and some are crippled by technical problems–especially when wireless networking is involved. Even Netflix’s slick and appealing Watch Instantly service has its issues: I tried to watch Network via it on my TiVo HD (see below) last night, and the soundtrack was out of sync with the image by about three seconds. With cable, I can be reasonably confident that the stuff I want to watch will work–and keep working until I’m done watching it.

HD is cool. And while I can get some HD content on Apple TV, it’s still a relative rarity. (Blocky YouTube-like video, on the other hand, is in plentiful supply.) When I want to watch high-def, Comcast has far more to offer.

Anti-Comcast points:

Financially, cable is woefully inefficient. At least for someone like me who doesn’t really gorge on TV. For every hour of cable programming I watch and enjoy, I’m paying for hundreds of stations of absolutely zero interest to me. (Sorry, Fox Soccer Channel, MTV Jams, ZeeTV, and Sprout.) The movies and TV shows that Apple delivers through Apple TV aren’t free, but they’re all a la carte.

Cable has a short attention span. Yesterday, I set up a TiVo HD, a few months after my beloved old standard-def TiVo more or less croaked on me. As part of get it up and running, I had to program it to record stuff I like–and I was startled by how many of the old sitcoms I dig are no longer available on cable. Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, and Bob Newhart are off the air…but they’re all on Hulu. And even if I can’t watch them on my Apple TV anymore, they’re available on my laptop.

Cable is available in one place. On the TV in my living room–unless I pay for extra set-top boxes. Or use a Slingbox (which, full disclosure, I do) to put it elsewhere. All the Internet TV I can get on Boxee is also available on all of my computers. Some of it’s on my iPhone, too, and over time I’m sure that all of it will be phone-friendly.

Cable is tied to a schedule. Yes, Comcast offers some shows and movies via its OnDemand video-on-demand service, and you can rent a Comcast DVR or buy something like a TiVo to watch your favorite stuff at any time. But you’re still going to miss some stuff you wanted to see because you forgot about it, or were busy when it was on. On the Web, by contrast, the default state of video programming is on demand: You can watch the last episode of Late Night With Conan O’Brien whenever you feel like it, and even if your DVR hasn’t been set to record Conan since the last millennium.

Bottom line: So far, at least, this little adventure hasn’t left me feeling like I can drop cable without missing it. At least not yet, and not via Boxee in its de-Hulued state. I’m continuing with the experiment, though, and will continue to write about it. You gotta think that Internet TV is going to evolve and improve rapidly over the next year or two, while cable is likely to stay pretty much like it is today.

Oh, and I am considering dropping the Comcast phone service I signed up for when I moved into my new home last summer–but that’s a subject for another post….


Hulu Gives Boxee the Boot. Thanks, Hollywood!

Life Without ComcastOkay, now this just stinks: Boxee, the cool software that lets you pipe Internet TV and other digital media onto a TV set, is doing away with its support for Hulu, the most significant purveyor of streaming versions of broadcast TV programming. I take the move personally, since I recently bought an Apple TV in large part to run Boxee on it, and in particular to watch Hulu.

But I’m not mad at Boxee (who’s in a tough spot, and whose support for Hulu was unofficial rather than based on a partnership), and I don’t think I’m irked with Hulu, either. The latter company’s blog is explaining that its content providers were ticked off over their stuff being available on Hulu and therefore forced the issue. Minor kudos to Hulu for addressing what’s happening on the blog rather than pretending that it’s not a big deal for Boxee fans.

(Side note: I don’t know whether there’s any connection between this and the news that Ed Oswald reported on earlier today involving Hulu programming disappearing from TV.com.)

The instinctive response, of course, is to start slamming those content providers as clueless Hollywood types who don’t get the Internet and hate their TV-consuming customers. And it is a shame that they’re depriving Boxee users of their stuff: If the whole business model of Hulu involves monetizing TV by supporting it with ads, you’d think that Boxee eyeballs would be just as valuable as any others that watch those ads. Maybe more so, given that anybody who’s an early adopter of Boxee is likely a particularly hardcore TV fan.

Neither Boxee’s nor Hulu’s commentary on this development explains why content owners don’t want their shows on Boxee. My guess is that A) they’re uneasy with having stuff show up in an environment they don’t control; and B) they’re still not comfortable with Internet TV showing up on TV, where it competes more directly with the old-fashioned broadcast incarnations of the same programs. As well-done as Hulu is, I suspect that it’s still a pretty lousy advertising medium compared to prime time. (The Hulu shows I catch, at least, are often supported by public-service messages rather than big-name sponsors.)

