Scott Hanselman

Long Term Viability of AppleTV

January 16, '08 Comments [50] Posted in Musings
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I just don't get AppleTV. I mean, I totally get it, I understand the intent, but I can do these things now, with either DVDs and Blockbuster Video or with my existing cable TV service. Certainly the seamlessness of the experience between iTunes, AppleTV and iPhone is a huge thing and amazing, but while iTunes and an iPod seem natural, AppleTV seems forced and stilted. I wonder if it'll really stick around for a number of years or if the studios look at it as "just another outlet."

On Demand Movies for $4 to $5

I've had the ability to rent movies on demand for YEARS on Comcast Cable, and they have had HD movies for two years. They aren't portable (see below) but certainly I can sit down and watch a movie instantly unless I'm too lazy to walk to the video store.

The Xbox360 also has On Demand movies in an almost identical way to the AppleTV, and the wife has started using that more and more. We watched "Hairspray" in HiDef and she was impressed with the experience. The benefit of course is that I already have an Xbox (as do 13 million other folks) and that it's a more versatile machine. It'd be cool if you could surf the web on an Apple TV and if it included a slot loading hi-def DVD player; that might make it more useful.

We find that a "DVD Total Access" pass is the best way for us to watch movies. We pay $20 and we get as many movies as we can turn around in the mail, which is usually ~6 a month or roughly $3 each. We can watch them anywhere, anytime, they don't expire or have late fees. I take them on planes and we watch half downstairs then take it upstairs to finish the last half. In this case, molecules are more portable than electrons for my family.

Take a Movie with You

It's a legal gray area, but I could also rip the rented CDs and watch them on my PSP or iPod, then delete them when I return the movie.

This, to me, is the #1 draw of the AppleTV. If you've got iPods and iPhones then being able to buy a movie in one place and watch it anywhere, even stopping at home and finishing on a plane. I can do this with DVDs that I get in the mail from Blockbuster, though, and they are excessively portable.

Storage For Your Own Content

Ripping and storing your own content to the AppleTV is the second most interesting feature I think, but that can be done with any NAS (Network Attached Storage) device and most any uPNP device, provided the codecs line up.

I kind of like having DVDs as storage, rather than the "psychic weight" of worrying about a hard drive crashing with 150 lovingly ripped DVDs sitting on it.

As the anonymous blogger at Shipping Seven says (caustically) about the lack of a DVD Drive on the new Macbook Air:

Dumping the DVD drive is a risky move. Yes, they are bulky, and are not used very much. But walk around any airplane/train, and you'll see a huge number of people with laptops watching movies.
Here's a hint, Apple: Not all those people are going to rent a movie off iTunes for a four-hour flight,
like you cheerfully propose. I can borrow a movie from my roommate's DVD collection. For free. For more than 24 hours. People generally pick the easiest and cheapest solution available to them.

It's true, folks like cheap; I like cheap.

Watch Photos on my TV

My TV, and many TVs, have an SD slot for photo slideshows, and the Xbox has both USB for docking a camera directly and uPNP, so this is interesting, but not incredibly so. If I could plug a digital camera directly into the AppleTV, that might be cool. (It has USB, can I do this now?)

Television Shows

Why would I want to pay $2 (TWO DOLLARS!) for a TV Show "the day after it airs" when I can watch it for free by visiting www.abc.com, www.cbs.com or www.nbc.com or any other Torrent site? And who wants to own a TV show. Why not 50 cents just to rent it? I'll wait until it comes out on DVD for those prices.

This is another example of where I think the Cable TV set-top boxes have advantage (today). For example, I get Showtime and I watch my favorite show, Dexter, on Showtime, but if I miss an episode, the entire season is sitting in the On Demand Menu for free. Why pay?

Utility

I really avoid buying gadgets unless they will fit into my, and my family's, lifestyle in a seamless and utilitarian way. The WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) is about making everything "one button easy" like we have with the Harmony 880 Remote. When we moved to the new house I swapped out some equipment and we started using the Xbox as our primary DVD player. The wife was "shielded" from this because the Watch DVD button the Remote still worked as she expected.

I can see how an AppleTV could be a central part of one's media life, but I guess even though the Xbox is a totally different devices, perhaps, at least in my house, the Xbox has already taken its place as the "Box that does all things well."

