When Apple announced Apple TV (formerly iTV) last September – a metal and plastic, Mac mini-styled device capable of displaying a computer’s iTunes video, photo, and audio content on a television set – people were initially confused. “Why would anyone pay $299 for the video equivalent of a $129 AirPort Express mini-router?”, asked some. Others wondered whether such a device was even globally viable given the state of iTunes video downloads: Apple doesn’t provide movie or TV content to customers outside of the United States, or offer a TV-to-iTunes recording feature, leaving the rest of the world’s iPod owners to find worthwhile Apple TV-compatible videos on their own. But as it has neared its March 2007 release date, Apple has taken steps to justify Apple TV’s price and existence, noting that it contains advanced 802.11n wireless hardware, a 40GB hard disk, and playback support for videos in one high-definition (720P) resolution, along with an impressive new menuing interface. It’s not a router – it’s almost a screenless iPod with wireless capabilities, advanced video-out, and the ability to store or spool content as you prefer.
Thanks to a recent shipping delay, three weeks remain before Apple TV’s launch, so we wanted to canvas our editors’ and readers’ opinions on Apple’s upcoming offering – positive or negative. Below, you’ll find our editors’ views – please add yours to the comments section at the bottom of the page.
L.C. Angell, Senior Editor, United States: “Maybe it’s just the way I consume digital content, but I really can’t remember being this unexcited about a new Apple product. I listen to music on my iPod, not in my living room; I watch high quality movies on DVD, not inferior iTunes versions; and I make prints and iMovies of my photos, not TV slideshows. I need a set-top box to do one thing above all else—record TV shows—and with Apple apparently more concerned with selling $1.99 episodes than making this feature happen, my old TiVo will be happy to continue keeping me up to date with ‘The Office’ and ‘24.’ “
Bob Levens, Contributing Editor, United Kingdom: “Do I watch enough TV to warrant getting the Apple TV? The simple answer is no. My use of the iPod solely for music is well known now and if I wish to listen to music in my living room it will be on my hi-fi—NOT the iPod Hi-Fi, a proper hi-fi. I also am reluctant to leave a 40” LCD TV running just so that I can look at the album art of the music I am listening to. Apple TV is nice eye candy, but I don’t think I’ll be buying one.”
Dennis Lloyd, Publisher, United States: “I’m anxious to get my hands on one to see first hand what the user experience will be like. I’m still not sure about buying and downloading movies to view on a TV. I have a 61” DLP TV and I want the highest quality possible. I’ll stick with DVDs for now. Eventually I’ll buy into high definition DVDs. We need more speed and bandwidth to really enjoy downloading and watching movies anywhere in our homes. Obviously this is just Apple TV version 1.0. Wireless transfer speeds will get faster, bandwidth will increase and they will be able to deliver true DVD quality in the future. For now, DVDs are the current medium for the average person.”
Jeremy Horwitz, Editor-in-Chief, United States: “I’m really not sure what to make of Apple TV at this point. On one hand, I strongly disagree with those who suggest it’s inferior or equivalent to connecting a Mac or PC with iTunes to a television set with a video cable. Most people don’t want to keep any $500+ computer tied to a television, or going back and forth all the time, for storing and playing videos, photos, and music. In fact, most of them don’t really care about playing photos or music through their TVs at all. They want—or will want—a separate, less expensive, smaller device that runs quiet and is ready at all times with their choice of videos. That’s what Apple TV could turn out to be.
The problem is that the current Apple TV seems like it’s missing some big features. iTunes video content isn’t yet popular enough to warrant such a device on its own, especially outside of the United States, and Apple TV doesn’t include a DVD player or digital video recorder to augment one’s currently limited iTunes library. With either of these features at the $299 price, it would probably be a smash hit with mainstream users. Similarly, hard-core users are concerned about its very limited hard disk space and reliance on sub-DVD-quality video content, which will probably look fine but not fantastic on the big, widescreen TVs it’s intended to interface with. My sense is that Apple’s focus on providing a hardware solution tailored towards the iTunes Store—rather than the big new TVs people are buying—is rapidly threatening to transform the company into the next Sony, so obsessed with its content-selling business that it compromises the sales and popularity of its new hardware devices.”
Jerrod H., Contributing Editor, United States: “Back when the iTV prototype was first demonstrated, I honestly wasn’t interested at all, as I didn’t have the equipment to make it useful, and I didn’t recognize the appeal. Since then, however, I’ve come to understand—and desire—the product more, partially due to my recent purchases of an HDTV and 802.11n-compatible computer hardware. It’s not often described as such, but I like to think of the Apple TV primarily as a stationary iPod for your TV. In a way, it’s the ‘true video iPod’ in that it’s a super-easy way to experience digital video content the way it was meant to be experienced, as the iPod has done for digital music.
The Apple TV’s library syncing mode—as opposed to pure streaming operation – should make Apple TV feasible even for laptop-only homes like mine, where there is no ‘always on’ central media computer to stream from. As my iTunes video library grows, I’ll certainly be buying one, but I’ll quickly be attempting to replace the internal hard drive with something larger—40GB just isn’t even close to enough for a video-centric device.”
Christina Easton, Contributing Editor, United States: “I really like the idea, but I’m not sure about the execution and timing. For instance, what should we expect from the quality of iTunes videos on a big-screen, high-definition television—will a download of ‘The Office’ or ‘Battlestar Galactica’ look great? Price-wise, I think they would have been really smart to do it at $199—I really don’t like the idea of having to buy multiple $299 units for multiple TVs, and that seems inevitable. Also, I don’t know that there’s a great incentive for people to want this for their TVs at this point, so bundling some iTunes video content would make this more attractive, maybe ‘buy an Apple TV and get one Season Pass of your choice.’ No matter how well it’s marketed, Apple TV won’t take off unless people actually have video content to view with it. A digital video recorder like TiVo creates TV-ready content for free, and since so many people have DVRs, and Apple TV depends mostly on content that costs money, I’m not sure that it’s a smart alternative.”
Jesse Hollington, Contributing Editor, Canada: “The Apple TV seems a promising solution for those who want a simple plug-and-play solution for accessing a large library of content that is already available in their iTunes library, but it’s overall appeal may not be as widespread as Apple thinks. The first problem is likely to be the limitation of content that can be played with the Apple TV; although it is too early to say for certain, the current specs would seem to indicate that only content playable through native Quicktime, without plug-ins, will be supported, and this is likely to exclude everything from non-converted DVDs to programs recorded with Elgato’s EyeTV software, but not converted to iTunes format. The second problem is the lack of support for any output other than HDMI/Component, which will essentially make this device viable only for those users who already have an HDTV setup. This is definitely a device for the higher-end home entertainment user, but not the power user. In my case, I’ve already adopted a Mac mini as my home theater solution, leaving me with no use for the Apple TV in my household other than for a secondary room that doesn’t have an HDTV in it.”
Your comments and thoughts are appreciated below.