Editorial: Five Reasons To Pass On Apple TV 2, For Now | iLounge Article

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Editorial: Five Reasons To Pass On Apple TV 2, For Now

Back in 2007, when Apple was hyping up the original Apple TV as a smart way to play iTunes content through televisions, we urged readers to be cautious in a series of editorials: our original take was “it’s nice, but,” followed by a more explicit “we don’t think Apple got it right this time”, and then a stronger suggestion: “hold off on this one.” Our recommendations came months before Apple started to downplay the device as a “hobby,” conceding that it hadn’t quite delivered the product people were looking for, and then lapsed into what became a pattern of modest software updates. As the second-generation Apple TV prepares to launch again this week, and Apple is once again trying to generate hype by giving units to friendly, less critical reviewers, we wanted to offer our honest thoughts on Apple’s latest endeavor into the living room—and why you might be best off saving your money for the time being. As in our prior articles, we provide counterpoints to each of these points for your consideration.

1. Apple’s Shipping An Incomplete Product (Again). Once upon a time, Apple used to chide Microsoft for releasing products that didn’t work fully on the day of release, requiring subsequent updates to perform as advertised. While Apple TV will arrive on day one with the necessary software to play content streamed from a computer or the Internet, its most intriguing feature—its ability to stream videos and photos directly from certain iOS devices—won’t be available until some point in November, when Apple releases iOS 4.2.

Counterpoint: Even though iOS 4.2 may wind up being a late November release—Apple typically releases things at the end of a promised month, not the beginning, or infrequently delays them—it’s not that far away. Until then, developer betas of iOS 4.2 may provide some insight into how well the feature works. Also, according to information Apple leaked to Fox News, the new Apple TV will temporarily offer iOS device music streaming using an updated version of its Remote application (version 2.0, released today), providing some relief for users, as well as a preview of AirPlay’s performance before iOS 4.2 comes out.

2. It’s Very Unclear How Well iOS Devices Will Stream Video to Apple TV 2. The new Apple TV relies upon “AirPlay,” an updated version of AirTunes, to stream videos and photo content from iTunes and certain iOS devices—some with 802.11n support, some without. Devices with older 802.11g hardware might or might not send smooth video to the Apple TV using AirPlay, and even iOS 802.11n devices differ enough in internal hardware that there may be some compatibility issues. iPads, for instance, work on 5 GHz 802.11n networks, while iPhones and iPod touches do not, so networking changes may be needed in some homes just to let the latter devices talk with the Apple TV, let alone send video to it.

Counterpoint: We won’t know for sure until iOS 4.2 is out, but we hope (and expect) that the feature will work well with all iOS hardware and networking environments. Apple would likely argue that buyers of most of its devices never expected to be able to stream video from them at all, so whatever they’re capable of is better than nothing.

3. Apple TV 2 Does Even Less Than The Version That Flopped—And Has Less Expansion Potential. Once in a while, Apple takes a product that’s doing pretty well and chops out a bunch of features, only to restore them in next year’s release. This happened in recent years with the iPod shuffle and iMovie, and like the just-released iPod nano, the second-generation Apple TV dropped some really big features this time. One obvious, huge omission is virtually all of the prior 160GB model’s storage capacity; the new Apple TV can’t store any content, which doesn’t just impact videos, music, and photos this time—it also limits the imagined potential of Apple TV 2 as an app and gaming device (discussed further below), while requiring users to keep computers or iOS devices turned on to provide access to their existing libraries of content. A more expensive version of Apple TV that adds back storage, albeit with iPod touch-like capacities, would be the most likely follow-up product.

There may be other, more subtle changes, as well. Will the new Apple TV be able to stream HD videos that were rented on a computer? This seems like it should be an obvious “yes,” but users of Apple’s iPad VGA Adapter have discovered that they can’t play back all the content they acquired from the iTunes Store, a problem Apple hid in Knowledgebase Articles and legalese disclaimers. Will iTunes Store content suffer similar restrictions in an AirPlay world?

Counterpoint: Unlike the iPod shuffle, iPod nano, and iMovie, which debuted at the same or higher prices than the better versions they replaced, the second-generation Apple TV sells for $99—less than half the cost of the prior model when it was discontinued. With some software tweaks, it may be able to rely on wireless networked storage other than a Mac or PC, such as a Time Capsule, which would be great. The addition of Netflix subscription streaming video also suggests that Apple may be moving in the direction of its many competitors, which offer multiple app-like options for accessing video and audio content from a variety of third-party sources, rather than forcing everything to be bought or rented through the iTunes Store.