Do you have an AppleTV and do you like it? Is this a gadget worth having? Is it indispensable like a GPS, MP3 Player or Tivo?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008 5:58:18 PM UTC
I'm kind of convinced that molecules will remain more portable than electrons for a while, partially because the infrastructure for moving electrons around the world is not as prevalent, full-featured, or, in some cases, fast as the infrastructure for moving molecules. I believe the quote is "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." See also: Sneakernet. You can get a much higher bandwidth, but the latency is killer! ;)

Having said that, with two Xbox 360's in the house, I've decided to encode all of my DVDs to XviD and store them on my media server along with my music. I'm about 2/3 done, and I love the result. It's pretty convenient, and I can't recommend it enough.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:02:20 PM UTC
What tools do you use?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:03:08 PM UTC
I do the same thing you do with your XBox60 with a Mac Mini, and previously on a hacked XBox. I can't see ANY reason to jump ship to AppleTV. Seems like wasted energy to me...
Andy
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:03:36 PM UTC
I have an Apple TV and I rarely use it. Let me back up. I rarely use it. The kids use it to watch all the kid movies I've got shared from our main computer that runs iTunes all the time. The fact that there are few buttons to learn, just menu, left and right to pick a movie from a large cover art picture, and then play is worth it.

I never use it. The last few movies I watched (Superbad, Blades of Glory, okay, yeah, I'm not that hip) I watched on my iPhone on a plane. Why? Because that's the last time I've had two hours to spare with nothing else to do.

I have an XBOX 360, and I can use Connect360 (yes, I bought it) to play all the movies and music from my iTunes machine (yes, it's an iMac). I've used that a couple of times, but the fan noise from the 360 makes hearing dialog at night with the kids asleep a joke. The same return I don't have an XBOX HD DVD drive, the loud factor (and the fact that HD DVD is dead).

Rentals on the Apple TV? Maybe, but I doubt it. 30 days after DVD release, only have 24 hours to watch it, chances are I'll watch it on my iPhone before I find two hours to sit in front of the TV uninterrupted.

At least it looks pretty. :)
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:12:35 PM UTC
Scott, the Xbox360 is really the route to go. You can rent movies off it or you can connect to your PC (and it doesn't have to be vista or media center any more) to play your videos. I have a blog article detailing what I use for this but it's clonedvd mobile and anydvd from slysoft.com. There's a great program out there called mymovies on mymovies.name that will download the box shots and movie details for you for any movies you rip.

I also have Amazon Unbox setup on my vista machine so I can stream the unbox movies from my vista machine to my xbox 360 in the living room. The video quality is quite good. In fact, I've been contemplating a second Xbox 360 for the bedroom so I can use it as a media extender in there.

Oh and a few people have mentioned vudu.com's new box which does similar to the apple tv stuff.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:18:12 PM UTC

I've had the ability to rent movies on demand for YEARS on Comcast Cable, and they have had HD movies for two years.


Great for you. I live outside of the US, and I've NEVER EVER lived anywhere with that option. EVER. It is available in the UK (where I am at the moment), but it's quite expensive, and only really on cable, which isn't universal, unlike the US.

New Zealand (where I really "live") isn't even close to offering it.

I too, dont "get" the appletv. But that's 'cos I no longer "get" TV. I dont own one, havn't for over 2 years. I download the few shows I want to watch from iTunes (CSI mostly), I torrent a _couple_ of things I can't get from there (Heros was the only one - NBC puts it back on iTunes, I'll drop the cash on it), and I watch BBC stuff using the BBC iPlayer (which rocks, but it's only in the UK).

I've not seen an ad in around 2 years, and I'm about as legal as I can be. The apple TV, with added iPlayer support (I wonder if they would.....) and support for DIVX (for torrented stuff) would make me reconsider not owning a TV. As it is, a 24" monitor would do, and is more useful - beats the 13" macbook any day, esp for photo editing and code :)

Righto. The cool thing for me was the Time Capsule. Crap name, but the product is nice :)
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:19:09 PM UTC
Oh, and I've used the equivilent of NetFlicks, and threw it 'cos what was coming down the pipe was SO far down my queue it wasn't funny. Maybe NF in the US is better, but .....
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:19:29 PM UTC
Nic - You had me, then you lost me when you started paying for CSI. ;)
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:20:46 PM UTC
One other thing, you can watch Heroes (all of them) for free, in Flash or with the Universal Downloader, at www.nbc.com, by the way.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:26:29 PM UTC
Now that you work for Microsoft, I'm going to hold you personally responsible for fixing all of their faults ;)

On that note, please go convince the XBox Live Marketplace team that selling tv shows for $2 is absurd, as you know.

And while you're there, convince them that a "netflix" model of "X movies at a time for as long as you want, with a Y dollars a month subscription" would be INFINITELY cooler for an on-demand service, as opposed to the $4-$6 of 24 hour use everyone currently offers. Why hasn't anyone done this yet? Apple's "me too" offering is so underwhelming.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:33:02 PM UTC
Scott,
I tend to agree with you. We use NetFlix and that works well considering we rarely have much time to watch movies in the first place and I can queue them up on the ReplayTV for later viewing.

