Apple TV, Meet Cable TV, Circa 1989

Way back in a cold Chicago winter, circa early 1989, my newly minted husband and I hooked up our television to a cable TV connection which gave us a couple of dozen channels; more than over the air, and with improved quality. For a price.

That was then and this is now. Today, we still have cable TV, but it has a couple of hundred channels, costs more, and delivers a higher quality picture to a large flat panel television. Thanks to a cable TV bill that seems to increase in price every month, many of us have explored options to cut the cord.

TV Party Like It’s 1989

The latest trend among cable cutters is streaming TV shows. Some are streaming on demand. Others are live streaming but with an option to record shows on a cloud DVR (digital video recorder). Somewhere in the convergence of last century to the 21st century lies Apple TV which provides streaming on demand, but also is a platform for games, applications, and TV show and movie rentals.

I don’t know how much money Apple makes on rentals or video sales but it must be more than they would make with a streaming video service to match Google, Sling TV, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Roku, and other services which are more like cable TV from 1989 than they are cable TV killers of the 21st century.

Think about what we had back in 1989. A modest monthly price tag for a few dozen channels. That included local live TV and the few network cable TV channels available at the time. Today, many of the streaming TV services have much the same thing but with higher quality and the DVR thrown in. For about the same price tag as 1989.

Take Google’s YouTube TV as an example. It features live TV streaming from the major TV networks– CBS, Fox, NBC, and ABC– plus a handful of other popular cable TV networks, including sports channels. Google even bills it as TV but without the cord. TV from 1989. $35 a month for a couple of dozen channels that can be streamed on up to three devices at the same time, including iPhone, iPad, Chromecast, Mac or PC, and Android devices.

Not bad, right? Higher quality video than 1989, yes, but similar channel selections at a similar price. The notable exception to the comparison is the built-in, unlimited DVR. AT&T’s DirecTV Now features a few dozen more channels for a similar price but has restrictions and no DVR. Others, like Sony’s PlayStation Vue, has a limited DVR but with other restrictions (try using it outside your house and see).

What has happened in the television industry is something of a sea change as millennials and others get their video fix via YouTube and streaming apps, the video quality is substantially improved, but most of the new offerings are similar to cable TV in 1989.

What of Apple TV? Streaming is there, including YouTube, Sling TV, and others, but Apple’s platform does not seem to have caught on among the masses, perhaps due to a higher entry price tag, and the lack of improvement to navigation. A remote with channel numbers is faster at switching between channels on traditional cable TV than Apple’s anemic remote control– despite Siri being built-in– is switching between app channels.

Apple bills Apple TV as the future of television. OMG. I hope not. We all know what we want and Apple TV– just as it is with Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue and others– doesn’t provide it. Everything on demand all the time on any device.

When that happens, I’ll get more excited about 21st century television. But as it is now, it’s much like 1989 but with an improved picture.






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