Today, Apple officially kicked off its Apple TV publicity campaign, providing review hardware to friendly members of the press and enabling selected journalists to publish early reviews. The goal: to try and build enough positive buzz to sustain the newest member of the Apple family despite some mainstream skepticism about its prospects for success.
To provide a bit of balance for all the hype you’re likely to hear over the next several days, we bring you this: a list of the top ten reasons you might not need Apple TV, at least yet. Some are obvious, others aren’t, and all are counterpointed to present both sides of the debate. We’ll leave it for you to decide which side you’re on: will you line up for Apple TV, or sit this one out?
(10) You have a fifth-generation iPod with video and a $20 bill in your pocket. If you have a full-sized iPod with a video screen, you’re in luck: a lot of Apple TV’s functionality is already sitting inside your iPod, just waiting to be used with literally any TV you own. All you need is a $15-20 iPod AV Cable from one of more than ten vendors, and you can play music, photos, and videos directly from your iPod, with up to 80 Gigs of storage space. Counterpoint: You’ll have to give up Apple TV’s on-TV menuing and use the iPod’s screen to select content, but a DLO HomeDock Deluxe or a Griffin TuneCenter will get you most of the way there for $150 or less.
(9) You don’t have a high-definition TV, or don’t use one as your primary set. Apple mandates that you have a widescreen television capable of at least 480P resolution, which means that you’ll almost certainly need to have a high-definition set in order to even use Apple TV. If you don’t have one of these TVs, or don’t keep it in a room where you most often watch videos, Apple TV might not be right for you. Counterpoint: Like it or not, HDTV’s the future. If you don’t have one (or more) yet, you will. But until then, perhaps Apple TV can wait.
(8) You have a large movie collection that isn’t in one of Apple TV’s two supported formats. For years, video files have been popularized in all sorts of file formats – DiVX, MPEG-2, WMV, and various types of AVIs. Apple TV won’t play most of them, and it won’t play your DVDs, either. Assuming you live in a country where DVD ripping is legal – take one step back, American readers – you’ll most likely need to use special conversion tools and spend a couple of hours per DVD you want to convert into an Apple TV-optimized file. Do you really want to invest that time in this format? Counterpoint: The latest Apple TV variant on Apple’s H.264 video format offers nice, high resolutions, so maybe it’s the right time to start converting your movies – unless you need 5.1-channel surround sound.
(7) The iTunes Store doesn’t sell movies or TV shows in your country, or there’s nothing you want to buy. A year and a half have passed since Apple introduced fifth-generation iPods, and yet there are no movies or real TV shows available in the international iTunes Stores for purchase. While American customers now have an outstanding variety of iTunes-ready TV shows to choose from, most movie studios have failed – at least, thus far – to join with Apple for digital distribution of their new releases. Buying into Apple TV right now is a leap of faith that Apple will continue to win new partners, and most international customers have only music videos or video podcasts to download. Counterpoint: Anyone who bet against Apple’s growth in music would have been wrong in a huge way – there’s a reason Apple’s faithful remain faithful.
(6) You want to protest Apple’s pricing and bundling policies. When Apple announced its wireless AirPort Express device with AirTunes (remember that?), many people thought that $129 was a stretch for wireless audio streaming. At $299 – two and a half years later – Apple TV may strike you as a big stretch for wireless video, photo, and audio streaming, especially if you think you’ll need more than one for your house. Plus, you have to buy the video and audio cables yourself, since Apple doesn’t toss them in like most companies. Would holding back your $299 teach Apple a lesson about pricing all of its products so that average people can afford them? Counterpoint: Probably not. Apple always tries to skim the market, and they’re counting on early adopters to cough up the extra cash that mainstream buyers won’t. If you’re not buying today, Apple probably doesn’t care too much.
(5) Apple TV doesn’t have a DVR – or you already have one. TiVo – and other digital video recorders – enable you to record everything from TV shows to movies directly off of your existing cable or satellite TV service, at a single monthly price that lets you record as much as you want. Some, like TiVo, even let you export recordings directly to the iPod, and none require you to wait until the next morning to watch yesterday’s shows. Minus a DVR, Apple TV is little more than a box you have to pay per episode or movie to fill, unless you’re buying it for the photo and music features. Counterpoint: Point to a DVR where you can buy an entire season’s worth of episodes to watch before they’ve aired – Apple’s just signed up at least two shows, albeit small ones, to make that happen. And if you’re willing to pay for them, you can be guaranteed to get the entire season at close to DVD-quality resolution – without waiting for the DVDs to be released. Apple TV might be the wave of the future.
(4) It doesn’t have a DVD or other hi-def disc player. All of the major studios support DVD for TV and movie releases, and either HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc for high-definition video releases, but Apple TV doesn’t – it’s made solely for digital downloads, which are currently lower-resolution than even an old-fashioned DVD. For that reason, it won’t replace anything in your existing home AV setup – it sits alongside your current gear. Counterpoint: HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc haven’t taken off, and if fast DVD hardware converters appear (and/or video disc ripping laws change), there may be no need for discs at all.
(3) You’re budgeting for another Apple purchase, like a Mac mini. With the $499 iPhone, new iPods, and full-fledged computers like the $599 Mac mini out there, you have plenty of other ways to spend your cash on Apple products, and probably more compelling ones. Many readers think the similarly wireless-ready, more powerful Mac mini offers a much better value for home AV users – it certainly offers more hard drive space and the ability to play back any video you may have, including digital files in any format, as well as DVDs. Counterpoint: Unless you’re planning to buy a 30GB iPod, nothing Apple’s releasing is going to be much less than a $299 Apple TV, and you’ll have to shell out a lot more for one of those fancy Mac minis.
(2) You want to hold out for a version with higher resolution or more hard disk space. If it’s a good Apple product, the company always releases a better one later, and if it’s a bad product, it quietly disappears from store shelves. Even if you don’t like the current Apple TV, you’ll have to concede that an updated version is likely to eventually follow, with enough horsepower to support even better video quality, and/or store more content. As nice as the first-generation iPod was, most people would laugh at paying $399 today for its 5GB disk drive. Counterpoint: Apple could update some of Apple TV’s features in firmware, or release inexpensive add-ons to enhance its capabilities. Who’d be laughing then?
(1) You want to wait until the reality distortion field dies down. It’s a common occurrence: Apple has the amazing ability to get people really excited for a new product release, compile positive quotes from its favorite journalists, and inspire lots of impulse – but luxury – purchases. Waiting a little while for a more balanced perspective may help you make a smarter purchasing decision. Counterpoint: Part of the fun of being an Apple fan is getting caught up in the hype and lining up for something that, only yesterday, you didn’t know you needed. Like a new Apple Store 15 minutes from your house. Or maybe an Apple TV.
Readers, what do you think?