4. The App Store’s Not Announced, Ready To Go, Or Likely In The Near Future. When the first Apple TV began to flag, Apple fans began to imagine all of the cool things the device could do with new accessories and software—some people even assumed that an ecosystem would develop around Apple TV because one had emerged for the iPod and iPhone. But Apple instead kept the Apple TV locked down, making only vague statements about its own free future software updates that would “surprise and delight” users. Since then, it has done little to pave the way for bigger developments on the new Apple TV; even if Apple wants to release an “App Store for Apple TV,” the current model will have little to no space for apps as we know them. Although adding an App Store would be a major step forward for the device, this doesn’t seem to be a priority for the company right now, and would require developer involvement that isn’t likely to start until Spring or Summer 2011, at the earliest. It might also require some changes to the device’s user interface.

Counterpoint: The Apple TV runs iOS 4.1, which means that developers will be able to rush applications out quickly in the event that Apple does announce an App Store. And there’s no doubt that developers would love to try.

5. Apple Still Views Apple TV As A “Hobby,” And So Does The Industry. The iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad have been huge hits for Apple over the past few years, and the company has devoted whatever resources were necessary to make sure that each product and its sequels were ready to launch on schedule every year. By contrast, Apple’s repeated description of Apple TV as “a hobby” isn’t just idle chatter—that’s code for “something that isn’t receiving Apple’s full attention and passion.” The software updates Apple has issued each year for Apple TV have been as much about fixing big interface problems as adding new features, and Apple has not enunciated any broad vision for growing the Apple TV as a platform. This year’s strategy is just “make it cheaper,” while competitors are offering comparable or better options at the same or lower prices. TV networks appear to be extremely reluctant to support the new Apple TV’s rental model, and some have been publicly negative about becoming involved.

Counterpoint: Apple’s approach this time is “go cheap,” and cheap alone is enough to sell some products… particularly ones priced at $100 or less. Once iOS 4.2 is out and Apple TV becomes useful as a wireless display option for iOS devices, it may just take off as an iPod/iPhone/iPad accessory, selling enough units that networks and developers will want to jump on board to support it—or future versions with on-board storage. Only time will tell whether the “hobby” becomes a full-time business or fades away.

Readers, what do you think? Are you going to buy an Apple TV this week, or hold off until it evolves into something else? We look forward to seeing your comments below.

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Comments

1

Great article Jeremy. As usual….

Posted by Don on September 28, 2010 at 9:01 AM (PDT)

2

So which one is good in the market now?

Posted by Jack Wong on September 28, 2010 at 9:52 AM (PDT)

3

I will definitely be buying one. The Airplay streaming feature alone is worth the $99 price tag.

Posted by Ben Olmsted on September 28, 2010 at 9:53 AM (PDT)

4

A couple of months ago, I decided to replace my previous aTV with a mid-2010 Mac Mini for home theater usage. Point #3 in the article makes that decision even wiser. If I have to have a computer up and running all of the time in order to use the new aTV, why not cut out this $99 “middle man” and just connect a computer directly to the home theater setup… and thereby enjoy full iTunes functionality (1080p content included) plus so much more?

Posted by Farnsworth on September 28, 2010 at 10:13 AM (PDT)

5

Now just because the Apple TV can’t store anything itself, it doesn’t mean that an iPad / iPhone can’t store a App and use Air Play to ‘beam’ the game / app / etc over to the Apple TV.  This could work as you are going to need remote to interact with the ‘App’ on the Apple TV and your iPhone / iPad will make a remote for sure.  Just a thought.

Posted by Joe on September 28, 2010 at 10:19 AM (PDT)

6

Mine is on the way.  To get lossless music easily to my main stereo system alone is worth the $99, but then you add the additional features it will be great.

Posted by Eric on September 28, 2010 at 10:41 AM (PDT)

7

Buy, buy, buy!!!!  Bought it on day one and can’t wait to receive it.  I’m surprise that this product is not out of stock everywhere. 

