Apple TV thoughts

I picked up an Apple TV on they day they were made available.

In short, my family loves it. For me — the “technically proficient” one in the family — I understand the limitations and still totally enjoy the Apple TV. Since the addition of the Apple TV, the Mac Mini — connected to the same TV — has gone unused for media playback.

Dave Winer says:

If you’re technically proficient enough to read this blog, AppleTV is not for you.

For me, the true value of the Apple TV is the sheer simplicity of it. It is Front Row with Client/Server capabilities wedged in a tiny little box whose media output is optimized for home theater devices. The Apple TV has an elegantly simple user interface that anyone in our family can use.

Better yet, by dropping a bunch of photos into a folder and syncing them with the ubiquitous sync UI in iTunes, I have this awesome HD slideshow of photos running on the TV screen during music playback. It blows people away!

Dave also writes:

Most important to me is that it won’t play the AVI files I create when I scan DVDs using Handbrake.

Yeah — that is my one major complaint, too. Not that the Apple TV won’t play files created with Handbrake or Mediafork. It does that just fine, if you set up the settings correctly. Look absolutely gorgeous, too! Tons better than the Mac Mini or the Playstation 2.

No, my complaint is that iTunes doesn’t rip DVDs the same way that it rips CDs; that I can’t simply add my movies to my iTunes media library and simply be done with it. Obviously, this isn’t something Apple controls. The MPAA is to thank for the locked down nature of DVDs. I show my thanks by generally not buying DVDs (we have still amassed a collection anyway — but nothing like the multi-thousand CD collection that we have). If the iTunes store ever supports DVD resolution encodings, I will buy movies through the store.

Instead, the consumer that is willing to bother transcoding their DVDs into something compatible with their media library is an assumed criminal by the MPAA and made to feel like an idiot while trying to use the incredibly crappy user interfaces of the various tools used to transcode DVDs. (VisualHub’s UI is pretty good for everything but DVD).

But I digress…

I don’t find the 40GB hard drive to be a limitation. There has never been an iPod large enough to hold my entire collection (currently north of 200GB, mostly the music ripped from my CD collection). Like the iPod, effective use of the Apple TV is just a matter of setting up some smart playlists to automate content selection. iTunes makes it even easier by having some “sync last N episodes” features.

If you are expecting the Apple TV to be a general purpose media playback device, then you will be disappointed. It isn’t that. Not yet, anyway. The Apple TV is obviously a general purpose computing platform with a network connection and a software update mechanism and, as such and barring SOX stupidity, the Apple TV’s future is quite open.

If you are looking for a way to access your iTunes managed media collection(s) via your home theater capable media playback system(s), then the Apple TV is perfect. Easy to use, manages to navigate tons of media with a simply UI very well, and the images on screen are gorgeous (barring video playback of content purchased through the iTunes Store — still a little bit blocky, but obviously improving over time. I hope that trend continues.)

Awesome device. I’m looking forward to hacking it once I can do so without taking a paint scraper to the box!

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9 Responses to “Apple TV thoughts”

  1. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this AppleTV review. I haven’t bought one yet,. because I don’t have an HD TV. But I’ve been reading a lot reviews (perhaps in envy).

  2. Leif says:

    Yeah, I’m also in the camp of “why can’t I rip DVDs just like CDs?” While Handbrake/MediaFork is pretty good for the “ripping” part, what is really needed is a DVD equivalent to CDDB/FreeDB, so that an application can “automagically” look up title/track information for DVDs being ripped. Something like that would certainly make MY life easier.

    If the MPAA thinks I’m going to re-purchase all of my DVDs (500+) in digital format just so I can watch them on my AppleTV…they’re wrong.
    (Not that I won’t purchase NEW content from iTMS…there’s just no way I’m going to re-purchase all of my OLD content.)

  3. n[ate]vw says:

    > The MPAA is to thank for the locked down nature of DVDs. I show my thanks by generally not buying DVDs…If the iTunes store ever supports DVD resolution encodings, I will buy movies through the store.

