Apple TV

Apple today announced the new Apple TV, 1/4 the size and just $99 to boot (which means £99 in the UK). This thing is going to sell, it will exceed every market expectation and will become as ubiquitous as a Sky box. And I don’t want one. Instead I just bought myself a new Mac Mini, specced out and seated very comfortably beneath my HDTV. Why? Because, despite what Jobs may say, some people do want a TV that’s also a computer.

My opening paragraph wasn’t a dig at the Apple TV. It really will take off because the vast, some would say entire, population just want to sit down with a comfortable remote and pick a film to watch. For them the idea of never worrying about storage or updates or codecs is heaven and is what Apple excels in. At the end of the day, the Apple TV just works.

So why don’t I want one? Well…

  1. Our household is on a BT Unlimited broadband package. What that actually means is a “soft cap” of 100Gb a month. Any more and speed is throttled to 200Kbps, compared to the normal 10Mbps (of which we will typically get 6Mbps). Even if streams are uninterrupted (and there’s nothing to say they won’t be given the amount of work Apple have done with recent codecs), those who watch a lot of TV will potentially hit their limits, especially if they’re on a package provided alongside Sky TV etc. I have enough trouble as it is staying under the limit, Apple TV would be certain suicide.
  2. Apple have partnered with two of the major TV studios in America, other territories are yet to be mentioned. What does this mean? You can have this show, but not that one. You can have the latest series, but not the first. In essence: your viewing habits are decided by the studios, much like subscription channels currently are. Thanks, but no thanks. If I want to watch something I don’t care if a corporate bigwig has decided otherwise, my time, my viewing habits.
  3. Over the past few weeks I’ve watched all of Stargate Atlantis seasons 1-3. That’s 60 episodes, you do the math in terms of what it would have cost. It’s cheaper to buy the combined boxsets, but then the Apple TV doesn’t have a DVD drive so you’d have to put it in a Mac and stream it (if this is supported, again no details from Apple yet). And what about putting on a random episode of Family Guy to lul yourself to sleep at night? At $1 a pop that soon adds up, especially if you continually fall asleep in them.
  4. This is a big one for myself, but not for most: I have a large collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays that I have transferred to my computer and store on a Drobo. These are in a muddle of formats, from Apple-compatible mp4 through to SD AVI and HD MKV. I doubt the Apple TV would ever support streaming the latter two and I don’t have the time or effort necessary to re-encode all of them.
  5. And last, but by no means least, I use the Mac Mini for a lot besides watching videos on the TV above it. Running Plex and Rivet means I can watch any video stored on the Drobo on my iPad, iPhone, Xbox 360, PS3 or even remotely. In addition I also use the Mini as a home server, torrent box, file drop, and a multitude of other miscellaneous tasks that are ideally suited to a machine that’s always on and sits silently in the corner. In other words, it’s a computer that happens to be hooked up to a TV.

But as I said, I am the exception to the rule. I’ve spent a fair chunk of money on my current set-up because it works for me, and partly because I’m a geek if truth be told. Would my parents want a Mac Mini stuck under their TV? Hell no, the Apple TV is perfect for them. Plug in, hit play, relax. With the Mac Mini you have to set it up, install codecs, download and configure Plex and then sit back and relax, but there are benefits. An Apple TV can show you images and rotten tomato ratings for a film, Plex can load all of that alongside Wikipedia descriptions, IMDB cast lists, and much more. In fact, I’m also writing a review of the latest version of Plex which should be online later this week.

At the end of the day, there are those who for whom watching is only half the fun. For everyone else, there’s an Apple TV.

Update: Also just learnt the Apple TV is only 720p. The difference may be negligible to full 1080p, but if you’ve spent the extra on a good HDTV you expect it to be used to its fullest extent.