One thing that seemed appealing from yesterday's SJ presentation was the ability to preview movies. I can see that being interesting when we don't know exactly what we want to watch and are provided the ability to preview right from the couch. Other than that, though, they brought nothing to the table that really peaked my interest. The price reduction has to reflect the fact that it isn't selling very well.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:39:52 PM UTC
I don't really get AppleTV either. It's not a computer in a conventional sense, so you can't do anything interesting with it.
I have a setup that works great. All the movies/photos/home videos/audio/etc... are stored on an old PC in the garage. By the TV, I have the first gen Intel MacMini with Windows XP Media Center Edition installed. The MacMini sucks the data on demand via wireless and I haven't had a DVD in the house for years now. Everything works great.

I described my setup in detail here:
http://www.angryhacker.com/blog/archive/2007/08/20/the-death-of-dvd.aspx



Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:43:56 PM UTC
What tools do you use?


To rip, DVDFab HD Decrypter. It's kept up-to-date on most of the new copy-protection mechanisms that have come around since DVD Decrypter went defunct.

To encode DVDs, Auto Gordian Knot. I've tried a bunch of encoders, and this is the one I just keep coming back to. It handles cropping, subtitles, auto-sizing, auto-splitting, and more. I wish it had an option to just specify what bitrate you want the end result encoded in. I've been aiming for around 1500 kbps, so what I do is I tell AutoGK to auto-size my movie to a file size I calculate using the rate of 700 Mb/hr. Seems to work pretty well.

To capture digital video from my camcorder, WinDV. The digital video capture built into Vista is capable, but it annoys me that it assumes I want to add captured video to the Windows Media Player library.

To encode digital video from my camcorder, MediaCoder. I deinterlace the DV as I encode. Again, I go for 1500 kbps.

On all of the above, I force the image width to the original 720 px wide, as I'd rather deal with some compression artifacts here and there than lose resolution, since I'm watching on an HDTV and an XGA projector. I wrote a (lame) blog post about this last week, but I should have written more detail. Meh, I was tired and it was late. :)
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:48:30 PM UTC
I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one, and not because I am an Apple fanboy. I only have one Apple device and that is an iPhone that the company I work for bought me. While I agree with you that Netflix is a good option for most people, I would complain that when a movie comes out that is very popular then it can sometimes take weeks for it to become available. In the meantime I will have inevitably gone to blockbuster and rented it. Another problem with Netflix is that i have an X-Box 360 and I have an HD-DVD player, but most stuff now comes out on Blu-Ray. So I find myself wanting to download movies off X-Box live. That would be great, if anything came out on X-Box live. X-Box live is only supported by a handful of studios and even then they barely put anything up there. Comcast is a little bit better than X-Box, but they still have a horrible selection and their idea of "HD" is a bit off. I'm sorry, but you can't compress an HD movie into a 500k stream and have it look right. The decompression artifacts visible watching any scene that moves faster than a snail is horrendous. So, why do I think Apple has a lead in this? They have *all* of the major studios on board (including Sony, something that Microsoft will never be able to do), they say they will have 1000 movies by the end of march (which is 3 times what Microsoft has been able to muster up in a year), and they actually have real HD quality movies. If they can manage to get most all new movies coming out in a decent period of time, then I say that they will all of these options beat hands down.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:49:26 PM UTC
I don't get AppleTV either. What's the fuss? XBOX has been doing for this for a while and there are plenty of others. I was using MovieLink through MCE about 4 years ago on my TV.

Your point about who wants to own a TV show? Who wants to rent it either? With real IPTV *you* should decide when to watch it and everything will be on demand - i.e. no rental required. The only thing stopping this right now is the cable companies ability to insert relevant adverts inside shows (for people watching it late). This is the clincher with an IPTV platform, it's integrating a good revenue model with on demand shows.

I have all my media on a server and use the regular XBOX to serve it up. Thinking of getting a HP MediaSmart TV soon to bring this functionality into the TV. I use DVDFab for ripping DVDs - which is great and works really well.

Now if Microsoft got MCE integrated with MediaRoom for DVR capabilities and allowed those shows to be portable on other devices, and if Verizon rolls out real mediaroom IPTV rather than their hybrid coax solution I would be happy.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:57:02 PM UTC
Oh, a couple other things about my XviD library, while I'm thinking about it...

If you're watching a movie on a PC, try Media Player Classic. It's a nice, minimalist media player that can handle pretty much whatever you want to throw at it, while using a bare minimum of system resources. While I'm working, I like to have movies in a tiny window (say, maybe 150px X 85px or so), set to "always on top" in the lower right corner of my screen near the system tray. Just don't tell my boss. ;)

And I'll second the point some other guy made regarding Amazon Unbox. Streaming from your PC to your Xbox 360 works well and looks great. I did this to catch an episode of Journeyman that my local NBC affiliate pre-empted. (Unrelated rant: Damn you, NBC, for not renewing Journeyman. You guys suck.)
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 7:00:48 PM UTC
I'll just talk about the movie stuff because I am short on time, based on the keynote, engadget's hands-on and the stuff on Apple's site. Here goes:

