Apple TV: Top 10 Reasons You Should Wait

Apple TVI’m not usually one to go for the top 10 list method of discussing limitations of a product. But then again, products don’t usually have 10 weaknesses I care enough about to compile a list. Apple TV, on the other hand, falls into this category. And it’s not even a first generation product!

But to be fair, I should point out that this is a product I sincerely want to work. After all, I already use iTunes to manage my music, and the iPod is my music player of choice. Too bad, then, that Apple TV simply isn’t ready for prime time. Here are the top 10 reasons you should wait:

1. No TV Focus

Steve Jobs has confirmed that Apple TV will focus on movies rather than TV shows. This makes sense considering Apple’s scuffle with NBC last year but means no Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, or The Office for you. If the focus is shifting toward movies then expect TV show selection to go down, not up.

2. Older iPods

So the cool new feature that makes Apple TV different this time around is the fact that you can rent a movie, watch part of it on your TV and then finish the rest of it on your iPod. Oh wait, this feature is only good for owners of the current generation of iPods. You know, the generation that has been out less than five months. If Apple is going to play the our-stuff-only-works-with-our-stuff game, they surely can’t expect you to rebuy all their products each time they try to entice you with a new one.

3. Rental Time

So if you rent a movie, you have 30 days to start watching it. That seems fair. But once you start, you are required to finish the movie within 24 hours, a limitation which makes it nearly impossible to start a movie one evening and finish it the next evening. Of course, a workaround has been discovered but expect Apple to plug it shortly.

4. Rental Price

Blockbuster called: they want their pricing structure back. $3.99 per movie and $4.99 per HD movie seems fairly steep, especially considering that it doesn’t take much for Netflix to be a way better deal. If you watch more than two movies per month, why would you want to pay per movie?

5. No HD on PC

So the next generation of movie watching is to be in high definition (HD), and Apple seems to realize that. But HD movie rentals via Apple TV cannot be viewed or transferred on anything but your TV. Remember that nowadays most everyone’s computer has a screen that can take advantage of HD content (the same can’t be said for TVs yet).

6. Compatibility

This one is obvious and no different than what Apple has done in the past: Anything you purchase or rent can only be used with Apple software/hardware. But there is hope, after all. If iTunes can sell restriction-free music that can be played on something other than an iPod… who knows, maybe someday other media will follow suit. But I’m not holding my breath.

7. Selection

From the press release: “With iTunes Movie Rentals and Apple TV, users can just click a button on their remote to effortlessly rent movies from a catalog of over 1,000 titles by the end of February, including over 100 titles in stunning high definition video…” For anyone interested in watching more than summer blockbusters, here’s hoping these numbers rise quickly.

8. New Releases

First-run titles will be available via iTunes but 30 days after the DVD release. The irony here is that watching movies “instantly” rather than waiting for a movie in the mail (or running to Blockbuster) is supposed to be an advantage of Apple TV. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing the crowd that likes “instant” movies is probably the same crowd unlikely to wait first for 30 days. And remember that Netflix has instant content (like the hit show Heroes) that you can watch within 24 hours of it airing on TV.

9. Separate Box

Apple TV is, of course, a separate box you have to purchase for $229 (even after the price drop from $299, I still think it’s pricey, especially now that you can get HD DVD players for around $129). And Apple has no plans to incorporate CableCARDs, a DVD player, or pretty much any third-party equipment you might use. So it’s not as if buying Apple TV will allow you to consolidate your home theater equipment. The opposite is true.

10. No HD Purchases

That’s right, folks, HD content can only be rented at the $4.99 per movie fee.

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  • Neroon

    Go buy that HDDVD player, it’s a great deal. The only downside is that HDDVD is a dying format. It has lost the war. So buy it and you can be like my friend with his Betamax player with his 20 moves, or the friend who bought the Laserdisc player.

    Comparing the Apple TV price to the HDDVD player price is about as smart as telling someone to buy that cheap Betamax player the days after SONY announced they were going to start making and selling VHS machines.

  • RattyUK

    FUD, FUD, FUD

    So…

    Can we have the Top 10 reasons not to buy an Xbox 360 or are you just a Microsoft plant?