Let’s not fool ourselves here…  Although it would be cool to play HD Racing with the iPad as a full game controler and the picture comes out of your TV, it’s not there yet and shouldn’t be reviewed as such.  And although getting a Mini Mac plugged up on your TV is an alternative, it just isn’t that easy to do, now is it? 

I hope I saw it for what it really is and hence the reason I’m excited to get it…  It’s one less function/setup that i’ll have to worry about… it’ll just work without having to download/transfer files to an other device and without having to plug/unplug wires.  Any additional functions (which it will have!!) is gravy on a well-priced plate o’ fries.

The forecast is cloudy and I’m loving it.

Posted by Luc on September 28, 2010 at 11:38 AM (PDT)

8

I don’t use a TV or even have cable and I will buy one to stream Netflix. I may also be able to use it to stream iTunes to my stereo? Apple and Cheap is hard to beat.

Posted by Rogre on September 28, 2010 at 12:00 PM (PDT)

9

Yup, time to get one… if nothing more than to provide a way to get video to places in my home that don’t have a cable outlet.  I have a cable box and a home media server (Mac Mini) but there is no way to play video in my gym or home office.  Airplay seems to be a nice, easy solution to getting content on a screen anywhere in your home - freedom from wires!!!

Posted by Mark on September 28, 2010 at 12:12 PM (PDT)

10

I’m surprised to see that you’re cautious about the aTV. My family had one of the 160GB ones and it’s far from great. It’s a lot more effort that it’s worth - but that’s what makes this new one so appealing. It’s just simple and straight-forward with some huge added benefits. I love the whole concept of airplay. I think that’s huge! Can you imagine facetime and airplay combining for a whole family conversation? That’s the future right now! I also really love the idea of netflix streaming. I think all of this at just $99 is amazing. I’m really surprised that iLounge is so down on it and not exhorting everyone to run out and get one - although, it’s given me pause. I’ve decided to at least wait until 4.2 comes out.

Posted by urbanslaughter on September 28, 2010 at 12:43 PM (PDT)

11

At $99 it’s worth a flier.

I need a way to get iTunes streamed to a stereo downstairs and the previous option was an AirPort. For $20 less I can solve my problem, PLUS get a Netflix player and the potential for new functionality in November and down the road.

Not a bad deal even if it doesn’t go much beyond the initial feature set.

Posted by Chris on September 28, 2010 at 1:12 PM (PDT)

12

#10: Some of Apple’s products are worth running out and getting on day one. Others are “wait and see,” and still others are “don’t bother at all.” This is one of the “wait and see” ones—no need to rush. The core functionality as it’s initially shipping (“rent stuff, stream from iTunes, and watch Netflix”) may appeal to some people, but the meat (“stream from iOS”) has the potential to be huge… if it’s done correctly. If not, ugh. So it’s worth waiting a little bit to see how well it’s being done.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on September 28, 2010 at 2:11 PM (PDT)

13

Our leader has told us to buy. So buy we must.
Mine’s on it’s way.

Posted by Jon wright on September 28, 2010 at 2:30 PM (PDT)

14

this is a really picky editorial.

the first two points are essentially “wait for 4.2”. but why? you can still use and enjoy it in the meantime while you wait. the other three points are essentially “i wish it did more things.” well, that’s obviously a matter of personal choice. each consumer has to make their own decision about that, what they need.

if the as-announced ATV with 4.2 does what you need, then buy it. especially if you have other iOS devices to integrate with it. the one-time $99 cost is not a lot of money. about one month’s cable bill for many.

but if you are a geek/power user who emotionally demands more, wait for the likely jailbreak. or the inevitable iOS upgrades to follow next year.

Posted by AlfieJr on September 28, 2010 at 3:20 PM (PDT)

15

I have ordered one here in NZ, long shipping delay included. For NZ$169 its a very cheap way of getting my itunes library down from the PC to my main stereo system. This is attached to one of the tv’s, but the main benefit is using the outdoor speakers attached, so from our ipod touch/iphone remote back to change the music etc. Brilliant. I had been looking at dongles/docks for my AV receiver but for 4 or 5 times the price, and less functionality. The rental side of things, doesn’t interest me much as it’s too expensive in NZ, NZ$6.99 per movie it is as expensive as a dvd from the movie shop, and that wont slam a GB or 2 of my pitful NZ broadband data plan allowances. (mine’s 5GB and thats pretty standard here). So i imagine the youtube/netflix(not useable here)/rental wont get that much usage. But i dont need it for that. Photos/music/video, down where i needed it perfect for an inexpensive, good looking, piece of kit.

