Welcome Back to Apple-land

by Matthew Bookspan Apr 17, 2007

This week, I write this article from my new abode in San Francisco, California. It’s fun to be back in the Bay. I start working in Silly Valley tomorrow. I will begin using my first work-based Mac in over 14 years. My new machine is a 15” MacBook Pro, maxed out to the hilt (3GB/160GB/++++). I am very excited indeed.

It will be nice to try out the new keyboard as it is much different than my MacBook’s. Further, I am looking forward to having an expansion slot so that I can add a wireless broadband card. Working from anywhere removes barriers and increases productivity, especially when commuting.

I went to my first Apple store in Northern California today in Corte Madera (Marin County). I wanted to demo the new Apple TV. The product is very slick, although I definitely will not be purchasing one anytime soon. The following are my impressions of the product, not a formal review.

Why not make the purchase (besides a little thing like a budget)? Well, as slick as Apple TV is, it doesn’t have some pretty key functionality for me. In fact, it is too dependent upon my Mac and iTunes. I want a home theater device that is more integrated with my watching experience, not just my computing experience. I am sure that the Apple fanboys will get upset that I am putting down another Apple product. Wah.

What functionality is the Apple TV missing? Elgato Systems’ eyetv hybrid built into it. I want direct recording and watching of HDTV content, sans Mac. However, I want to sync that content with my Mac as well as subscribe/sync to my iTunes Store/local content. Yes, I want it all.

The most disappointing aspect of the Apple TV is the quality of the video content available from the iTunes Store. Of course, I was viewing the video content from whatever the default demo is at the Apple Store (according to the folks at the store, it was from iTunes).

Still, one would expect that the demo at the Apple Store would make the new Apple TV so compelling that I would want to buy it without thinking. Instead, I sat there thinking about the purchase for a short while, ultimately leading to the clear decision of “no.”

The content that the Apple Store had set up on the Apple TV was from the iTunes Store. It included movies like The Incredibles, National Treasure, and more. When I selected either of the two aforementioned titles, the level of pixelation (at 720p on a Sony HDTV display via the HDMI cable) was astonishing. It looked worse than viewing content on a 10-year-old VCR.

Of course, this is not the best set-up for an Apple TV. From what I have read, I can push 720p content to it from my Mac. I also know that not much (if any) of the content on the iTunes Store is available in 720p. Regardless, the experience I expect from the Apple Store should compel me to want the item. And it did not, especially given the Apple TV’s focus on video content.

To be fair, the audio and photo content looked and sounded spectacular. The Apple TV menus were responsive and the device was visually slick for a set-top box (STB). However, those features are not compelling enough for me to purchase the device. I’d rather have an Xbox 360 and use Connect 360 with it. This way, I’ll have the audio, photos, video, and gaming (not to mention the ability to watch HD-DVDs as another option). All for $120 more (including the software).

I am curious, what do owners of Apple TV think? Is it meeting their expectations? Are my observations off-base? And why, oh why, did this Apple Store provide such a crappy demo? Every other product in the Apple Store has incredibly compelling demos (iMac, MacBooks, iPods, and more). I do hope Apple fixes this so that the demo is more convincing. Until then, I’ll wait for v2.

Finally, it was fun to see so many readers get wound up from last week’s article. I applaud the zealotry. I also had many a chuckle with how banal people can be. Nevertheless, it’s the Internet and folks like to share opinions. Good for them.


  • For some reason, MS has a preference for their own formats/containers.

    Again, I think the issue is with Connect 360, not MS.  I believe, and I could be wrong, that Connect 360 does plan on supporting QT at some point, just not sure when.

    If and when it does, then it’ll basically do what I’d want from the AppleTV.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Hi Matthew glad to see you back. Personally I’m more interested in getting stuff off tv onto the mac, for educational purposes. On the Mac I would do some minor editing and then put on dvd or keep it on hard disk and show via beamer from MacBook. Maybe I’ll have to buy a hard disk - dvd recorder. (around 350€ here)
    Another point, in your ‘Article of the Month’, you mentioned cocktail. Since the unhide was produced by some other app I am still wondering how Cocktain was involved in that. You can answer in the forum:Ask:Cocktail. Thanks.
    We haven’t got downloadable Movies yet, when you mention MS what does it stand for, I don’t get the meaning. If you mean Microsoft, would that mean you can’t get MS video via AppleTV on your tv. I’m confused here.