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Neroon,

    An HD DVD player with 7 movies for $129 cannot easily be compared to Lasderdisc or Betamax for two main reasons: 1) It’s way cheaper than either of those two ever were and 2) It works as a regular DVD player and therefore will never be useless in the same way.

    The irony is that HD DVD is backwards compatible and has a larger selection of HD content (even if it’s losing the format war) when compared to Apple TV. Now, Apple could make Apple TV more open and could eventually increase its offering of HD, but until then, HD DVD is actually a better value.

    But I’m suggesting that readers wait, not give up on Apple entirely. Perhaps the third generation will get it right. Blu-ray & HD DVD may likely suffer the same death if digital downloads/streaming take over. But until that happens, HD DVD is the best value for the impatient HD-seeking consumer. Otherwise, wait until someone gets a digital download solution right.

    RattyUK,

    If it’s any consolation, I actually don’t own an Xbox 360…

  • Al

    Apple TV has been available for almost a year. It serves about 500 movies & TV shows from my desktop Mac to my HDTV flawlessly. It also plays slide shows of my photo library, YouTube videos, video podcasts, movie previews, and my entire music collection over the HDTV auxiliary sound system.

    Apple TV is ready for prime time.

    Your 10 reasons have very little to do with Apple TV but a lot to do with the movie rental service that can be used on a Mac, a Windows PC and/or Apple TV.

    You don’t like Apple’s movie rental service. We get that.

    You may not like Macs either. Who knows? One thing we do know. You just gave us 10 reasons not to get an Apple TV and it’s obvious that you have never used one and have no idea what they are used for. Chances are you have never even seen one in action.

    Give us a break Bob. Change the title to ‘Top 10 reasons to avoid Apple’s movie rental service’.

  • Al

    Oh, Bob, if it’s any consolation, I agree with most of your criticisms of the rental service. It has been emasculated by The Studios to protect their DVD business.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Al-

    Don’t worry, I’m not declaring war on Apple. And Macs are fine computers.

    But to make sure I understand you correctly: It sounds like you want to differentiate between Apple TV the hardware device, and Apple TV the movie rental service. But for me, the two are joined at the hip.

    Apple TV without the accompanying service seems (to me) like an overpriced toy for a small niche market. But I think Apple is trying to bring it to the mainstream via this new rental service. And that combination together, I think, is not ready for the mainstream as per all the reasons I listed.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Ah, thanks, Al. As for my criticisms of the rental service… Your point is valid (i.e., studio protection), but as Apple is delivering a product/service combination to the end consumer (me), it’s ultimately their responsibility to get it right by whatever means.

    And it’s not impossible. The Netflix model in the works is legal, deals with the studio crap, and gets me a much better overall value/experience.

  • http://appletvsource.com Luck Kanthatham

    Hi, Luck here from Apple TV Source (http://appletvsource.com) and Apple TV Hacks (http://appletvhacks.net).

    I agree with some of your points. However, keep in mind that if there is one company that can bring movie rentals to the mass, it would have to be Apple. Not Amazon or Netflix.

    I also agree with your comment of the Apple TV being overpriced without the content to support it. And that is exactly why people hack it to do stuff that Apple never intended it to. However, it would be nice if Apple can just provide an SDK for it so developers can legitimately expand its functionality without hacking it.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Hi Luck,

    I appreciate your thoughts but am going to need more backing before I’m convinced that Apple has any more of a chance than Amazon or Netflix.

  • D9

    Okay, here I go at giving this a shot…

    1. No TV Focus – yep, neither do DVD players, HD-DVD/Blu-Ray Players, Xboxes, etc. I figure that’s why they put multiple ports on HDTVs. But Apple compliments w/ other features not found on these other items.

    2. Older iPods – Technology of all kinds is littered with products that became obsolete upon the release of new products. The biggest culprit is the computer industry….today’s DVD-R is tomorrow’s floppy drive. This will never change.

    3. & 4. Rental Time & Price – I bundle these together because they controlled by the same entity: Movie Studios. I know your rebuttal to Luke, but isn’t this the same as people complaining about their ever increasing cable bill…don’t like, don’t buy it. The studios wanted it their way or no way for Apple to even be allowed to offer movies. I, for one, appreciate Apple at least giving Mac users the option to decide if we want to rent movies or not…more on this later.

