October 31, 2008

Why I returned my Apple TV

In my continuing quest to make my life easier, I thought I'd try Apple TV to avoid driving to the video store (which is long past being tolerable to me), and to get some actual HD content for my year-old HDTV.

Like many things Apple, it is brilliant in so many ways, while falling flat in others. In this case, the problems, interestingly, are interface and content. They nailed the core issues (which is why I bought it in the first place), which are ease of access and integration. You can browse the store on your TV (without having to use your computer), download stuff - and automatically sync with your computer and iPhone so all your stuff is wherever you want it, and all automatically backed up. But this is where the magic ends.

The interface, while glossy, lush and beautiful, is hugely harmed by that puny little remote control. After using the Tivo for a year, and enjoying the world's best remote control, Apple's was just too pathetic to use. It is so small that it was at huge risk of being lost, and we had to institute strict family rules about its placement. The buttons are so hard to press, that I actually started to get AppleTV-thumb and had to switch fingers to press it. And the interface is totally image based - there is no way to link through metadata. You can't find an interesting movie, and look for others with the same actor, etc.

As for content, well at first glance it looks good, but it just isn't very deep. I knew the numbers were low compared to other options, but I didn't realize that the HD content is almost nonexistent. And given that my tastes don't seem to run in the same direction as Apple's very mainstream content, I could only find a handful of HD movies that I actually wanted to watch.

Then, just as I began to realize that these were going to be very high priced movies for which I would also have to endure a pained thumb, Netflix announced their upcoming distribution for 12,000 shows on Tivo. I had one day left to return my Apple TV, and so I did.

Steve Jobs has been calling Apple TV his "hobby", to avoid the criticism about it's lackluster performance. I should have listened to him.


Constable Odo said...

You're probably wise to do so. Netflix and TiVo seem to be a winning combo. Very good hardware with lots of available movies.
That AppleTV is a toy compared to a top TiVo HDXL model recorder that can be expanded probably even further.
Apple could have really built a fine product if they combined a MacMini with AppleTV, but now they remain has half-useful devices. Forget it. You made a wise decision.

Bill said...

Apple TV would be O.K. if they allowed for that USB to accept hard drives -I mean seriously, Apple has crippled the port so you CAN'T store content on it and so you'll have to BUY a new one when that becomes available. Apple is getting REAL bad about upgrade path selling --i.e. they sell you a Apple TV with a tiny hard drive and the next version will come with a 500GB HDD and a year later 1 TB HD --of course they could put in a 1TB now but that would prevent them from getting your money for the other Apple TV's. The iPhone and iPhone are great examples of this.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe they could put a TB on the Apple TV. I believe the HD interface is ATA, which has a limit of HD space. I think.

MacGeek said...

Why do you need to store content on your apple tv? I just stream it off my TB drive on my mac flawlessy.

Lantz said...

macgeek has it right, why on earth would you store all that content on the ATV??? It's designed to stream either from a computer or off the internet. Accessing both ways are very easy. This is a non-issue.
I love my Apple TV but the movie moguls crippled the device for so long by limiting the amount of content they would let Apple have. They gave free reign to other companies (ie Amazon, etc.) in hopes of hurting Apple's possible dominance.

Doug said...

Is this just link bait? I mean seriously, give me a break!

You had two issues with Apple TV. Interface and Content. So lets start with interface. Being a TiVo user I will agree that the peanut remote is great. Without looking at it I can figure out virtually all of the important controls and likewise the TiVo interface is wonderful but how exactly is the apple remote/interface lacking?
If size is your big issue, velcro it to your receiver's or TV's remote. Grow up and keep track of your toys. It is small and it can get lost but just like the TiVo remote I can find all the controls in the dark. It is simple elegant, solid and not easily broken. As for your button issues, I can only guess you have a defective remote because my 2 year old has no problem pushing all the buttons (she has put the unit into some very strange states including locking the remote to the AppleTV)

As for the interfacing being totally image based? I guess that's true except for where it is not. Like all of the stored content, which you browse through just like TiVo (although I would like the right arrow to act like a select like TiVo does just for consistency sake). The search allows for searching by any meta data I could think of. Go ahead and type an actors name and see what comes up.

So on to content, I will admit I look forward to Apple continuing to increase in this area, but contracts with the big players are complicated and when you have multiple studios in the mix things take time. But I started thinking? How many Blu Ray DVD's are there and how many AppleTV HD movies are there? Well I can't get solid facts about Blu Ray but Amazon states that they sell over 1000 Blu Ray titles and Netflix says they have over 1000 to rent. My guess is that this means they only have a little over 1000 titles. By my count Apple has just over 700 HD MOVIES to sell/rent and that does not include the HD TV shows that are probably included in the above numbers. So your rant about HD selection sounds a bit hollow.

So AppleTV is perfect right? NO!. Content needs to increase rapidly and back catalog titles need to drop dramatically in price to spur sales (like the $1-$5 DVD boxes at WallMart) and HD movies need to be available for purchase. TV show prices should drop based on duration ($.99 for half hour shows) and the premium for HD content should drop or be eliminated soon. But as a way to get the most out of your iTunes purchases and integrate much of your digital life with your big screen TV, Apple TV makes a lot of sense.

Adam said...

For those who still kept their AppleTVs, Boxee expands the functionality and freedom of the device. This has solved the scarce content issues for me.