More brickbats for Apple TV

Peter Svensson of the AP doesn’t like it:

Apple Inc. has graced the public with another smooth, white, exquisitely designed gadget, this time aiming at making it easier to play iTunes movies and songs on the living-room TV set.

Too bad, then, that where looks really matter – in the quality of the video on the TV screen – the $299 Apple TV comes up short. It’s as if Apple had launched an iPod that sounded like a cassette player


Update: Apparently, Google Finance decided this post deserved to be highlighted on the page where Apple stockholders go to get information about AAPL. So I’m seeing a lot of visitors who don’t know me and don’t quite understand why I bring up an Apple product on a Windows-centric blog.

First of all, as I mention in the comments below, Apple TV is a Windows peripheral. If you have the Windows version of iTunes installed on your PC and you hook up an Apple TV box to your TV, you’ll be able to play music, pictures, and videos from your PC’s library on the TV.

I think this concept of an extender is a good idea. In fact, I have two Windows Media Center extenders in my home and use them regularly. I believe Microsoft has a better collection of technologies than Apple at this point with the Xbox 360 (which blows the doors off Apple TV in terms of picture quality)and with so-called v2 extenders that will connect to Windows Vista Media Center PCs and should be out at the end of this year.

I am a digital media gadget fanatic, but I have no desire to get an Apple TV box. Having seen its specs and read other reviews that emphasize its terrible picture quality, I can’t imagine why Apple released it now instead of waiting until it was actually ready. I’m sure Steve Jobs has some grand plan, though, because everyone knows he never makes a mistake.


15 thoughts on “More brickbats for Apple TV

  1. I checked out the Apple TV at the Apple store, and the video quality is really, really bad. The Incredibles were incredibly (ha!) blocky and pixelated. If a standard DVD is a six out of ten in image quality, the iTunes store’s current video quality is a two or three.

    That being said, they wouldn’t have set the thing up for HDTV if they weren’t planning to sell better quality video. I have no doubt that we’ll see an iTunes HD video announcement at WWDC in June.

  2. Interesting prediction, Carl. I want to know how Steve plans to get the studios to allow him to deliver HD content without a significant new form of copy protection. Every single form of commercial HD content delivered today, without exception, is locked down tight, much tighter than the SD video delivered through iTunes today. So after his big anti-DRM speeches Steve is going to deliver a major new form of DRM-protected content? If he pulls that off, I will bow toward the all-powerful Reality Distortion Field of Cupertino.

  3. Ed, what’s with the Apple bashing? Maybe you should change the title of your blog and your tag line. The quality of Apple TV output may be an issue, but is it relevant to “Windows” and “Office”. Your tag line is why I subscribe to your blog – not to read yet another windows blog trash talk about Apple.

  4. 5pyd23,

    Digital media is a big focus of this blog and its companion. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about Apple, but I do think Apple TV deserves coverage here because it is a Windows peripheral. That’s right – if you have iTunes running on a Windows machine, you could connect it to your living room media system using Apple TV. Why you would do that is beyond me, but there you go.

  5. funny, how you post something that is at least 3 weeks old if not older…

    the main problem with the quality is the encoding done by itunes store, not the machine itself, and btw, its silver, not white

  6. Kurt, the article in question was a syndicated article. It was published in the paper where I first saw it on May 4, 2007, the same day I linked to it.

    And since the primary way you can get video content into iTunes is via the iTunes store (there’s no TV tuner), that seems like a legitimate criticism. Even Apple’s main page for the Apple TV makes a big deal out of it. The second paragraph on the page:

    “Say you’ve just downloaded Cars from iTunes. Instead of huddling around your computer to watch, you pop some popcorn while your computer wirelessly syncs your new flick to Apple TV. Then you pull up a seat, put up your feet, and pick up the included Apple Remote to play your movie on TV.”

    Imagine that.

  7. I own an Apple TV, wired via HDMI to a Sharp Aquos HDTV. The quality of the content that I’ve watched on it is exceptional — DVD rips look great, 720p content (some podcasts, downloaded HD shows, etc) looks stunning. Now, that all being said, I live in Canada and so cannot purchase movies or TV from the iTunes store so I cannot comment on the quality of that content.

