Apple TV update looks good but doesn't offer much more

Apple TV update looks good but doesn't offer much more

Summary: Apple issues a software update to AppleTV and, while the user interface is more appealing to the eyes, it masks the fact that there isn't much new there.

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TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, Mobility
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As Larry Dignan has repeatedly pointed out here, I am one of the few people out there who has an Apple TV device in my living room. For the most part, we like it, using it mostly to rent HD movies or share the occasional photo slide show with friends or family.  But just because we like it, doesn't mean I would automatically recommend it to anyone.

The latest software update - now at version 3.0 - brings a new look to the user interface, making it look more like the "cover flow" look used in iTunes to give browsers a sneak peek of content via thumbnails. But beyond a new UI, the new version of Apple TV doesn't offer much more. 

That's disappointing.

Apple has been one of the most innovative companies when it comes to understanding how people want to interact with their digital media, whether photos, music or video. And given what the company has done to introduce us to the power of apps, it's frustrating that the company hasn't done more to bring that experience to the Apple TV device. Where's Hulu? Where's Netflix? Where's Pandora? Where's the innovation?

Quarter after quarter, Apple TV barely gets a mention by the company during its earnings call with analysts. In its 2009 Q1 call back in January, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook - who was seated in the CEO's chair while Steve Jobs was on medical leave - said the company would continue to invest in Apple TV, even though it had repeatedly been referred to as a "hobby." During that call, Cook noted that Apple TV growth was almost triple from the year-ago quarter and that movie rentals were sparking some interest among consumers.

We like the movie rentals, too. But we're finding more value these days in our Netflix subscription, which comes with some titles available for streaming. In recent weeks, I've connected the laptop - with Netflix streaming - to the living room HD TV for Family Movie Night.

It's too bad there's no Netflix button on Apple TV. Having it there might feel like there's actually some value in having an Apple TV set-top box in the living room.

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13 comments
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  • I second your thoughts, Sam.

    The updates were nice, but hardly worth it from the functional
    standpoint. Yes, Netflix would be nice, although iTunes provides
    most, if not all, of what Netflix would, doesn't it?

    One thing Tim Cook mentioned during the most recent earnings
    call was that Apple was going to have a dramatic increase in
    shipping costs during this present quarter. Doesn't that mean that
    something bulky is in the works--like maybe a TV with built-in
    ATV capability? Let's hope that ATV functionality might also get
    some new goodies if this product really happens.
    Userama
  • Well...if this disappoints you...

    ...try this:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/29/apple_headgear_and_footwear_patents/

    Upcoming Apple porducts for the TRULY braindead.
    IT_Guy_z
  • Just an "OK" update

    I tried it. It works fine. It moved "my movies" to the top, I know a few had complaints about that always being at the bottom. I did like the internet radio add-on. I have heard of some update issues with some people on the discussion boards but I updated 2 AppltTV's without a hiccup. Nothing earth shattering, in keeping with the complete lack of media fanfare.

    As far as Hulu/Netflix/Pandora why on earth would Apple want to get into supporting those competing companies? If you want those on your TV you can get a Mac mini with DVD or get something from Dell with Blu-ray. BTW I have tried Netflix on my Macs/XBOX360 and Hulu on the AppleTV and Macs using Boxee. They are both just OK as well. Apple supporting them would just add to the support and warranty costs of the AppleTV, with no real potential for financial gain. I am pretty sure Apple doesn't want to go there.

    Yes the AppleTV is a "limited" machine that does exactly what it says it will do. I do hope they will update the hardware some day. My personal vote would be add DVD or Blu-ray, dump the hard drive for flash memory, and improve the energy efficiency greatly when not in use (just for starters).
    oncall
    • OK now that I've played with it a few days

      It is a very nice update. The quick-pics at the top auto-populate with you most recent unwatched movies or TV shows and on the internet site populate with you most recent listened to internet radio sites. Music now continues while you brows movies, it'll now keep playing until you actually hit pay on something else. And of course that entire interface is redesigned to take full advantage of wide-screen TV's which most people have.

      Although some will continue to pine away for things that one might wish were added but were not. I think Apple has done a decent job in adding functionality while preserving simplicity. The danger of adding too much functionality is that such devices can easily become user-unfriendly. It's simple enough to be a usable gift for the parents ;)

      P.S. iTunes extras, these work but clearly are straining that little processor the ATV has.
      oncall
  • Internet Radio a great addition

    The new internet radio feature is a great addition and should not be overlooked. I have been wondering why AppleTV didn't have this and I am glad they added it. I can now finally get KROCK-2 on my big stereo, outside etc.