Posted by itchyitchy on September 28, 2010 at 3:30 PM (PDT)

16

Quote from AlfieJr - “i wish it did more things.” well, that’s obviously a matter of personal choice. each consumer has to make their own decision about that, what they need.”

God i couldnt agree with you more, its so easy to hate isnt it.

Posted by itchyitchy on September 28, 2010 at 3:36 PM (PDT)

17

wanted to add a thought about future “expandability” which the editorial might have addressed but did not.

with an A4 processor running iOS 4.x (and the “diagnostic” USB port), there is obviously real potential for ATV to satisfy “i wish it would do more” - officially with updates, or unofficially with jailbreaks. the one other crucial factor is the amount of RAM - will it have 512mb like the iPhone 4, or just 256mb like the iPod touch (which would cripple it pretty much)? we will know in a couple of days once someone does a teardown.

so if i were being picky, the RAM would be the crucial yes/no factor since there is no real way to add more.

Posted by AlfieJr on September 28, 2010 at 4:17 PM (PDT)

18

If it had storage, then they couldn’t sell it at $99.

Then would the point be, they should have lowered the price?

Lack of 1080p output, at least for streamed photos, is a disappointment, for streaming your photo libraries to you HDTV.

Posted by wco81 on September 28, 2010 at 4:52 PM (PDT)

19

The Apple TV 2 is the same price as an AirPort Express, but it also supports video streaming. Throw in support for Netflix, and possibly Hulu and MLB.TV in the future, and it’s a no-brainer.

Posted by Galley in Greenville, SC on September 28, 2010 at 4:58 PM (PDT)

20

great article… the Apple TV is easily overrated but it does add a ___load of movies to watch on your tv… which beats directTV, comcast, on-demand, ppv, etc

they should really just charge $50 for it

i think im still going to give it a shot.  Airplay seems like a really cool functionality that Rich people were paying mega bucks out of their pockets to have for the last 5-10 years. 

I just used remote last night on my ipad and that is just sweet. apple tv is also integrated in with the ipad, and that should be pretty cool as well.

yes, apple tv is still a hobby for apple, and it should be… until DIGITAL DOWNLOADS wins the war a/g blu-ray.  When movies move towarad digital download, we’ll see apple tv shift away from the rental model and create an apple tv with CLOUD or Harddrive capability(again).  Im upset that the harddrive went away, but honestly, i can still stream it from my computer’s itunes.

Posted by maroon_tiger on September 29, 2010 at 4:56 AM (PDT)

21

I’m definitely getting one. Not this week, but after a couple more weeks. Netflix streaming is the HUGE reason, and being able to watch all the stuff I’ve bought and personally encoded for my iPad/iPod/etc are two reasons. Not to mention that, unlike my PS3, I can actually stream all that iTunes store purchased content. I love my PS3, but the one format it can’t play is iTunes store DRM’d video…

Posted by Daniel S. on September 29, 2010 at 8:37 AM (PDT)

22

I really like the idea of apple TV and the new price definitely makes it more tempting. @ $99 it does seem worth it to consider for streaming music to my speakers and watching netflix. Especially since airport express is about that price. Unfortunately the new aTV falls short in a couple of major areas that really should have been addressed since the last model. The biggest of these is 1080p playback. Although current iTunes store content is 720p, 1080p is better quality, and with bandwidth speeds in some areas reaching 40mbps, is very viable in the near future over the web. Also, isn’t apple always boasting about how they go with the best quality in the market? I guess it’s just like how they don’t support blu-ray drives. Another foolish move. Second, where are the native browser, mail, and widget features? Honestly, I don’t care if my aTV has apps like “urban spoon” or “farmville”. But, Safari, Mail, Weather, News, even Facebook, would “surprise and delight” apple’s customers. All of this runs on an 8GB iPhone 3GS, why not the aTV. If the new aTV had 1080p and some apps, I for one would pay double the new $99 asking price.

Posted by drichards on September 29, 2010 at 4:12 PM (PDT)

23

Until such time as you can install AirVideo on this device it’s going to be a big NO for me.  Not to mention the lack of 1080p support is also a big forget it.