    I agree completely with Kurt: the Apple TV itself is not the problem, it is the encoding of the content provided by the iTunes store. Here’s something really interesting. I was in the Apple store in San Francisco and looked at the Incredibles demo playing on the Apple TV — and it’s true, it looked bad. At home, even the streaming movie trailers (which can’t be as high resolution as the content they are demoing in the store, right?) look surprisingly good — not DVD quality of course, but certainly better than the store demo. I’m shocked that Apple would demo poor content like that. I just wonder what the reason is — bandwidth restrictions, possibly even restrictions imposed on the studios etc. on the quality that they will allow digital content to be distributed at? It is unfortunate, because the device itself is amazing, it’s a pleasure to use, and everything I’ve watched looks great.

    One aspect of the Apple TV that’s often overlooked are some of the other features:
    – you can show off photos in HD in a nice slideshow with music in the background
    – you can use it to stream music digitally to your receiver, or TV (if playing on the TV it has a cool screensaver mode where it displays all of the album art)
    – if you have an HD camcorder, that’s a great source of content and the Apple TV makes it easy to show off that HD content in its full resolution

    Anyhow, that’s my two cents. I am happy with the device.

  8. Kevin, thanks for that input.

    even the streaming movie trailers (which can’t be as high resolution as the content they are demoing in the store, right?)

    Actually, they can. I don’t know what the bitrate is for these trailers, but with a high-speed connection and the right buffering there’s no reason you can’t get close to HD quality for a trailer. Studios are happy to release unprotected hi-res teasers because they have no commercial value to anyone except the studios. So you get trailers in HD and downloaded movies in SD or worse. (Well, except from the Xbox Live store, where you actually can download an HD movie.)

    I just wonder what the reason is — bandwidth restrictions, possibly even restrictions imposed on the studios etc. on the quality that they will allow digital content to be distributed at?

    Both, is my guess. Bandwidth costs money and impacts the user experience. With iTunes videos primarily watched on small computer screens, customers don’t notice the crappy quality but would notice if they took an extra hour to download. And the studios are very, very, very jealous about releasing anything hi-res without very tight DRM.

  9. Oh, and the absence of 1080i support would be a deal-breaker for me as well. Maxing it out at 720p is a strange decision for a product that should appeal to a cutting-edge market.

  10. I think Ed is coming at the Apple tv from the experience of a long time Media Center user. Everything that the Apple tv is offering has been here for years as a Microsoft product. Watching HD photo slideshows with music is a staple of the MC experience as well as HD video that has been downloaded as “podcasts”. The only one up Apple has with this box is iTunes integration and that would only matter if it was selling HD content. Otherwise, I’ll stick with my 360 and MC. Ed, have you heard anything about the next gen Extenders, and when should we expect to see something hit the market. (I am guessing that they are trying to put the extenders in the price range of the Apple TV and compete on a one on one experience.)

  11. Kevin, I don’t see 1080i support called out on the AppleTV specs page. It will play back content on a 1080i set, but not at full resolution. Look at the maximum resolutions supported:

    H.264 maximum resolution: 1280 by 720 pixels at 24 fps, 960 by 540 pixels at 30 fps

    MPEG4 720 by 432 pixels at 30 fps

    1080i is 1920 × 1080.

  12. Robert, I am very confident that v2 extenders will appear before the end of this year, in time for the crucial holiday selling season. I have some solid background information that leads me to this conclusion, but nothing I can share publicly, unfortunately.

    The biggest stumbling block is the fact that third parties are making these extenders, and not Microsoft. Because Apple controls the hardware and software and sales experience, they control every aspect of the launch. Microsoft partners with third parties, which makes the ecosystem more diverse but unfortunately also more confusing.

  13. Thanks for the info, Ed. I will be curious how the v2 extenders rate, I understand about the NDA’s. It will be interesting if the 3rd parties will cash-in on MC extenders or if MS will have to wade in even further (than the 360) to support the platform. It often frustrates me to see MS come out with awesome technologies and the partners fail to build quality experiences and support them with the advertising and marketing strategy. Maybe Apple has it right to control the software/hardware, it seems to boost the reality/distortion field quite nicely.

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