Happiness, for me, on January 9th was not anxiously awaiting Steve Jobs announcement; it was instead watching the Doctor’s announcement of the latest Floyd line, baby boy Floyd. However, once the kid popped, I was glad to dive into news of the new iPhone and appletv. In a post delivery daze, I fumbled through pages of phone porn for hours pondering all the while creative tactics to avoid Verizon’s early termination penalties. Big Score Cingular.
I finally turned my attention to appletv (“ATV”) to see the great apple offering. Although a PC user, I’ve got love for Apple, and I really thought that ATV was going to whip the competition. 40 GB hard drive, HDMI out, composite out, the specs on this little appliance seemed appealing, but then there was the glaring omission: where was the TV tuner card?
About a year and a half ago, I built an HTPC and heavily researched all of the options out there: MythTV, MCE 2005, Sage TV, Beyond TV. I had a certain feature set in mind: (1) high quality signal reception for the DVR, (2) easy to navigate television guide, (3) integration with music library, (4) photo slideshow/album, (5) GREAT DVR, (6) DVD player, (7) seamless 10 foot navigation, and lastly but most importantly (8) passes the wife factor. I installed each of the aforementioned applications, and namely because of the eighth factor, I chose to install MCE 2005, which has been my MOST positive Microsoft experience.
ATV offers a few interesting features but there is no DVR built in to the appliance. There is a glaring assumption that people will be persuaded as easily into on demand pay television as they have been for music, but these markets are so markedly different that this, in my opinion, is a step in the wrong direction. Music entertainment has had fuel from commercial laden radio, album sales, and live ticket sales. Low quality AM then FM signals made for a disappointing and cumbersome pirate experience–hence the tenuous analogy during the early MP3 revolution. Patrons were incentivised to buy the album for the quality of the experience–both visually and aurally. Most importantly, the market had been set generations before the advent of Napster.
Television, on the other hand, has traditionally been exclusively a broadcast media funded through paid advertisement. Generally, the market for purchased television material has been limited. Of course, DVDs of complete seasons are in the marketplace, but the paradigm is still traditionally commercial advertisement sponsored broadcast media. With TiVO and the recent surge of PVR/DVRs, we have become accustomed to on demand/time shifting television. With slingbox we can even place shift and be masters of our viewing for the cost of some hardware and possibly a small monthly fee.
Personally, I view television as a disposable experience. While I may occasionally watch a syndicated program, I have no desire to pay for the program or own the program. My DVR regularly auto-deletes the old programs without incident. In other words, I use the television portion of my HTPC to time shift my programming to my life, and my investment extends only into the hardware needed.
Apple has released a product that is essentially no more than an Airport Extreme + video. Of course, there is a litany of counter arguments about how you can make ATV work including another machine with a tuner card, but that is not what I expect from Apple–I do expect a convaluded solution from Microsoft. Apple’s elegance comes from Sir William of Ockham: they employ the most simple solution to cover all of the bases. For example, the iPhone contemplates a variety of uses and provides a complete solution. ATV does not. When you name a product blank “Television,” you expect a remotely familiar television to be tucked in there somewhere. Maybe this is purely semantics and apple extreme + video would have me satisfied, but I, for one, am sorely disappointed.
If I could time-shift my life, I would rewind, and pick another solution for this otherwise stylish entertainment solution.