Apple Unveils Media Center Type IMac

BetaNews | Apple Adds Media Center to New iMac Well it looks like there’s a new kid in town in the Media Center game and that Microsoft is going to have some company here very shortly. Personally I’m a little underwhelmed from what I’ve seen so far.

“A new application dubbed “Front Row” provides a 10-foot interface that lets iMac users control music, video and pictures while relaxing on a sofa. Text and graphics are enlarged for viewing at a distance.

The refreshed iMac comes also with an iPod-like remote control, which includes only 6 buttons and a slim design. In his keynote Jobs said the remote is much easier than Microsoft’s 40-plus button remotes designed for Windows XP Media Center Edition.”

According to ZDNet, “through the new version of iTunes, consumers will be able to buy TV shows, in addition to music. Shows available for purchase one day after broadcast will include “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “That’s So Raven.” It will take 10 to 20 minutes to download an episode, said Jobs. Each will cost $1.99 and will be ad-free.”

I doubt this download service will replace our satellite, cable or OTA television. Will people really want to pay $1.99 additional for something that they can get for free today? It’s awfully easy to fast forward the commercials on my TiVo or Media Center PC. I’m not sure I see the competitive value there. Based on those download speeds also I’d doubt you will be watching these in high def. Why would I want to pay for a bad version a day late of a show when I can record it for no additional expense in high def today and watch it whenever I want?

JupiterResearch Analyst Michael Gartenberg expressed similar thoughts, “Why pay for an episode of Lost that I missed when I can just as easily watch it on my Media Center PC, stream it via Orb or Slingbox or copy it over to my laptop.”

Also, I’m sure Apple did their research on how to price their television downloads, but I’ve seen contrary opinions that seem to suggest that $1.99 is too high a price.

Television is a critical component to the media center computer of the future. It looks at least from early reports that television will not be a part of Apple’s media center computer. A huge mistake in my opinion and this will put this product at a competitive disadvantage to Microsoft’s Media Center PC. People want all media, not some media.

Steve Jobs in the past has been critical of television on a computer. Back in 2003 the following was reported by CNET’s

“Jobs said that he doesn’t see such products creating a big market.

“We’re not going to go that direction,” Jobs said. “There is a small audience that likes this.”

Jobs said there are several problems with the Media Center concept, in particular the wide divergence in the way people want to watch television as compared with how they use a computer. “Generally what they want to view on television has to do with turning their mind off,” he said.

Jobs said that video recording is processor intensive and is best left to a device that is not doing other things such as playing games or running spreadsheets. “When I want to record ‘The West Wing,’ I want to make damn sure it records ‘The West Wing,'” he said.

There was of course the rumor floated last in February that Apple might actually buy TiVo. Analyst Michael Gartenberg discounted that rumor at the time.

I’ll update this post as I learn more.

Update: Ugh! The monitor is the computer. Terrible. I don’t want to watch TV on this thing or even see my photos on there. Things look so brilliant on my 43″ HDTV plasma. Memo to Apple. People are buying big screen HDTVs. Very soon everyone in the world will have a plasma or something like it. People will not want these crappy expensive apple monitors in their homes. The monitor is the computer? Geez, welcome to 1988. 20 lousy inches is all I can get? From a media center computer? If people like watching video and media on a little screen so much, why not just bring back the SE/30 and put the platform on that? People will want their media center PCs to connect to a monitor that they already own or will buy, not one of these things. Especially at the high end. Even if this thing can do that, why make me pay for the built in monitor?

Update 2: Microsoft’s Charlie Owen: “Frankly, I’m underwhelmed — I really expected Apple to have much more to brag about, especially given their momentum with iPod over the last couple of years. Based on everything I’m seeing, Front Row doesn’t even have feature parity with the first version of Media Center released back in October 2002. No hint of a developer platform either — that’s a shame — I was really looking forward to dusting off my Mac coding skills again.”

Update 3: JupiterMedia Analyst David Card seems to think that they got the pricing right for downloadable TV.

Update 4: Paul Boutin over at Endgadget: ” TV shows on the iMac are a grainy 320 x 240 that looks better in a small window than full screen. Its not a TiVo replacement, lets be clear. Its more like the BitTorrent copies of The Daily Show – a way to catch shows youd have to miss otherwise, and definitely more reliable than streaming.” Ouch. No thank you.

Upate 5: Microsoft’s Matt Goyer chimes in. “They picked a way better name then us! (Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 Update Rollup 2 just does not roll off the tongue). Yes, their remote is a lot simplier, but they also have way less functionailty! It’s really weird they didn’t introduce this on the Mac Mini’s first. I’d be excited about the tv downloads if they were HD. The pricing is right though. PVR Wire: “From a PVR perspective, there’s really nothing to discuss, as it doesn’t have any video inputs or recording capabilities.”

20 Replies to “Apple Unveils Media Center Type IMac”

  1. There are plenty of times when I forget to record something and I would like to purchase a copy for $1.99 instead of having to get a copy on Bittorrent.

