Count me as one of those many millions of TV viewers with a disease. Set top box fatigue. It’s a grown national phenomenon.
The area around my television looks like a pawn shop littered with electronics. TV, cable set top box, DVD player, digital video recorder, cable modem, AM-FM receiver, amplifier, speakers of all shapes and sizes.
Does that description of an entertainment center sound familiar? What’s a guy to do? Add another device, right? This time, it’s the Apple TV.
As if there are not enough remotes and wires and cables and connections, Apple’s second take on the Apple TV is almost perfect if it didn’t have one near fatal flaw, and have to coexist with the jumble of technology in my living room.
I’ve come to believe that my living room technology device farm is a problem looking for a solution, and Apple is getting there. Slowly.
Apple TV is that Mac mini-sized device which streams movies, music, and TV shows from your iTunes, Mac or Windows version, and then connects to your television. It’s yet another device to help us lose track of time and desocialize our lives.
This version of Apple TV is better than the last. It still syncs with iTunes on your Mac or PC. It needs yet another remote to control itself. You can still purchase and download movies from iTunes Store and play them on Apple TV. But this version has one big difference and one big flaw.
Apple TV ‘Take 2’ lets you rent movies from iTunes Store, download the movies to your Mac (or PC), view the movies on your Mac, your television, your iPhone, or your iPod for 24 hours (give or take, depending on when you hit the pause button).
Rental movies are competitively priced, and the purchase process of clicks and selections is so obviously Apple. The only problem today is that the software is not quite available for Apple TV but works fine on your Mac using iTunes.
In the latest version of iTunes, everything is mixed together—movie rentals and movie purchases. That’s a little messy because some movies are both rental and purchase, while some are purchase only, and some are rental only. The status just doesn’t jump out at you so it’s important to actually read what’s on the screen.
My cable connection let me download a 90-minute movie in about 15 minutes. Your mileage may vary.
In most cases, once the download begins you can begin watching the movie in just a minute or two. Or three. Or, a little longer depending on how many of my neighbors are using bittorrent to steal movies and music, sucking bandwidth away from my attempt to be an honest citizen and pay for what I use.
There is a top rentals section, and prices are clearly marked. $2.99 to $4.99 for rentals, $9.99 to $14.99 for purchases.
Handling movie rentals is different in iTunes and onscreen than it is with simple movie purchases which allows you to synchronize your Mac or PC to Apple TV and watch the same purchased movie on multiple devices. After all, it’s yours. You bought it. You can watch it here and there and over there.
Not so with movie rentals as they’re not synchronized back to iTunes. The rental section tells you what you have and how many days before it self destructs.
Apple even makes it difficult to find the movie file on iTunes, yet another way to put a speed bump in front of the hackers.
There are some issues we don’t have answers for and need to wait until the Apple TV update software arrives. HD movies will only play on Apple TV and your television. Whether you use iTunes or Apple TV’s slick television interface, the searching, browsing, buying process is the easiest available, perfect for a world full of couch potatoes.
But what about that disease—set top box fatigue? Truly, dealing with yet another box near the TV and yet another remote is fatiguing. Some of that fatigue could be reduced if Apple, or someone else, added a digital video recorder capability, similar to TiVo, to Apple TV. That’s one device performing two functions. With the advent of CableCARD technology, possibly ubiquitous sometime this century, Apple TV could eliminate a set top box, too.
That whole cable company mess is a quagmire I’ll avoid for now as there are all sorts of legal issues, compatibility problems, and product packaging gimmicks which make it a no man’s land of technological quicksand.
For now, Apple TV is better than it was last year. Kate and I both look forward to Apple extending their relationship with AT&T and perhaps moving Apple TV to the head of the line as the product of choice for the phone company’s attempts to compete with cable TV.