Spo short-term, I’m disgruntled over not being able to watch Hulu on Boxee; long-term, my question is this: Do Hulu’s content providers have a problem with Boxee in particular or Hulu-on-a-TV in general? My hope is that Hulu is actively working on other means of bringing its nifty service to the living room; if Hollywood is short-sighted enough to nix that, then by all means let the name-calling begin.

And hey, does anyone want to buy a slightly-used Apple TV?


Report: Apple May Enter TV Business

Apple LogoVisions of the “digital living room” having been dancing in the heads of industry leaders for over a decade, but no one solution has broken into the mainstream. Now, Apple may be preparing for a significant push based on the success of iTunes and the iPod. Or so predicts analyst Gene Munster of investment bank Piper Jaffray, which thinks that Apple will give it a shot by introducing its own brand of networked television.

Piper Jaffray’s report says that indications from Apple’s management, coupled with Apple’s DVR and TV-related patent filings and partnership with LG, have led it to conclude that Apple will introduce a connected television to the market in 2011.

The Apple TV (not to be confused with Apple TV) could be an integrated all-in-one device that combines a Blu-ray/DVD player, music playback, cable box, and DVR to synchronize recorded programming with Macs, iPhones and iPods. It may include gaming features, according to the report.

Apple would be wise to capitalize on the ecosystem that it has created around iTunes, and its strong brand. Apple has already laid the groundwork to introduce an actual television with its Apple TV digital media receiver. Synchronization has been key to Apple’s success, and Apple has made Apple TV work well with iTunes.

Piper Jaffray noted that Apple TV sales were already growing substantially, and that Apple may sell as many as 6 million units this year.

Research analysts have a mediocre record at best when it comes to predicting what Apple will and won’t do. Still, an elegant, consolidated Apple media device would simplify the tangle of wires that many of us have in our living rooms with the added bonus of a wealth of content contained in its iTunes media library.

If the price is right, it sounds like it could be a winner to me. But the real question is whether it sounds that way to Apple.


The New York Times on Boxee

Life Without ComcastI thought I was being weird and bleeding-edge by attempting to dump cable TV for watching sites like Hulu through Boxee’s open-source media center software on an Apple TV. But the New York Times has a nifty story today on Boxee and its fans–and once something’s in the Times, it’s presumably well on its way to going mainstream.The Times says that the Boxee-on-Apple TV software has been downloaded 100,000 times to date, which suggests that I have a lot of company already.

I’ll be writing more about my experiences soon, but my overarching takeaway at the moment is that Internet TV on a TV is, above all, different from cable–better in some respects, and worse than others. Of course, Internet TV is still busy being born–Hulu is less than a year old, and Boxee is still in alpha. Cable TV has a head start of a few decades. But if there’s one thing that undeniable about the Internet, it’s that it can catch up with old ways of doing things really quickly. And then go far beyond them…

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Life Without Comcast: An Experiment in Internet TV

Life Without ComcastMaybe the title of this new Technologizer series is unfair. I don’t despise Comcast, the company who I’ve been paying for cable TV service for the past six months. (Until then, at my old pad, I was a DirecTV man.) But I don’t love it, either–especially the part about paying it a large amount of money each month when I watch maybe .000001% of what it offers.

And oh, did I mention the remote control that came with my Comcast high-def box? Worst piece of technology I use regularly–every time I pick it up, my blood begins to boil a little.

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SlingCatcher: It’s Almost Here–Finally!–and Looks Neat

Way back in January of last year, Sling Media–the inventors of the nifty SlingBox box, which can broadcast TV from your home across the Net to your laptop or phone–announced its second major project. The SlingCatcher, it said, was a new device that would flip around the Slingbox’s functionality, sending video in a multitude of formats from a PC across a home network to a TV. It got lots of attention.

And then…nothing happened. For a long time. But I met with Sling co-founder/CEO Blake Krikorian today, and am happy to report that the release of Slingcatcher, which Krikorian said turned out to be a more challenging engineering project than anyone expected, is imminent. It’s not exactly the box that Sling unveiled in 2007: It offers a wired Ethernet connection but not the Wi-Fi it was originally going to include, and costs $300 rather than the sub-$200 pricetag that Sling targeted. But it’s still an intrguing product, and one which–like the Slingbox–is unique.

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