Why the Apple TV is a game changer, just not yet...

in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014
...in my own opinion, that is. I begin with the realisation that I have nothing like even a quarter of the technical know how of most of you here and am merely speaking as someone who is a long time Mac user and of the affluent demographic I imagine Apple is aiming at, especially with it's Apple TV.

As I see it the latest generation has everything in place to revolutionise the living room, it's just not all of the dots are lined up yet.

Now, I am speaking as a UK user and realise that with the cable networks and greater use of PVRs in the States the landscape may be very different there. Also, as I envisage it, the Apple TV is unlikely - at least at this stage - to challenge the kind of service provided by Sky here in the UK, if only because large numbers of Sky subscribers want both many channels not available on digital/regular TV as well as the premium sports packages that Apple TV won't offer - unless of course the iTunes Store eventually ends up selling live TV events. It could well do that in future, especially as Ofcom (here in the UK) and EU regulations are clamping down on TV companies running a monopoly on channels and sporting events.

So ignoring for the present time those who use Sky for a wide range of TV channels, Sky+ for recording TV, Sky for sports and Sky for buying films (some of which are services replaceable by Apple TV) I want to look at the many services and boxes in my living room, and maybe yours, and why I think Apple TV is well placed to replace them all.

At present I have a Sony HDTV, home cinema system, Blu-Ray player and a BT Vision box. This latter is actually rather good and I think underestimated in the UK. Here's how Apple TV can supersede and improve on them all:

1. BT Vision (and other similar services)

WIth my BT Vision box I have a better TV Guide than through my standalone digital TV, a free PVR, a range of packages of shows I can download each month if I choose to subscribe, the same shows available to rent individually at a greater cost but on demand (both of these services also include films), and a TV Replay or catch-up service, also available by subscription.

The Apple TV can do almost all of these better. The ability to rent films and TV shows is already there. If Apple TV is opened up to apps or developers like the BBC and Channel 4, as with Netflix, then it could also provide a catch up service like iPlayer or 4OD. This could also replace the PVR as well. Given that Apple have rejected storage in favour of streaming and the various issues with putting a PVR on the Apple TV a well-integrated catch up service could work just as well. In my view the issue of catch-up services vs. recording comes down to the host system. I record shows I already know I want to watch and have the foresight to programme to to record before I go out. Sometimes I forget. In those cases I may use a catch-up service online, but I don't like watching them in my office or on my laptop as much as I would on my large TV screen. On other occasions I might use catch-up for programmes I've heard about after the event, or even on scrolling through something like iPlayer. Therefore, I think that much of the issue is down to the fact that catch-up services are infinitely preferable to PVRs it's just they're not based on the systems we would most like to access them on - ie. TVs. With Apple TV that could no longer the case - without any changes to the existing hardware. Furthermore, there'd be no issue of having a separate box to store the programmes as there'd be no need. Finally, it would address concerns of the studios about shows not being stored and then transferred (as the BBC had to take such care with here when launching the iPlayer).

The lack of storage does present one problem: those films and shows not available to rent OR if you wish to purchase a film and see it more than once. As I understand it the current Apple TV would require you to purchase it through iTunes on your computer system and then stream it from there. Surely with the upcoming Airplay and the remote control of services like Back to my Mac, it's not inconceivable that a programme or film could be purchased on your TV and automatically begin downloading to another system or external hard drive? This would save the awkwardness of going between systems. You could purchase something that would never sit on your Apple TV, but the purchase would be made to another system wirelessly and would begin to stream across your home network - all from your sofa.

2. Blu-ray/Home cinema

I don't propose to enter into the oft repeated arguments about the various merits of Blu-ray vs. film downloads. My concern is more practical in that many great, old films are available to buy or rent on optical media only - there are no download options. Now for this reason we must continue to use optical media. However, I see no reason why Apple (and others) shouldn't expand their range of titles and indeed, if the Apple TV opened up to other libraries, but using the Apple TV UI, it could cover off this problem.

3. TV

This only leaves one small and, to some, insignificant issue. I'm sure that I'm like many users who dislike a plethora of remote controls and, even more so, dislike having to switch between various user interfaces as I switch between different functions on my TV. Now, whether the input for TV signal could somehow come through the Apple TV so that all TV functions come through the Apple TV's interface remains to be seen. It might be too much work for little or no purpose, other than harmony across the various functions of the TV (although Goggle seem to be implementing something similar with their Google TV).

Even if this can't be done, potentially you have a service which replaces your digital box or cable service and PVR and media streaming device with one tiny box that allows you to watch anything on demand, including TV shows that you've missed through streaming catch-up apps and TV shows not available on tour cable/satellite subscription through an on demand streaming rental.

I could see this replacing video rentals, cable companies, PVRs etc. And it's all there. It's just the functionality that has to be joined together.


  • Reply 1 of 2
    And I forgot to add, the advantage of the Apple TV over services that do similar things from Virgin, Sky or BT is that you're not tied into a utility firm for phone or broadband - you can choose whoever provides the best service at the best price, not just because you like their Vision, or Media package.
  • Reply 2 of 2
    That's very interesting. I don't see how as a model it can survive - except perhaps laziness in some consumers if they provide a range of other utilities. I certainly wonder how long it might be before we see live events being available to purchase on demand. Not for a while perhaps as industries will prefer the guaranteed revenue of a deal with say Sky, as well as a share of money so you don't see a dip with Wolves vs. West Brom as opposed to Man Utd vs. Arsenal. Then again, you could buy a season ticket and a sports league or sport generally wouldn't have to worry about excluding viewers unwilling to sign up to a cable or satellite account.
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