Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pixel-Punchy Scoble's Rant about Apple TV

Robert Scoble was lividly dismissive of Apple TV, one of the two products that Steve Jobs introduced at his Macworld keynote yesterday.
Is the Apple TV only 720p HD? That really, really, really sucks. If that’s true this thing is dead on arrival. Apple, the entire industry is ahead of you if that’s true.
I have three things to say about that:

One. Robert is super busy right now at CES. So, while he has the specs right, I don't think he's digested the purpose of the product. All it's supposed to do is get stuff from iTunes onto your TV. (Apple's tag line: "if it's in iTunes, it's on TV.") It's not a game box. Not a DVR. Not a YouTube player. It's just for getting stuff from iTunes (and photos) to the TV.

Guess what I have in my iTunes? Hours of unwatched episodes of the ScobleShow. Robert is doing a really good series of video interviews with tech CEOs and demos of new products. I subscribe to his podcast, but I've only watched a few episodes.

Robert should be encouraging me to get Apple TV so I can watch his show from the comfort of my living room. (They're not 1080p, but they're really, really good. -- not sucky, DOA, or behind the entire industry.)

B. Robert's at CES right now, which projects a Reality Distortion Field almost as powerful as Steve's. CES is a super-saturated environment of HDTV displays. Acres and acres of glass. And 1080p is all the rage this year.

But here's the dirty secret of 1080p:

While it's true that a 1080p screen can show more pixels than the first generation of HDTV sets, no broadcaster is supplying that many pixels. Not cable. Not satellite. Not over the air. And there are no plans to change that any time soon.

Third. If you have a problem with the resolution of Apple TV, take it to the source: The gating factor is bandwidth for downloading. How long does it take to get the file at the bit-rates that you and Apple are willling to pay for. You do the math, I'm an English major.

Mickeleh's Take: Robert is correct in noting that what Apple TV does is pretty much a subset of what Xbox 360 does. Except for this: what 360 doesn't do is deliver my iTunes library to my TV. So that's why I'm planning to get an Apple TV and watch me some ScobleShow.


Apple says it clearly, if not prominently:
"Apple TV works with widescreen, enhanced-definition or high-definition TVs capable of 1080i, 720p, 576p, or 480p resolutions..."
But I wonder how many people won't notice that until they open the box?

While TVs that meet Apple's requirements dominate current retail sales, they're far from dominating the installed base of TVs. (See also Scoble's lament that his Dad isn't in the digital TV generation.) If you have an older TV, you're just not going to be able to make the connection.

Mickeleh's Take: There are more than enough modern TVs to make Apple's numbers, but there are also many more older TVs that will make headaches for the returns counter at the Apple store. Apple's delay on shipping the product gives them all another few weeks to stock up on aspirin.

Other Mickeleh's Takes on Apple TV:

One Week with Apple TV (Review)
Apple TV--Scoble Likes It!
The Big Gotcha of Apple TV:
It Might Not Work on Your TV

Apple, Pioneer of Accessible Solutions,
Neglects Closed Captions in Apple TV



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30 comments:

Anonymous said...

if television doesn't broadcast in 1080p, why are all the new displays in 1080p?

Marc-Oliver Teschke said...

Because one day 1080p might be broadcast?
Because media players will do 1080p sooner than broadcasts?
Because you can totally make a ton of money with big-ass 1080p displays?

Anonymous said...

The point both of you are missing is that there still isn't an interconnect (from whatever source to your 1080p) display that can move the bandwidth for a native 1080p source - yet. So current displays in 1080p are pretty much hosed (in that respect).

*Except* for one big thing - the TV's built-in upscaler. Decompression and upscaling can still result in a better picture on 1080p for a 720p source (compared to a 720p display).

As said elsewhere, the difference between 1080i/p is less profound.

Miles said...

I really want Apple TV, butttttt. Since I am on dialup right now and not downloading videocasts... It is pretty pointless for me right now.

Nice article though :)

Anonymous said...

Well some of us don't watch broadcast tv. I'm exclusively xbox 360, streaming from the computer and DVD/HDDVD. In that sense 1080p is useful because those are either 1080p sources or get upsampled in my receiver. It's also a way of futureproofing your tv. My last tv lasted 11 years. This one will do the same. I'm guessing 2018 will have a lot of 1080p content.

Mickeleh said...

More of the joys of the multiple flavors of HDTV. This is so esoteric for consumers. It's a mess to understand.