    The AppleTV is just an A/V component. That's it. It does what it was designed to do and it does it well.
    gareese@...
    • yeah but can't save favorites like with podcasts...

      1st of all, you could actually get internet
      radio stations before by just putting them into
      a playlist, then they would show up on the
      appleTV.

      but as nice as it is to be able to browse all
      the internet radio stations directly on the
      appleTV is.. in real use, it's kind of useless
      since every time i want to listen to a station
      i don't want to look through a thousand odd
      stations.. i want to look at a short lists of
      my favorite stations.. but this is still not
      possible on appleTV so guess what? i still
      need to find my favorite internet radio
      stations on iTunes put them in a playlist.. so
      this new functionality has absolutely no real
      benefit for real day to day use.. realistically
      you still have to do it the way you did it in
      2.x.. disappointing! they already have to
      model for podcast so why didn't they just
      extend it to internet radio?
      doctorSpoc
      • CORRECTION: you can save favorites..

        press and hold the play button to get options and
        one of the options is save to favorites.. this is
        a break from how it is done everywhere else in
        the GUI but just glad to see it is possible..
        doctorSpoc
  • Until Apple TV does 1080p and Netflix, nobody cares about it.

    I'm not hooking a 720p MAX device to my 52" 1080p 120Hz flat panel. Resolution and "closed" video sources are what is really holding that device back from wider acceptance. People don't want to have to "hack" their Apple TV to make it usable with Boxee. A video playback device should play back ANY video source out of the box, not just iTunes crap. Apple could use an Atom ION motherboard and get full HD resolution out of it. It's time for a re-design of the Apple TV. Gut it and start over. But they won't. Why? Because they only made it to sell more iTunes content. It has no other purpose. They make their money on the content, not the box.
    BillDem
    • you are probably right, because most people don't seem fathom...

      that just because a video is 1080p doesn't mean
      that it's going to actually look better than a
      video that is 720p.

      downloaded content from any vendor regardless of
      resolution is going to have a reduced data rate to
      get the file size down which will compromise the
      picture quality... picture quality is the
      combination of resolution, data rate, frame rate
      and the codec used for compression... all vendors
      of downloaded material are going to have similar
      limitations in terms of file size so it's really
      not going to matter if the video is 1080p it's
      simply not going to look better than a 720p
      version.. and may actually look worse in many
      cases.

      but you are probably right, in that they should
      just slap 1080p moniker in there for marketing
      reasons mostly, just to head of the ignorance of
      public on these things.. people don't understand
      that HD and higher resolution is not at all a
      guarantee of a higher quality picture because
      that's only one factor that determines picture
      quality..
      doctorSpoc
      • Well said Doc

        "but you are probably right, in that they should
        just slap 1080p moniker in there for marketing
        reasons mostly"

        LOL my thought as well. I mean what would those file sized be. 720p movies on iTunes clock in at over 4GB of data. 1080p, what's that going to be, double, or more? You think your average computer owner has the internet bandwidth to be moving that kind of data for a "rental" movie? You think that's going to stream easily from iTunes to the Apple TV over the "average users" wireless router? Long term storage? Forget it, only the super geeky have the hard drives to house any sizable collection of real 1080p data, Average Joe will not be able touch the true potential of such a device, not for a while yet.
        oncall
  • Maybe content is the problem

    I could care less about netflix or Apple TV. Blockbuster is fine for the once in three months that a movie comes out that is actually worth watching.

    I am always amazed at the walmart bargain bin full of ridiculous DVD titles. It's amazing how much crap Hollywood actually produces...

    croberts
  • AppleTV 3.0 and Airport Express no longer work

    I was excited about the update until I realized that my airtunes isn't working any more. I invested heavily in these to play music.

    AppleTV 160 Gig = $330.00
    Airport Express = $99.00 Each
    Bose Speaker $250.00 Each
    Upgrade to 3.0 = $0.00

    Realizing that your Airport Express investment doesn't work anymore!!!!! ......&^$%$(

    tshon
    • That Sucks :( Did you check the boards?

      I saw a post from a few months ago with a similar problem. Apparently the fix for them was to use the Airport utility to reset the Airport express. Hope you find a solution.
      oncall