Check out my review of the Apple TV here …
The other day I conceded to a friend of mine that he was right when he said that both HD DVD and Blu-Ray were going to be like the eight track: largely irrelevant in the long term. At the time I was under the impression that HD movies were going to be available for rent. Also this week, a number of publications began speculating that Apple TV would win the “format war” over Blu-Ray and HD DVD. While I initially thought that… I now am going back to my original position.
Where I think Apple TV can do some damage is to Netflix and Blockbuster. While slightly on the pricey side, especially for HD movie rentals ($4.99) the Apple TV does offer a viable and competitive program. Plus, it does a whole lot more than your average DVD player, including brings your entire digital music collection into your living room as well as your photos. That feature set is pretty compelling. Plus the convenience of renting from your home will be nice.
The problem is that while people like to rent movies, they also like to purchase them. Just look at the number of DVDs being sold – last year 23.4 billion dollars were spent on DVDs here in the United States (although that was down slightly from the year before). While the slight decrease can he attributed to any number of factors (emergence of HD DVD and Blu-Ray, more digital access to movies) it’s still a heck of a lot of money and shows that there’s still a huge market for video. The problem is that you cannot purchase HD editions of movies online (the only exception to this is HD movies On-Demand that you can purchase through your cable or satellite provider). The problem there is that there is no good way to archive things you purchase from your cable or satellite provider. The best you can do is to connect them to a DVD recorder and record them in good old fashioned SD with stereo audio. Hardly the high definition with surround sound that people are looking for. The other option is to let it chew up space on your DVR…
Finally, it appears clear that movie studios are not stupid, and are going to keep riding the horse that has been selling, and that’s physical media. One can only imagine that if Apple had it’s way, we’d be able to purchase HD movies from the Apple Store. But Apple has had enough trouble getting movie studio to sell the DVD quality versions (which only a few studios do anyway) let alone trying to get the HD versions. As long as the movie studios remain dedicated to physical media (as they presently are), I predict that for the next five to ten years at least, physical media will remain the main way people watch their movies. Or, until the movie studios decide to change their business models for distribution.
When Apple introduced the Apple TV I was excited, but annoyed by the limited functionality of it. Rumors prior to this week’s Mac World Expo were flying and almost everyone was betting that Steve Jobs would introduce some change to the Apple TV. Well, they were right – and originally I was really excited about the change.
Because they didn’t live webcast the event, I missed a major point. When Steve Jobs unveiled the iTunes Movie Rentals I was excited, especially when they announced that they would make movies available in HD with 5.1 surround sound. I mistakenly assumed two things. (1) That if a movie was available for rent, it would be available for purchase (2) If a movie could be rented in HD via Apple TV it could also be rented over from iTunes directly. As time wore on, it became clear that neither was true. HD movies are only available for rent via Apple TV and are not available for purchase.
Based on a Business Week article I read today, and I suspect that they’re right, this wasn’t entirely Apple’s fault. In the ideal world Apple would want both features that I want to be available, but the movie studios wouldn’t budge. Why? Because they fear that if they went to the Apple digital distribution route they’d lose out on DVD and Blu-Ray/HD DVD sales. And the truth is, they’re right. Ratatouille is available for purchase for $15 on the iTunes Store, which is the identical price that the DVD sells for on Amazon.com. The Blu-Ray version is $20. Even if an HD version of Ratatouille cost my $20 through iTunes I’d be likely to buy it only because adding an Apple TV to my entertainment system costs much less than a Blu-Ray player and delivers a whole lot more functionality than a Blu-Ray player.
But alas, it looks like I’ll be living in the world of upconverted DVDs for a while longer. Until I can purchase HD movies online there’s no service that I think is viable.
Recently Apple announced their Apple TV, which is a set-top box that connects to your iTunes library on your computer. But what is interesting is that the same user interface for the Apple TV is included on the MacBook Pro models, including a small remote. So, with two accessories (a DVI to S-Video adapter and an optical audio cable) I’ve been able to create the Apple TV using my laptop and audio system. What is especially cool is that the MacBook Pro automatically detects the appropriate resolutions to output – so the image quality is better than what I’ve seen from a computer connected to a TV through s-video.
So, now I have access to all my music and videos and am able to play them on my TV. It actually makes the iTunes stores availibility of movies and TV shows worth while now.