    Now I’m confused. I don’t want to beat a dead horse — you’d long been defending the iTunes Music Store against unwarranted “They’re locking us into their system and will probably steal our firstborn given the chance” attacks by reminding users that they could always burn their songs to CD. Fair enough, more easily fixed on a Windows machine, and now irrelevant. But how so with iTunes movies? You can’t burn movies to a DVD, encrypted or not. Whereas DVDs are blissfully crackable, and the codebreakers are well on their way to making the new HD media start its unwinnable hardware revocation dance, the Apple system is in its worst case firmware-based and much more easily defended, as only one company needs update their encryption scheme and said scheme isn’t bound by any published industry standards. When you buy from the iTMS store you are still supporting the MPAA, still inflicting DRM upon yourself and even worse, a DRM that completely locks you in to one [albeit high-quality] system. I think an Apple TV preset in Handbrake is much more likely than a permanent/cross-platform breach of FairPlay, and Steve’s “Thoughts on Movies” seems a long way off. So why not buy the media you can watch at your parents’ house and loan to friends?

  4. James Eagan says:

    Just to reiterate n[ate]vw’s comment…. I definitely don’t see how the iTMS movies (or any of the other legal download services) offer a better alternative to the DVD. At least there are (legal and illegal) methods to use DVD content for (otherwise) legal purposes, but the movies bought through the iTMS can only be played through iTunes and its cousins. Do you know something about this that I don’t? Or are you suggesting that you simply don’t buy movies?

  5. bbum says:

    Actually, you are both right and it is a rather hypocritical position for me to take. The reality is that I haven’t bought any movies — not from iTMS or DVDs — in a long, long time. If iTunes were to offer HD quality movies, I would likely end up picking up one or two.

    Frankly, I don’t know what can be done to fix the current situation. My optimistic hope is that things like the Apple TV, the iPod, digital downloads, the completely pointless arms race that is DRM, and the consumer’s growing desire to playback content across all the devices combined with the continued desire to “own” said content will somehow drive some sense into the media companies.

    It eventually worked for EMI, at least.

    I also fully admit selfishness in this. I want Apple to be the key player in this; to be the iPod of Movies, if you will.

  6. James Eagan says:

    I also fully admit selfishness in this. I want Apple to be the key player in this; to be the iPod of Movies, if you will.

    I agree with you on this, after a fashion. I’d fully like to see Apple be the key player driving the movie download market, because Apple gets it right (for the most part). But only in a landscape where consumers’ rights to the digital content are protected, and where there can be competition.

    For example, I use both the iTMS and eMusic. I’m a happy and loyal customer of both. The iTMS got the interface right, whereas eMusic has better licensing (which anyone reading this should already know is not (entirely) Apple’s fault). So, when I find something I like in the iTMS, I first check if its available on eMusic. Even after the EMI announcement, and if all content on the iTMS were available sans DRM, I’d still support eMusic, because I’m all for the competition to keep things honest. As much as I love Apple, I wouldn’t want to see them become Microsoft.

    But now I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop here. 🙂

  7. bbum says:

    James has it exactly.

    I should have said “I want Apple to be the key player as long as Apple continues to put the customer user experience first. So far, the customer experience has been pretty damned amazing, even within the limits set forth by the media companies. As long as that trend continues — and I see no sign that it’ll change — I’ll continue backing Apple every way that I can.

  8. So Maybe I Want an AppleTV? | NSLog(); says:

    […] I have read Bill’s take, […]

  9. n[ate]vw says:

    Understood…good ‘splaining. While there’s glitches with what Apple does, from DRM on my movies to random kernel panics on my wife’s Macbook, the trend you mention is fairly clear. Apple has a habit of encouraging me — through results — to check with them first for solutions, as well as recommending their products/services to others. In the case of movies, DVDs to me seem a better investment, but I’ll still be happy if the Apple TV takes off, seems like it would piggyback nicely on a projector. [Now if only I could convince some friends to help me “invest” in Apple making software for their growing platform!]

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