    5. No HD on PCD – This you’re dead on. We should be able to watch HD movies on our computer’s screen via iTunes as well. But then again, Apple sells hardware (Apple TV) and content (movie rentals) are the bait to get us to buy, so follow the logic on this one.

    6. Compatibility – To some extent I agree w/ you and Luke; there should be more formats accepted within Apple TV. It certainly hasn’t hurt iPod sales. But I guess the issue there was that MP3 was the digital music standard, and AAC is the next generation of MP3 and FairPlay is an extension of AAC; so the underlying technology is the same. However, in the video world, you have a plethora of formats to view movies, each requiring its own codec and, just as important, its own licensing. The customer service issues would be huge when dealing w/ all the types out there. Still, I think this does have possibilities on resolution; I just don’t see Apple being the one to lead.

    7. Selection – Once again, I see this as half the doings of the studios; they don’t want Apple to come out so strong that it destroys the competition based on its name alone. Plus, like anything else, it takes time to get this geared up. I’d rather have a limited selection now than to wait another 6 months to have a larger library at launch.

    Which brings me to the finer point I touched on in 3 & 4. For all the clamor about Apple being restrictive in pricing, hardware and DRM, it seems a bit hypocritical for such accusations to be made. The iTunes video rental service is the FIRST and ONLY service available to Mac users (for major studio offerings). Netflix, Amazon and others have, at best, given lip-service to vaporware for all Mac users. Why should Apple and its Mac users be the least bit apologetic in their offering?!

    8. New Releases – Now this is most definitely the sole work of the movie studios. I believe Amazon also falls under this restriction. Apple can press only so much so fast on this issue. But at the end of the day, this appears to nothing more than studios thinking they need to protect their DVD sales turf; more like cutting off the nose to spite the face, in my opinion. Do you think since I can’t get a movie rental on iTunes, I’m now going to drive to Wal-Mart and buy that DVD?! Ridiculous!!

    9. Separate Box – Apple TV is beyond just another piece of home theater equipment. It offers an extension to your movies (which in theory it is trying to replace the DVD player), your music (no stereo unit) and your photos (computer monitor); plus it adds You Tube, podcasts, and home movies. I’d imagine web access is another element that might be added in the future. Nonetheless, I find your analysis to be just the opposite on this point. Apple TV seems to consolidate & extend.

    10. No HD Purchase – Again, I feel like you’re on point with this one. And I also feel like this falls into the lap of Apple, although the “can’t hurt Wal-Mart sales” theory does apply in general. Still, a sale is a sale as far as the studios are concerned. I feel like Apple wants to make sure the rental part of this takes off quickly and what better way than to restrict HD movies to rentals only.

    Well there you go. That’s my .02¢ rebuttal on your analysis. At the end of the day, people will make their choice based on their need. I, for one, have now bought an Apple TV because I feel like, at the very least, Apple is on to what the future will be like in the home entertainment arena.

    /

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    D9,

    Nice! Here are my responses to your responses:

    1. Um, actually all those options you mentioned are great ways to get TV shows… TV shows come on DVD, you know.

    2. Yeah, but Apple made several of its products obsolete in under five months… a bit much, don’t you think?

    3 & 4. Point taken.

    5. Agreed, even if Apple’s logic does the opposite of what they’re hoping (for me).

    6. O.k., sounds good… But Apple not being in a position to lead?? Heaven forbid! j/k

    7. There’s an easy answer here: Mac users may not be worth the trouble for Amazon or Netflix (at least, in comparison to the much larger market needing to be served first). Both will eventually go for Mac support, once it makes sense financially.

    And Apple and Mac users needing to be apologetic in their offering? That’s not really the point. Again, it’s simply a matter of economics: Apple simply can’t afford to go through all this without enticing the PC crowd; it just wouldn’t be worth it. That would be like making iPods only for Mac users, simply not an option if the company wants to continue growth. So whatever Apple comes up with better be good for everyone (like the iPod is/was), otherwise Apple would be left with its dedicated, smaller fan base (which doesn’t bring in nearly as much as the masses with their iPod purchases).