Apple TV vs. Xbox 360. This is so easy, I mean I know you work for MS now, but Xbox Live is only competitive on the surface. Renting any movie on Apple TV will be much simpler than renting them on Xbox 360. The blade interface is simply horrible by comparison to what the new Apple TV interface is. It will take more clicks of the Xbox remote or the controller to actually get to rent anything than with Apple TV. On the 360 you have to browse for something, the Apple TV has search. No MS Points, no loans of fractional dollars to a multi-billon company, you buy in dollars and pay in dollars (or whatever your local currency is when that comes online). Movie previews that don't suck, even with the latest Xbox software update, the movies previews are simply horrendous compared to what the Apple TV already offers. Rentals from Apple TV will have real chapters comparable to DVDs, not the time based division that all rentals I have seen from Xbox Live have. Apple will never remove content from iTunes, it's there forever. Pirates 3 expires from Xbox Live in May I believe. Apple TV is silent, Xbox 360 sounds like a low power hairdryer. Xbox HD rentals are a little more expensive than Apple TV, unless I have messed up my MS Point to dollars conversion again. The only "advantage" is the the 360 plays games, but I don't think it's wise to rely on the 360 for too much besides games since it's so fragile. Everyone I know, except for me, has had their 360 die, some more than once.

Apple TV vs. Comcast/Cable Provider. This is a little closer. Again, Apple's library will go to infinity, my cable provider also removes content from their library. I wanted to watch Black Snake Moan in HD a few weeks ago, but they had already taken it away. Interface is again horrible with my Motorola set-top box. My TV is HDTV, the UI is stuck in an SD center channel. Movie posters almost always incorrect, preview is shown behind a pop-up window that says you are watching a preview the entire time. Prices are the same.

Apple TV vs. Netflix. This may work out in Netflix's favor depending on your usage pattern, but not for me. I want to watch exactly what strikes my fancy when I want, and I don't want to juggle a queue all the time to predict if I am in the mood for Death Proof 1 week from now.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 7:26:23 PM UTC
Dave Murdock - That was a very well written comment, thanks for it! I think you have a lot of really good points, some of which I hadn't though of. The *removal* of old movies, something that happens on both Comcast and Xbox, is lame, I agree, and one can't be said to have a library if they are deleting stuff a lot. I believe this is partially a contractual thing on Xbox, but still it's weak.

I personally like the blade interface, but if you look at the more "classic" Xbox Originals interface, it's similar to the Apple TV...tiled box covers, so certainly Xbox could (and should) do something more conventional, and they totally need better searching/browsing.

Folks keep complaining about the Xbox noise, but I just put it in a cabinet and forget about it. It's loud, but it's inside the cabinet, so...

I will say that I wonder if the Comcasts and other Cable companies of the world will sit by and let this AppleTV/Vudu/Xbox thing just happen, or if they will step up...or if they CAN step up.

I switched to FIOS last week, so I'll be blogging about that vs. Comcast...it's pretty sweet.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 7:49:31 PM UTC
I don't think any of you on this board really "get" the Apple TV because you haven't "standardized on Apple" for storing, organizing, and performing your digital assets (music, home videos, movies and photos). If you have a homogeneous setup (Apple), you'd "get" it faster. If you don't, meaning you are using other products/services that are designed to integrate into another ecosystem (i.e.: Microsoft or Open), that may be why there's so much confusion about what the big deal is, and why the Apple TV seems to have so many shortcomings.

Let me explain: If you Torrent, you'll be hoping for DivX support. If you ripped your music with WMA/FLAC/OGG, you'll be hoping for support for that. If you have an Xbox 360, and a Mecia Center, you've chosen the Microsoft ecosystem, and the AppleTV won't jive. If you use Picasa or Adobe Premiere Elements for to organize your photo library, you'll be out of luck using the AppleTV to instantly enjoy your photo albums. If you use Windows Media Player to create your music playlists, you're out of luck, they won't show up on AppleTV. Sure, there's geek solutions to get all this working, but AppleTV, I reckon, is about extending the Apple universe in a fun and easy way. Patching things together is not the point.

On the other hand... if you have decided to standardize on Apple stuff, the AppleTV really makes good use of it, it brings it all to the TV room in a fun, no-hassle way.

Now you understand why I like and enjoy my AppleTV. Because I'm an Apple fanboy. Because I decided Apple has a nice ecosystem that will suit my familly's music/photo/home video/movie needs for the foreseeable future, and the products work well together. We don't have an Xbox 360. We manage our music in iTunes, create playlists there, rate songs, etc. I have an iPod touch as a portable player. We manage our photos in iLife (even if I have more PCs in the house than that single iMac, I gave up on everything except Picasa if I ever ditch the Apple universe). I have multi-room audio thanks to the Airport Express module. Everything works well together.