In addition to the technical questions of how you can to connect a 1080p signal to the display, there are the DRM (digital rights management) issues imposed by the content owners.

They are all concerned about losing control of their HD digital assets, so they have imposed extra content-protection hurdles to ensure that HDTV video gets safely to the screen without being copied. (Yes, hackage is underway... but if you're Microsoft or Apple you need to license titles from Hollywood, and you have to satisfy them that their digital files are safe.)

So, what Scoble is asking for is not yet something that a commercial download site like iTunes, Xbox Live, will be allowed to support by the people who supply them with content.

All of this works out nicely for the CE industry which gets to sell you a 1080p game console, or a 1080p disc player that you can connect directly to your TV.

And Hollywood can sell you an HD version of the same movie you previously bought on DVD and before that on VHS.

Anonymous said...

My reason for not getting one is the same reason I do not have an iPod. One of your reasons was that Xbox360 can not get your iTunes to your TV. Well that is because iTunes, iPod, iTV, iPhone are all a silo that you get locked into. I do not think ill of anyone that makes that choice, but I do not wish to. I want the ability to use open formats and open API's to move my stuff around. Should I not just be able to copy stuff using wireless internet? Why do I have to use an Apple product to get the shows I paid for over to my TV?

Anonymous said...

How is iTunes any more of a silo than Winamp is? It's just a content container. You can choose to fill that container with only iTunes purchased content or you can do what I do and use it with 'open' MP3's and video content. Would you feel the same way if WinAmp made a device that only let you stream WinAmp playlist content?

Anonymous said...

How is iTunes any more of a silo than Winamp is? It's just a content container. You can choose to fill that container with only iTunes purchased content or you can do what I do and use it with 'open' MP3's and video content. Would you feel the same way if WinAmp made a device that only let you stream WinAmp playlist content?

Anonymous said...

Put your own content into iTunes and there's no obligation to buy any media from Apple to make the AppleTV useful.

Transcode DVDs to AppleTV-friendly h.264, rip CDs to MP3/AAC, etc.

The fact that iTunes is a streaming server is a non-issue so long as it's reliable.

Anonymous said...

AT this point, we don't even have any content that is in 1080P format, much less broadcast in 1080p.

A 1080P display provides more bits that the lower resolution content gets mapped into. This look better than a lower pixel count display.

Anonymous said...

"Robert is correct in noting that what Apple TV does is sort of a subset of what Xbox 360 does. Except for this: 360 doesn't do is deliver my iTunes library to my TV. So that's why I'm planning to get an Apple TV and watch me some ScobleShow."

Speaking of subsets: I don't get why the XBox lovers think people are going to buy an XBox as a media center. It's not happening. (Conversely, maybe it's strange that they don't, but it's simply the case.) The Xbox will always stay within the market for consoles, and that's it. We're talking 20 million or so units. That's it. A small subset of the market that Apple is selling to: those who purchase from iTMS and/or own an iPod. This market is approaching 100 million and continues to grow. The 360 has 10 million users, and Microsoft would be ecstatic if it sold 30 million.

It's a puny subset of the overall home media market.

Anonymous said...

I bought an XBox 360 as a Media Center Extender. Works great, too. :) I don't play games much (haven't bought any), but I did fool around with some of the free downloadable demos....

Anonymous said...

Great reasons. The one other reason is that Robert Scoble isn't really the target audience for this. People who set up their Windows Media Edition PCs and Xbox360s together aren't the target audience for this.

Its for the rest of us.

francine said...

We can argue all day long, but we can't get Apple TV for another month, and then it will be backordered and sold out, if it's like other new Apple products. And if I am not mistaken, some TV is already beginning to broadcast in HD --and I receive it that way. Am I wrong? I have HDTV cable service, and on certain (Cox) channels I am at least dreaming that I'm getting HDTV.

Mickeleh said...

Francine,

Yes, HDTV exists. And Cox offers it. And you're not dreaming.

What's happening now is that TV set manufacturers have begun to ship televisions with even higher definition than the broadcasters are using right now.

And they are marketing the newer standard as True HDTV.

The AppleTV device is HDTV according to one of the dominant current broadcast standards.

But it is not what the CE marketers are now calling "True HD." But nobody is broadcasting at this higher resolution. And none of the commercial download services offer it. (I presume you can find it out there and torrent it. But there are no commercial download services that offer it.)

