Over the course of the past six months I’ve been in a kind of spiral like hypnotic love affair with Apple Computer. It began when I converted from Windows to a Mac for my primary PC, and as I’ve explored more and more cool things that I can do with my Mac, the love affair just gets stronger and stronger.
So it’s with great interest that I’ve been following Apple’s iTV initiative (now dubbed Apple TV), an initiative that I dubbed the iDongle a while back. To be fair, I haven’t actually tried the iDongle yet. But I’ve read up on it a bit and for me it lacks some key functionality necessary to make it a winner.
A couple of articles worth checking out are an article by The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg (a fairly meaty hands on review of the unit) and Wired’s article, 5 Reasons Why Apple TV Rules, 5 Reasons Why it Sucks. Dave Winer sounds like he is also going to wait on the iDongle because he’s not so sure of the DRM-laden content to be consumed on it.
So on with the list.
1. the iDongle cannot easily stream cable or satellite HDTV content to your TV. Whatever you say about the long tail of internet video, much of the professional TV that I end up watching (which is less and less these days) is done via cable or satellite TV. DiscoveryHD is breathtaking beautiful. Watching each of Bill Hendrickson’s 3 wives on HBO’s Big Love in high def simply rocks. This is the number one reason why I won’t buy an iDongle. Especially when both TiVo and Microsoft have developed integrated systems capable of recording premium HDTV content this seems like an obvious flaw in Apple’s offering to me. At present I’m using the DirecTV TiVo HR10-250, a four tuner beauty of a machine with a big hard drive that works flawlessly.
Yes, there are rumored solutions to try and get cable HD content on your Mac, but if I wanted complicated I’d be hacking my way around through some DYI Linux or Myth TV type thing.
2. There is not a lot of free HDTV content on the net yet. The problem with a lot of video on the internet still is that it looks like crap. Yes you can find the occasional interesting video on DivX’s Stage Six, but that content is extremely limited. The problem comes down to bandwidth. Robert Scoble records fantastic content for Podtech with a great HD camera that I’d love to watch in high def on my 43″ plasma, the problem is that it’s too expensive to stream these huge HDTV files. So until widespread HDTV content makes it’s way on the internet, I’m less interested in watching it on my 43″ plasma widescreen.
I’m also not crazy about having to manually convert a lot of different video file formats out there to get them to play on the iDongle? Why doesn’t the iDongle just support more of the major video formats out there?
3. No DVD player. Yes, I know Apple wanted to keep it simple, but if for no other reason than it looks cool being able to ditch your clunky DVD player for a beautiful Apple TV might make some sense. When DVD players sell for like $20 these days it would seem like a pretty cheap thing to incorporate into the unit. Both Microsoft’s Media Center and the XBox 360 have DVD players built in. How is having to convert my DVDs through something like this simpler than just sticking the DVD into a small slot like the one that sits at the front of my MacBook Pro?
4. $300 for something that basically just allows me to watch crappy quality internet video on a 43 inch plasma or buy Apple supplied DRM’d non HD content (that I’m already paying for and recording on my HDTV TiVo in HD)? No thanks. Jeremy Horowitz notes that recent changes in Quicktime’s Export mode *might* make more HDTV quality video available via the iDongle in the future.
5. It doesn’t play kick ass video games. I originally bought my XBox 360 to use it as an extender unit for my Microsoft Media Center PC. I wasn’t a gamer and though I’d never be a gamer… until I started playing games on the XBox 360. My two sons and I have probably spent 20 hours over the course of the past month playing Lego Star Wars II on the XBox 360. We just bought the Anakin Skywalker ghost character in the game and are working hard to get the Ghost of Yoda next. Yes, the XBox 360 is a great way (even if slightly more expensive) to stream Media Center content to your TV — but it also has a kick ass gaming platform.
6. You can’t control the volume with the iDongle’s remote. Huh? This seems like an absolute no brainer. The earliest and I mean very earliest television remote controls did two things well, change the channel and adjust the volume. To not include super important volume control on the iDongle remote seems, well, just odd. It means that you must cannot simplify down to a single remote without buying a Universal remote.
7. Wireless speeds still suck. Ok, so you’re king of the bittorent pirates and the iDongle is for you because, well, why pay HBO to record HD movies anyway? The problem is that getting these large files to seamless zip around your network might not be so easy wirelessly. As Mossberg notes, “We also bought some TV shows, movies and songs from iTunes on our synchronized laptop, and they were automatically transferred to Apple TV, where we could watch them. It can, however, take hours to synchronize large files like movies over a slow wireless network.”
8. A 40GB hard drive with no expandability functionality? How the iDongle works is it synchs up with your primary computer and then synches your video content onto it’s 40GB drive. Huh? Did I just say that? 40GB drive? What is this 1997? My HD TiVo has a 250GB drive and if I really wanted more I could send the thing to Weaknees and get up to a terabyte of storage.
9. What kind of Apple solution wouldn’t involve being able to directly stream YouTube content? Pandora? LastFM? Mossberg notes:
“Apple TV’s most important limitation is that it can’t stream much video or audio directly from the Internet — yet. The capability to go directly to the Internet, bypassing the computers in your home, is built in, but is initially being used only to fetch feature film trailers and short preview clips of popular songs, TV shows and movies sold on the iTunes store.”
Now isn’t that Eric Schmidt guy from Google on Apple’s board or something? Why in the world isn’t there built in functionality to search and view YouTube videos (that little company owned by Google) on this thing? Or at the very least have some area for highlighted most popular YouTube clips? You can’t easily download clips from YouTube and get them on this thing so why not at least let you stream it?
10. Why not just buy a Mac Mini, use Elgato’s EyeTV, and skip the middle man? Although
a Mac Mini costs more than the iDongle you get something pretty cool with it, another actual usable computer. Even if more expensive, at least with EyeTV you can get OTA HDTV. This seems to represent better value to me than to $300 iDongle which doesn’t even come with cables. Of course Monster Cables is happy to step in and fleece you for the cables that you might want to go with your iDongle.