The Xbox can do this, if you choose Microsoft. And there are nice devices like Media Extenders and lots of third-party things for that ecosystem. All the hoopla is simply that the AppleTV is a nice piece of the Apple overall digital lifestyle ecosystem.

The AppleTV turns our TV into a giant visual music selector when we don't watch TV. It understands our iTunes playlists. It understands our Podcast downloads. It understands our iPhoto albums. It understands all the movies in iTunes and can play them. It will let you buy iTunes Store music, that's automatically synced to your iTunes... It rents movies using the same Apple store account that I buy music from. And so on. It's all about making the Apple world more complete, that's all...

Odi Kosmatos
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 7:54:30 PM UTC
Hey Scott,

I just had a discussion of this topic with my coworker and he brought up two important points:

1) Many people, such as yourself Scott, already accomplish the variety of tasks the AppleTV addresses in alternate ways. But not everyone does, and for someone who doesn't already have a plethora of gadgets laying around -- the AppleTV might make more sense.

2) Also, Apple is selling the AppleTV technology to customers with all level of understanding about technology. So keep that in mind -- as other people may really enjoy the ease of use and 'all in one aspect' of this device and don't necessarily geek out on all of the different cool stuff that we may geek out on....

But given the context of your audience, I think the post is very relevant -- I just happened to talk to someone who isn't a super geek about it...

Take care,

Ian
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 7:55:35 PM UTC

All of your arguments for not using Apple TV are technically true. But ask yourself this question. If people can just buy the CD's and rip them, how could ITMS possibly have manged to sell 4 BILLION songs for what is basically a digital walkman. If you understand the answer to that question, you will begin to understand how getting movies in a similar manner can be a big deal.


mikeJ
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 8:09:39 PM UTC
Scott - It was my pleasure. If you haven't already, watch the new Apple TV guided tour:
http://www.apple.com/appletv/guidedtour/

After watching that, I have a bunch of additional issues with the 360. I have seen the Xbox Original's UI, it's better and MS should at least use it for movies. See the UI on Apple TV in the guided tour, they use the whole width of your HDTV to display content, and show you a bunch of categories to suggest additional content. On the 360, the blade interface waste a lot of space on the left and right sides, it is not really optimized for a rectangle, its designed to be a square that happens to fit in a rectangle. I am paying $50 a year for Xbox Live Gold, why do I have to see ads? The content sure isn't cheaper because of it. When you rent movies on the 360, instead of having them visible directly in the Marketplace, even a button to get to the content you have rented, user has to know to go to the Media blade. Rentals that have expired don't auto delete on the 360, they do on the Apple TV.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 8:42:07 PM UTC
Hi Scott

As per your comment that you can watch "Heroes" or other shows for free on www.nbc.com, that's only true if you live in the US. Otherwise you get the "The clip you've selected is not available from your location." I assume two things: they doing a reverse lookup via IP, and that they only have the rights to broadcast in the US, and those rights to broadcast in Canada (where I am) or the UK have been sold to someone else. Unfortunately for me, the "someone else" isn't streaming those episodes on their websites.
Jim Graham
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 8:56:45 PM UTC
I use the combination of a Windows Media Center and Xbox 360.

Here is my number 1 problem with Apple TV, it doesn't play live and recorded tv. Isn't the point to have 1 device that does it all? I get it all with my setup. Music, Videos, ripped DVDs, disc based DVDs, disc based HD-DVDs, rented shows from the marketplace, live tv, recorded tv all on 1 device in my living room. I still use a Harmony remote because they are so awesome, but I almost don't even need to anymore. I only have the Xbox 360 connected to my reciever and television. As a bonus, whenever I am doing any of the things above I am connected to my community of friends via Xbox Live and MSN Messenger.

For my lifestyle, nothing else comes close to this.

All that said, I hope they integrate Media Center and the Live Marketplace a little more in the future. For example, I wish I could browse and rent a movie without exiting from Media Center back to the dashboard. There is also definite room for improvement in the UI for browsing the movies, but the current form is not that bad. Lastly, I have to agree that the Xbox 360 is just a tad bit loud at times, but I have no problem just jacking the volume up as I do not have kids to worry about waking.
Bradley Landis
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 9:27:00 PM UTC
Bradley,

You are using analog cable TV, right?

Odi Kosmatos
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 9:31:57 PM UTC
If you have an Xbox 360, and a Mecia Center, you've chosen the Microsoft ecosystem...


While I'm not really all that up-to-speed on the Apple ecosystem (as you put it), this statement is somewhat incorrect.