Here endeth the layman's explanation. I'll do a post with some deeper background.

Phil Renouf said...

While there may not be HDTV broadcasts in 1080p there are certainly broadcasts in 1080i which is noticibly better than the 720p that Apple is offering. That's the big draw back I see to this, not to mention that I am able to get 1080p via HDDVD or the Xbox so why isn't Apple at least up to par with others on what it will output? Their iTunes content might not be in 1080i/p, but other content I have might be. Why are they hamstringing me from seeing the full potential of my TV and content?

Mickeleh said...

Phil: If you go to the right bar, you can start a lot of arguments claiming that 1080i is "noticeably better" than 720p. Cause that's not always the case.

It actually depends on two things: does the image originate on film or video? Is the subject relatively still or is it fast-moving.

For high action that originates on video 720p is better. ESPN, ABC, and Fox all use 720p.

For a clear visual explanation of why 720p is sometimes higher resolution than 1080i look at this site.

Anonymous said...

Ahh crap, there goes any person's brain, melting into mush.

The problem with Apple TV or even Microsoft's own Video Marketplace is we are stepping backward. Buying an Apple TV says you are willing to overpay for media via iTunes that you can only use one way, with an Apple product. That also means you're now encouraging content providers to go exclusive to a service, iTunes vs. Marketplace vs. whatever else.

Oh I just can't wait for the day I have to have iTunes + Apple TV to watch "Lost", an XBox 360 + Video Marketplace to watch "CSI" and yet a THIRD seperate box from my cable or sat provider to watch the latest soccer match.

If we're *really* lucky we can end up in the same horrible situation we have with cell phones where you can't get the mobile you want with the carrier that works best in your area because of exclusive deals.

I'd buy your point that there is simplicity in Apple TV in that it just gets the locked/crippled content from iTunes onto you TV without all that other game playing mumbo jumbo EXCEPT for the fact that an Apple TV is just as expensive as an XBox 360 Core system which can do everything the Apple TV can PLUS more.

I find it AMAZING that people are even willing to put up with iTunes video. "Look, you can pay $299 plus $2 per fix just to watch video on your TV", something that you should have been able to do all along, for free. At least iTunes lets you burn music to a CD, they should also let you burn your videos to DVD... but why do that when you can sell them more snake oil?

I didn't mean to go on a rant there... (hmm, isn't that a Dennis Miller thing?) but seriously, Apple could sell ice to eskimos... hell, they'd sell them a special FairChill cooler that they had to keep their ice in.

Damn, I just realized the content industry has us right where they want us. We now pay $2/hour for what we used to be able to DVR for $20/month. Figure that's 4 episodes of Lost, 4 of Heros, 4 of your favorite flavour of CSI, throw in some House... we're now paying $32/month PLUS I bet a lot of people will STILL pay anywhere from $20 - $100 a month for cable/cat. That... that is amazing. We've been duped and people are lapping it up.

Anonymous said...

Ahh crap, there goes any person's brain, melting into mush.

The problem with Apple TV or even Microsoft's own Video Marketplace is we are stepping backward. Buying an Apple TV says you are willing to overpay for media via iTunes that you can only use one way, with an Apple product. That also means you're now encouraging content providers to go exclusive to a service, iTunes vs. Marketplace vs. whatever else.

Oh I just can't wait for the day I have to have iTunes + Apple TV to watch "Lost", an XBox 360 + Video Marketplace to watch "CSI" and yet a THIRD seperate box from my cable or sat provider to watch the latest soccer match.

If we're *really* lucky we can end up in the same horrible situation we have with cell phones where you can't get the mobile you want with the carrier that works best in your area because of exclusive deals.

I'd buy your point that there is simplicity in Apple TV in that it just gets the locked/crippled content from iTunes onto you TV without all that other game playing mumbo jumbo EXCEPT for the fact that an Apple TV is just as expensive as an XBox 360 Core system which can do everything the Apple TV can PLUS more.

I find it AMAZING that people are even willing to put up with iTunes video. "Look, you can pay $299 plus $2 per fix just to watch video on your TV", something that you should have been able to do all along, for free. At least iTunes lets you burn music to a CD, they should also let you burn your videos to DVD... but why do that when you can sell them more snake oil?

I didn't mean to go on a rant there... (hmm, isn't that a Dennis Miller thing?) but seriously, Apple could sell ice to eskimos... hell, they'd sell them a special FairChill cooler that they had to keep their ice in.