    WAWA had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 89
  • WAWA, you can use software called Connect 360 that allows you to stream content from iTunes on your Mac to your Xbox 360 via Wi-fi.

    You can already do this with the Xbox 360 and a Windows Media Center, but this software basically allows you to do this with a Mac, and more or less mirrors the functionality of the AppleTV.  Except that, as of now, it only supports WMV files.

    We haven’t got downloadable Movies yet

    You aren’t missing much.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Thanks.
    We do have downloadable movies from the tv-provider. Costs 2,5€ to download a film that you then can see for 24hours. We do that about once a month or less, since the category that is most frequently ‘refreshed’ is porn. It’s in fact a video store for the lazy with fewer choices.
    When I want to see a good film I buy the dvd. What I would like to do is stocking interesting documentaries on my HD, so it can be used in classroom.
    Still the ability to download films will get more interesting as a lot of good films don’t make it to the theaters. Pirates of the Carribeans does not fall into the category of hard to get. It surprised me you responded so quickly, it must be 06.00 in L.A.
    No, checked it, 03.00 ok still working I suppose.

    WAWA had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 89
  • Personally I’m more interested in getting stuff off tv onto the mac, for educational purposes.

    Definitely. Obviously the whole challenge is getting the stuff out of the air, through the apple tv, into itunes, and back again for watching at your leisure. That’s why the news that Elgato (I think) are looking into developing eyetv for tv. In Britain at least, with our measly few dozen channels, that could be implemented as a quite devastatingly gorgeous interface extension to Back Row, all controlled simply through the generic remote.

    That I would sell my organs for.

    Benji had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 927
  • By the way Matthew, I like your title this week.

    Benji had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 927
  • “the news that… ...is very exciting”.


    Benji had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 927
  • My Apple TV came 4/17 . Played with it a little bit. I’ll make up my mind if it will do what I want it to do, when my new sound system comes in. Rotel amp and preamp with B. W. Cm7 speakers.

    lanthony58 had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 4
  • Benji had this to say on Apr 18, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I take this opportunity on posting some thoughts on tv. Since the status of tv is eroded from the internet, I see also an erosion from within. This might affect the concept of tv and will undoubtedly influence companies like Apple.
    By the end of this year I think the whole country (ok, don’t forget my country, Belgium, is about as big a Greater London, or L.A. After a 2 hours drive in a straight line you’re in a different country) will be all digital TV, except for those who stick to dishes, mainly immigrants who prefer to tune in to Egypt 4.
    It is a disappointment for me, having had BBC1&2, I’m now faced with BBC P (prime) —what you get in foreign hotels like in France— and BBC world. We have now less real TVchannels and more theme Channels like National Geographic, History Channel, the Baby channel wich has a lot of ‘coochie coochie’ programs, Holiday channel, Exteme Sports channel a.s.o. / in one word boring. We even have Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera for Kids (!), and a dozen or so Arabic channels. So the choice is tremendous, the image improved a little bit, but since we gone digital we actually watch far less different channels. So the better the quality of the image the lousier the content online. A bit the same evolution as in the record business. As the electronic possibilities in music grew, the more output you got, and the content got down. I hope that iTunes or maybe BBC archive, will evolve into downloadable content that rectifies that. I think however that it will be up to the channels to offer their content. Music was overseeable, only 3 companies.
    TV stations (in Europe) will go through hell in the coming years. Maybe (maybe) it will give some power back to program makers, but the customer will become more and more infidel to channels, with tv loosing its status. iTunes filled the gap (more a black hole) in music. Conventional TV stations offer us more of the same or worse, and don’t seem to act. I see some movement within the BBC archive project. But the BBC is a unicum, a huge organisation, with amazingly the best TV in Europe.
    I can see the internet and pc, being the monitoring device that lets you compose your tv evening, with your local news, a nice program or a movie, downloading it, sending it to {whatever} and seeing it on a monitor instead of a tv set. Of course there will be resistance of the established media, and the whole thing like in the music business will start over again, but now with the problem that nobody knows what the position of advertisement will be. (If this too much off-topic I apoligize)

    WAWA had this to say on Apr 19, 2007 Posts: 89
  • WAWA, I feel you might like to read this:
    It’s by one of our country’s best-ever humans.

    Benji had this to say on Apr 19, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Bad Beaver wrote: “For some reason, MS has a preference for their own formats/containers.”

    That’s an understatement, if I’ve ever heard one. Microsoft has been trying to kill Quicktime for years.

    Scott had this to say on Apr 21, 2007 Posts: 144
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