While it's true that Xbox 360 has Media Center extender built in, it also has a full-fledged, UPnP AV client built-in, which is standards-based and works with any number of UPnP AV servers, including TwonkyMedia (Windows, Linux, and OSX) and Connect360 (OSX). I personally use the UPnP server built into Vista, but any of the others would work just as well. Because all of these products adhere to the UPnP AV standard, I can pick up another player, like the D-Link DSM-520, and it should work just fine.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 9:36:16 PM UTC
Odi, I have 1 analog tuner and dual digital QAM tuner. So I get any digital channels that my cable provider does not encrypt including the HD versions of the local channels.

There is also CableCard technology that is available for Media Center that will enable you to view encrypted content, but that requires certified equipment and a visit from your providers technician to set up.
Bradley Landis
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 9:37:16 PM UTC
I guess I'm in the minority here, but we have an Apple TV (in a mixed Windows/Linux household) and love it.

We use it for two main things:

1: Kids dvds ripped to video.
2: A surrogate iPod for when we don't need eyes glued to a screen. This includes podcasts and lots of music playlists.

We also use it for catching up on prior seasons of TV shows, but that's definitely not its primary use. I've been using DVD Decrypter/Handbrake, but I'm going to give the toolset recommended above a shot.

We're upgrading to FiOS TV tomorrow, and getting a bigger TV, so we'll likely be wanting better HD support than we've needed so far. This will likely change our usage pattern.

Eric Landes
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 10:13:57 PM UTC
I forgot to mention that I can also push recorded TV to my Zune. Although it only seems to work with shows recorded on the analog tuner. I haven't put a lot of effort into figuring out why the digital stuff doesn't show up in my Zune library but worst case scenario, I have to re-encode it. In any case, this recorded TV content doesn't have the DRM issues that will certainly be a concern with purchased TV shows.

I'd also love to see more Zune integration with Windows Media Center. Let me browse the Zune Marketplace without leaving the Windows Media Center interface. Someone in the community may even be able to write a Media Center add-in for this. Which brings us back to the "closed" system of Apple. Microsoft has always had better support for 3rd party and community members to extend the experience and I believe this is true here as well.

I'd like to see more integration with the Zune and the Xbox Live Marketplace as well. Let me transfer rented movies or purchased tv shows to my Zune. While I personally wouldn't use this very often, I think it would be nice for when traveling and those that travel more often probably see it as an essential feature. I know Apple has some compatibility between their new video rentals and the iPod, so it will be interesting to see how quickly Microsoft responds here.

One more feature that I wanted to point out is commercial skipping for recorded tv. Again, thanks to Microsoft's plug in model and support from 3rd party and the community, there are programs like dvr-ms toolbox that can run on Media Center and automatically remove commercials from recorded TV shows.
Bradley Landis
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 10:34:58 PM UTC
We have 2 Apple TVs and I love them. We watch recorded TV (via Elgato's device from the 20 or so free analog channels we get), ripped movies, music, photos, etc. I can't think of anything I'd want to watch that I can't get digitally. Physical DVDs? That's like telling someone to buy physical CDs, there's just no reason anymore. I'll buy (or rent now) through iTunes any movie I want to see.

As for buying TV shows for $2 I can think of a few reasons. I can subscribe to a season easily, no commercials, and it's cheaper than subscribing to cable. We watch maybe 6 seasons per year x $40 = $240 vs. 12 months x $40 = $480 for cable. We don't watch sports or the news though. We also don't have an XBox, just a Wii.

So for a family like mine where we don't need but a few shows a year, don't watch sports or news, and have converted everything to digital, the AppleTV works great. Sure there are other setups/solutions that would work too, but this works fine for me and it's dead simple to use.
Bill Nalen
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 10:48:50 PM UTC
Bill,

Elgato's EyeTV looks like an interesting device but I am a little confused. Does it stream it to AppleTV or is it a seperate device in your living room? If it is seperate, why isn't something similar built into AppleTV?

Thanks
Bradley Landis
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 11:02:54 PM UTC
"I can see how an AppleTV could be a central part of one's media life, but I guess even though the Xbox is a totally different devices, perhaps, at least in my house, the Xbox has already taken its place as the "Box that does all things well."

How impartial is such commentary when you are talking about a product made by the company you work for, in contrast to a competitor's? In general, I don't know how much impartiality is present (in the flood of commentary that appears when something like an Apple keynote occurs) by people who make a living from Microsoft. Whether they do so directly or indirectly.
Diego
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 11:20:36 PM UTC
Good questions!

I bought my Xbox360 two years ago, and I've only worked for The Man for 4 months. However, my impartiality is only as much as you trust me (or not). I have owned 4 iPods, an iPhone, 2 Macs, and copies of Office 2004 and 2008 for Mac as well as developing Ruby on my MBP. I think I'm impartial enough. Microsoft's not going to fire me for having an opinion, be that pro- or anti-Microsoft. Microsoft doesn't own my opinion. ;) Do I not get to comment on products from all over even though I work for the Big Blue Monster? Does it matter if I desparately do (or don't) need the job?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 11:30:32 PM UTC
Whoever gets the most content I want, for the cheapest price, with the least restrictions, will win my nickel. Right now, nobody has it, and I download from tvtorrents.com and march to blockbuster the old-fashioned way.