    But you make it sound like a matter of fairness of some sort, which really can’t be the purpose of a corporate entity. If Apple wants to design this only for the Mac crowd, then great, but it won’t take off (do you think the iPod would have taken off in that context?). But Netflix and Amazon? It may be hypocritical in some way, I suppose, but their role isn’t to make sure the universe is balanced between Mac and PC users. They’ll come out with Mac support at some point… but that’s no reason for Apple not to have high quality PC support immediately. It may not be fair, but it’s reality.

    8. “Do you think since I can’t get a movie rental on iTunes, I’m now going to drive to Wal-Mart and buy that DVD?!” You, no, I don’t think you’d do that. But how many of the millions of users buying DVDs at Wal-Mart will switch to Apple if they have to wait an extra month? Answer: Hardly any.

    9. Interesting… For me, Apple TV would be an addition to my setup. There is nothing I could take away as a result. I still need my DVD player, game console, receiver, cable box, etc, etc. But hey, if it allows you to consolidate and take something out of your setup, then great.

    10. Fair enough, I suppose, but I’m still waiting until it “takes off” before I go buy one.

    All and all, if Apple TV works for you, I’m glad it was available for you to make the purchase.

  • Marcos

    You seem to be blaming the AppleTV for decisions made by the media-owning companies. They are making the iTunes rentals pretty much identical to various on-demand or pay per view options that are available on cable TV. The pricing isn’t going to undercut cable’s prices nor are the term’s going to be any better than cable’s.

    You think that Time Warner’s move on per-bandwidth pricing is “testing” now just imagine if the media companies let Apple undercut their prices while using their pipes.

    Apple has plenty of shortcomings, but I find it odd when people seem to blame them for decisions clearly not entirely of their choosing. Apple could care less what it charges for the media- they just want to sell ipods, iphones, appletvs ,etc. It’s about hardware to them.

    Clearly, netflix is a better deal than renting movies on AppleTV. Netflix is also a better deal than on-demand or the local dvd rental brick and mortar store. But until the media-companies grasp that, we won’t see cheap rentals on the internet any time soon.

  • Al

    Bob, the Apple TV is sold world wide.

    The movie rental service is only available in the United States.

    No joining at the hip at all Bob. The Apple TV is the iPod for your HDTV. It connects the audio and video content on your computers and on the Internet to your HDTV. It does it very well. You wouldn’t say the iPod and the iTunes Store are joined at the hip since it is common knowledge that only about 3% of iPod content is purchased from iTunes Store. Most of the content streamed through Apple TV does not come from Apple either.

    The movie rental service, as it now stands, sucks. It does, however, work with a Windows PC, a Mac, and the iPhone as well as Apple TV. If you don’t need Apple TV to use the service, Bob, it is not joined at the hip to Apple TV.

    My Apple TV serves over 1 TB of media to my HDTV flawlessly.

    That’s really something Bob. If you ever saw the ease at which you can browse 100′s of movies or dozens of play-lists and stream any digital file to your HDTV instantly, you’d be blown away.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Bob Caswell

    Marcos,

    I don’t understand your last paragraph. You basically say Netflix is better and then explain that we won’t see cheap rentals on the Internet any time soon… But that’s just it, Netflix has already arrived as the cheap-on-the-Internet solution.

    Al,

    Sounds great, but I still think Apple TV isn’t much without its rental/purchase offerings. If Apple was relying on consumers like you that already have 1 TB of media, well, they wouldn’t sell much hardware.

  • April

    Man, tech people are the biggest pool of whiners :-)

    HD-DVD… Blu-Ray… Netflix… discs… yawn! Browsing at WalMart? Clicking on a PC to manage a “queue”… yawn… man some people just refuse to see a good thing when they see one.

    Must suck to live your life that way…

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  • Marcos

    Well, as I understand it Netflix’s free unlimited streams are limited (I have a Mac and can’t view them anyway), and don’t include new releases – precisely because the studios won’t give them rights to stream them, and precisely because the studios don’t want to annoy the cable companies’ on-demand business.

    The studios fundamentally control the price and availability of what is available online – not Apple or Netflix; that’s my point.

    I feel like I saw a quote from a Netflix executive speaking exactly to their limitations on offering streaming video, but I can’t seem to dig it up.

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