Damn, I just realized the content industry has us right where they want us. We now pay $2/hour for what we used to be able to DVR for $20/month. Figure that's 4 episodes of Lost, 4 of Heros, 4 of your favorite flavour of CSI, throw in some House... we're now paying $32/month PLUS I bet a lot of people will STILL pay anywhere from $20 - $100 a month for cable/cat. That... that is amazing. We've been duped and people are lapping it up.

Mickeleh said...

Shawn,

I agree with your rant. I'm not interested in buying videos at Steve's prices or his resolution.

But I am interested in Apple TV as a way to get free video podcasts from the hard drive in my office to the TV in my iving room.

Anonymous said...

"The point both of you are missing is that there still isn't an interconnect (from whatever source to your 1080p) display that can move the bandwidth for a native 1080p source - yet." --Anonymous

Not true. Component and RGBHV both have more than enough bandwidth and are widely used in the projector world. Digital 1080p signals are also sent over single coax cables in the pro world. However, DRM-fanatical companies such as Sony don't want consumers to have/use that technology, as they claim that such tech only fosters piracy.

Debating the differnce between 720p and 1080i is academic when it comes to the Apple TV, which is only capable of 1280x720 at 24fps, which may only look slightly better than regular DVD. But considering that it's using Quicktime, will probably look the same or worse than DVD.

Anonymous said...

With Connect360 you can stream content from iTunes on a Mac to a 360. Do yourself a favor get a more feature rich iTune extender and skip Apple TV.

Anonymous said...

uh, assuming your music collection is MP3 and you didn't buy a bunch of music off of iTunes, you can just have Windows Media Player point to your iTunes library and XBox and then work with your music from there.

I do agree that Apple TV is a copy of Microsoft Media Center Extender. Funny how no one talks about how they are copying Microsoft on this one.

Mickeleh said...

Actually, Scoble talked about Apple copying Microsoft back in September.

Fair or not, while the notion that Apple copies Microsoft resonates with the Microsoft fan-base, it doesn't seem to tarnish Apple's reputation as the great innovator. When Apple copied the Media Center Extender, they made it better (with a simpler remote, slicker U-I, and a hard drive to overcome network bandwidth issues) and when Microsoft copied the iPod, they make it worse (adding a beaming feature that's so restrictive as to be pointless).

I wouldn't worry too much about it. Microsoft books a lot of business.

Anonymous said...

What will make Apple TV a success are the same things that made iPod a successes: Ease of Use and Slick UI. Sure you can accomplish the same thing with an XBox 360, but how easy is it to do this for Joe 6-Pack? People want something that looks pretty on the shelf, is super-simple to connect, and has such a nice interface that their friends will ooh-ahh.

Nick said...

I can't wait to watch Diggnation, Scoble Show, Ze Frank, Tikibar TV, Rocketboom on my TV! My computer is to slow to play video very well :(

Luca Filigheddu said...

Just bought an Apple TV. Unfortunately it will be shipped not before the 28th of February.

Speaking about the fact you can do the same with an XBox 360, I don't need a game console, since I have my PSP. So the Apple TV, for many reasons, is wat I was waiting for a long time.

grantlairdjr said...

Can you find out if AppleTV do support closed captioning or subtitle?

Let me know. Appreciated it.

gwlj
grant@crazytech.com

Dieds said...

Why should I spend $300 for a box that does the same thing my iPod TV dock does -- I think I paid $20 for it.

What I'd like to see are online "rentals" of movies (and TV shows), like they have on "Xbox Live" with the 360 game console. Using this online service, you can "rent" newly released movies (in regular and HD formats) and then view them as many times whenever you want for a week or so (I think a week -- maybe two weeks).

That way you don't have to buy the movie. Why spend $15 for a movie you are only going to watch a couple of times at the most? TV shows are the same. Why buy a episode of The Office? Wouldn't you rather "rent" it for a lot less $$?


All Apple has to do is ensure that content "rented" is not able to be transfered to the iPod. It stays on the Apple TV box. So for video you need on your iPod, OK, pay the full price -- no worries.

If Apple doesn't offer this service, I can't see the need for this $300 box. I have a dock that does the same thing for a fraction of the cost. I hook by iPod to my TV and watch shows now.

Also, I know the DVR thing has been raised here in the forums. Come on, Apple. It just makes sense to have this feature, too.