The problem with downloading TV from the networks is their stupid websites: I don't know or care what network has what show. Just give me the 5 shows I want, all downloaded and ready to watch when and where I want. I'll even watch an ad if I have to. But this is TV - don't make me think about it! And it's not worth 2$ a show.

Downloading movies is pretty much the same, and Apple's almost there. The only downside is selection. MovieLink has been around for a while, but only has 2 good movies. If Apple's contracts with all the studios pan out (currently they have a catalog of 150 movies), then they win that.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 11:34:49 PM UTC
Daniel - I've heard nightmare scenarios of folks getting legal letters and losing internet access for downloading torrents of copyrighted shows. Do you worry about that stuff?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 11:47:36 PM UTC
My thoughts came about in more of a general sense than directly aimed at you, Scott. Your post and final comment about AppleTV vs. XBox made me wonder out-loud (in a blog comment) about these things. As for yourself, I trust that your opinions are honest. I think most people that have been following your blog and podcast for a while will agree.

As for Microsoft, no they don't own your opinions. But I wonder if in the back of your mind there's a little voice, maybe a voice of self-preservation, which may tame comments made about Microsoft. Then agian, you're probably not of the character to make such negative comments about them that you'd be looking down the unemployment line. :) I think that most people would tame their comments. Turn down the level of any apparent rhetoric about one's employer. It may be professionally suicidal not to do so. And perfectly understandable. Please note that last sentence. I'm not attacking in any way. But in the end, I personally don't think one can be 100% impartial when writing about one's own employer. Someone outside has complete freedom to write whatever it is they think. So there is a difference. At the end of the day you are a voice for Microsoft. Of course you can comment on anything you want. No doubt about that.

By the way, did you end up returning the iPhone after you posted negatively about it? You posted your intention to return it just a few weeks after starting at Microsoft, right? :)

P.S. Office 2004 and 2008 for the Mac aren't by Microsoft? ;)
Diego
Thursday, January 17, 2008 12:01:53 AM UTC
I didn't think they were personal, my friend, so no worries. I think you make some very good points. There isn't a voice of self-preservation with regard to this job because I promised myself if I become compromised that I'd quit.

That said, I'm not one, as you know, who tends to "blog bile" and I can find the nice in most things, so I stray away from talking smack about most anyone or anything unless they really suck.

Ya, I did return the iPhone and got an HTC Excalibur. I'm on a Windows Mobile minor.version beta that makes it tolerable, and the over-the-air Exchange sync is great.

Heh. Touche, yes Office is Microsoft. ;)
Thursday, January 17, 2008 12:25:18 AM UTC
Scott.. everything is about convenience. Something that doesn't make sense to you makes sense for someone else. Why do people buy Seinfeld DVD's if the show is on reruns for years every day at 7:00!? Some people do not own a DVR and they want to watch it whenever they like. Some people want to watch on the road. Maybe they like looking at the color cover.. who knows why. As long as people buy them, the publisher will be happy to charge for it.
Besides, I hate watching any shows on my computer monitor, so going to a site like www.abc.com is not my cup of tea. I want to lie down on my comfy sofa and watch it on my big HD TV.

I am sure people who will buy the MacBook Air do no care about watching DVD's. If you expect a laptop that thin, some hardware had to go and the DVD player was one of them. If you really really want to watch a DVD on AIR, rip the DVD to the HD or get the external player for $99. It's not a dead end road for watching DVD's.

Apple is offering options for the consumer. If every laptop is going to have a DVD player built in it, which some users do not need, then Apple is limiting its options. What Apple is doing is a good choice.



Abdu
Thursday, January 17, 2008 12:33:38 AM UTC
Hey Scott;

I think there's one other fundamental flaw with the Macbook Air: HD space!

It's not just that you don't get a DVD drive installed (or even included in the price). But if you shell out $3,000+ for awesome SSD version you only get 64 GB of HD space. I don't have a DVD drive, so I'm probably going to have to keep my media on the computer, except, oh wait, I have less space then a new iPod.

So you get this really light laptop, but it's really expensive. And it's hobbled in so many ways that it's just an accessory to the rest of the computers that you own b/c it can really supplant an existing computer. Man, it can hardly act as a work computer, it doesn't even have an ethernet port. Sounds just as poorly placed as our Apple TV :)
Thursday, January 17, 2008 1:42:06 AM UTC
I've heard nightmare scenarios of folks getting legal letters and losing internet access for downloading torrents of copyrighted shows.


Really? I know plenty of people (my 15-year-old brother, for one) who have had their ISP boot them for downloading torrents of movies, but never for television shows. As I understand it, the jury's still out on downloading network television programs, and the networks are reluctant to file suits for fear of losing a case and setting a precedent like Sony v Universal.