Posted by SantiagoDraco on September 29, 2010 at 4:46 PM (PDT)

24

Those are some good points and counterpoints. What I gather is that iOS 4.2 has the potential to make this a very worthwhile device. But, potential is a very tricky beast.

I think I will wait until that iOS release to see exactly how the aTV2 actually performs. Right now, it is still a decent buy for $99.

But for those comparing it to the Airport Express, does this emulate the Express all around? What I mean is, does it extend a wireless network as well as simply providing the streaming option? That alone warrants a little thought, as I use my Express as both an extender AND the wireless connection for my Blu-Ray player. The aTV2 probably does not do either of those things.

Again, I think this will be something I get. The streaming alone is worthy of $99 and the potential for iOS devices just increases that. I just hope it lives up to the relatively mediocre expectations I am putting on it.

Posted by Mitch on September 30, 2010 at 5:13 AM (PDT)

25

Bought it. Simple reason - it streams Netflix. I was about to buy a Roku, but that’s a single purpose product.

Geez people, it’s $99. I watch 50 TV shows or 25 movies from Netflix instead of renting from Apple and the device is paid for.

Hobby? Who else has a product in the video space that is not severely constrained by the media companies?

Posted by drakebullet on September 30, 2010 at 3:25 PM (PDT)

26

This has been said before, I know, but it is so ridiculous that the older Apple TV cannot be upgraded to run a version of the new software. Disable the component video outputs through software if necessary. I am already on my second AppleTV (first was the 40GB, now the 160), and it’s a slap in the face to all of the early adopters who helped Apple with this “hobby”. Now I have to make a choice: lose my local media storage on the device to get the Airplay features, or live with what I have. Mac Mini @ $800 is not even in the same ballpark as far as options go. The advantage to this local storage seems to be overlooked, but if your household has only laptops, it’s a big one.

Posted by MonkeyKong on September 30, 2010 at 7:43 PM (PDT)

27

After reading iLounge’s articles and review, I think the new aTV can be summed up as a Roku box, minus Internet TV content (e.g. Hulu), plus iOS AirPlay. While the latter addition makes this device interesting, the former omission renders it useless; it indicates the blind eye Apple has purposely turned toward the emerging trend in home TV viewing.

Posted by Farnsworth on October 1, 2010 at 8:13 AM (PDT)

28

I use my new atv to stream netflix in my bedroom on the big tv. Haven’t even tried to use it for anything else. Love it. Moved old atv to living room tv. Wish it streamed netflix. Totally worth $99 just for the netflix streaming, in my opinion.

Posted by rhettwooten on October 2, 2010 at 4:56 AM (PDT)

29

Got my Apple TV2 yesterday.  Sorry but I have to COMPLETELY disagree with the “pass” recommendation.  This is a great device at a bargain price….

1)  Netflix streams beautifully.  No stutters, excellent picture quality.  This alone would be worth $99.

2)  From an audio perspective, folks have been paying $300+ just to stream their music libraries.  ATV2 does this effortlessly, and with excellent sound quality.  And with playlists and straightforward searching through even a huge library ....

3)  Photo streaming works wonderfully also, was able to browse through my 10,000 photo library within minutes of setup.  On a HD 50” plasma, some of these photos are stunning, and it’s a snap to setup a quick slide show, accompanied by music from your itunes library.

4) YouTube kind of fun on a real home theater setup.

720p?  Give me a break!  I’ve got a high-end 50” panny plasma with EXCELLENT resolution, and I can tell you that the PQ from streamed Netflix content is very good.  Better than many DVD’s you’d rent or buy.  Sure it’s not blue-ray yet, but that’s going to take a lot more bandwith than most home networks can support. 

My photos are taken with a Nikon DSLR, and they’re mostly 12 mP.  My guess is that the tiny bit of resolution lost at 720p is more than made up for by the excellent scaler and electronics in the plasma TV (as opposed to a computer monitor).  I’ll have to try directly comparing photos from a memory stick to streamed versions to verify.

Sure - in a couple years we’ll have the bandwith and an ATV-3 to stream blue-ray etc.  If ATV2 cost $300 or $400 I could see the point of holding out.  But for $99?  That’s just being miserly.  The word having the same root as MISERABLE.

Posted by C Smith on October 5, 2010 at 11:15 AM (PDT)

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