Thursday, January 17, 2008 2:34:03 AM UTC
Joystiq has a pretty comprehensive tabulation of Xbox Live vs. Apple TV:
http://www.joystiq.com/2008/01/16/charted-xbox-live-video-marketplace-vs-apple-tv/
Thursday, January 17, 2008 11:13:50 AM UTC
I have had Windows Media Center since the XP version came out. I recently upgraded to the Vista version. Prior to the upgrade, we seriously considered getting the Apple TV. We're considering dumping the Comcast Cable service, because we hardly ever watch live TV any more, and wind up renting our favorite TV series from NetFlix anyway. I also ripped all of our DVDs to our Windows Homer Server. Using this in conjunction with the free My Movies plugin for Media Center has been the solution that works best for us. Topping it all off is the Harmony remote, which allows my wife the one-click access to whatever she wants to watch. So, we're definitely holding off on Apple TV until it can do at least all the thing Media Center box can do, which I don't think will be any time soon.
Mark Struzinski
Thursday, January 17, 2008 12:35:45 PM UTC
Nice, for the time being , i happy downloading heros in Divx format and watching it in my lappy. Both me and my wife enjoys it with windows vista ultiamate media option. But in terms of , watching it in xbox , i still miss a wifi in it, so that i can transfer it with just one button click. And for apple tv, it does not sound that useful to me like the iphone or ipod, so its just a waste of money buying, unless anyone is not a apple freak and want to make steve jobs happy :-)
Thursday, January 17, 2008 3:06:33 PM UTC
Heck, I'll buy one if it finally means that I can watch anything that I can normally rent at Netflix.
My understanding, was that Apple was announcing that they have the backing of all the major studios to finally get some good content in this arena.
The selection of movies available for the XBOX 360 is a joke. They offer a couple block busters and then the rest - OMG I think there is something like 500 movies now and most of them probably got 1 out of 5 stars - its like trying to dig through a bargain bin to find a decent movie.
Somebody needed to step up the content, hope Apple delivers.
Dave
Thursday, January 17, 2008 6:39:14 PM UTC
Great post, Scott. Looking forward to your write up on FiOS TV (I love mine).

The big flaw with AppleTV, for me at least, is the lack of DVR capability.

Apple would be smart to work with the cable companies to offer the AppleTV as an upgraded option to the standard Motorola DVR.
Thursday, January 17, 2008 7:24:58 PM UTC
I doubt Apple will add DVR to AppleTV. They have a pretty good thing going with purchasing TV shows on iTunes. If they get a a few more networks on board then they will essentially be able to offer "a la carte" TV. For a lot of consumers this might not be a bad thing. I pay probably $60 a month for cable and $10 a month for Tivo service. I have to watch 35 shows in a month to beat the $2 a show price. I'm not sure I watch that much in a month. And throw iTunes show subscriptions in and the prices are less than $2 a show. And the stuff on iTunes does not have commercials to skip.
Thursday, January 17, 2008 8:27:21 PM UTC
Daniel - I've heard nightmare scenarios of folks getting legal letters and losing internet access for downloading torrents of copyrighted shows. Do you worry about that stuff?


Scott, I thought I heard you say on an episode of Hanselminutes sometime last year that you had gotten a nastygram from Comcast for getting a torrent of a TV show. Was I dreaming? Or did I mis-hear something?
Thursday, January 17, 2008 8:55:40 PM UTC
Is the future of the device all that important? I could see the future of the rental/subscription services behind it as being relevant (if that's what you buy it for), but the device itself is a consumer-electronics-class box that I would expect to have for 5-10 years. As a user interface for my video and music, it kicks butt. Simplicity and utility, done well.
Brian Windheim
Thursday, January 17, 2008 10:21:36 PM UTC
Scott, I think the answer to your question about the AppleTV is right there in your own post; "one button easy". IMHO, this has always been Apple's strength, designing products with an eye towards ease, simplicity, and elegance that virtually dares even the most tech-averse consumer not to buy them. They sell "one button ease". While your setup sounds fantastic, all this tech jargon (codecs and torrents, rippers and encoders, twonkey-this and knot-that) is enough to scare even a seasoned tech savant away. Your wife and (darling) kids have you to setup all this stuff. The rest of us have Apple.
Sean S.
Friday, January 18, 2008 5:19:14 PM UTC
Wow, everyone, including yourself Scott, keep talking about all these awesome things you can do with you Xbox 360. I have had mine for over a year now and I think the only thing I ever did was play games on it. I knew it could do some other cool stuff but reading everyones comments makes me think I don't know half of what my 360 can do.

Scott, could you post some more information about your 360 set up at home. I'm sure I'm not the only one interested in this stuff.
Ryan Lattimer
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.