  2. The video size offered (currently) is 320×240 to match iPod. Only half of standard NTSC or DVD resolution. Admittely it may look as good as most people are used to since I am sure it is digitally sourced (since most of the shows are originally HDTV) and compressed with H.264. Maybe in the future higher quality? Interestingly the pricing is close to what season DVD sets are. $35-40/24 shows is about $1.50 a show so the $1.99 is competitive.

  3. For two bucks I might occasionally buy something in HD, but low res, I think not. I might pay as a much as a buck for something from a direct source and high quality instead of getting via torrents or other P2P… but pay more for less…? I’m really not a fan of this type of service though, I already paid for the content via direct TV, why should I have to pay twice because TV was to dumb to resolve a guide data error or some such? Pulling down missed or errored shows should be part of the premium we pay to our cable/sat providers IMO. Sure there is a place in the market for this type of offering but it needs be high quality… I won’t pick on the DRM others will do that at length I’m sure.
    Overall Apple is not really offering any completion and clearly doesn’t seem interested in true convergence, just driving pod sales.

  4. Why assume that shows being sold through the itunes store will remain recordable for free on tivo? As I understand it, Tivo software gives copyright holders the ability to prevent or limit the recording of their programs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Walt Disney/ABC take advantage of this feature to (at least) prevent the transfer of programming via TivoToGo.

  5. I find the new iMac interesting in two ways.

    First, unlike other “Media Center” devices, this is a computer first and a media center second. The rant about people with plasma televisions is missing the mark — this isn’t really meant to replace those, at least not yet. This would be great in a smaller apartment or dorm though.

    Second, the selling of television content in this manner is huge. Let’s say your TiVo or whatever fails to record Lost tonight — for example, a power outage or something occurs. For two bucks you can get the episode the next day. That’s not bad, and certainly more user friendly than trying to get the ep by bittorrent.

    What is needed now are two things — first, the episodes really need to be sold in widescreen format. Second, in order to replace a TiVo or whatever there needs to be a subscription model — how about $9.99 to $19.99 so I can get the entire season, a new episode each week that automatically downloads?

    Could that replace cable/satellite? For some people, maybe. Let’s say you watch ten weekly shows, seven from the main networks and three cable shows like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. And your cable bill is oh, $50-$75 a month. That’s $600-$900 a year.

    Now, a theortical subscription model of ten to twenty bucks a season for ten shows would be $100-$200 dollars. Even at $40 a season (about the price of a DVD box set), ten shows would cost $400 and still under your cable bill.

    And it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing way of doing things. Let’s say your cable company has a “basic” and “extended” tiers, and you get the extended tier because of a few shows not on the basic tier. If you could get those shows via download, you could drop your cable bill down to a basic mode and save lots of money. At leat until the cable/satellite companies see the value of a la carte type pricing for their channels.

  6. Of course it’s not going to replace your satellite connection. When you get a bike, do you sell your car? They are complementary.

    It’s not supposed to be a final solution — it’s the first step on a path towards a Mac Media Center that will have HD video, etc. You seem to be willfully obtuse about what today’s announced products can and can’t do.

  7. Wow, the guy from Microsoft doesn’t like it. Go figure. And how much money is Microsoft making from downloadable music again? I can’t remember. What share of the MP3 player market do they have?

    Normal people do not use BitTorrent. Normal people don’t even know what a blog is. But they do know what iPod, Lost, and Desperate Housewives are, and these are the people Steve Jobs is talking to.

    Soon enough, we’ll get the next rev of the Mac mini with an IR port on the front and you can hook that up to your 72″ plasma tv. For now, this is a good first step. I wish you could download Front Row for any Mac, and I wish they used Bluetooth for the remote, but this at least shows what road they’re going down.

    Also, one of the more important take-aways from today is how badly TiVo has missed the boat.

  8. I’m on the road, and I don’t want to wait to get back home to watch the latest episode of Lost, I pay $1.99 and enjoy myself. Not a bad deal.

    My wife leaves SAP on, and my stupid DVR records the show dubbed in Spanish (this actually happened to me), no problem, I pay $1.99 and watch the show.

    This is a great first start, of course we would all love higher quality video! But I really like this model of leagally downloading TV with no ads. It’s a great idea, one of those “why didn’t i think of that” moments.

  9. Entenched Microsoft employees and users don’t like a new product from Apple? Colour me shocked and surprised. As for Scoble’s whining that Steve Jobs called them on their feature/idea theft, because apparently Front Row could only have been inspired by Media Center. Tell you what, if I download an update to Front Row that suddenly makes it unable to use the Remote then that theory might fly.

  10. Fantastic, finally some real competition for Microsoft with plenty of money behind them. Media Center is a great product, but really hasn’t innovated quite as much as it should by now. Where are updated extenders and PMC’s? Where is the decent support outside the US?

    This is good news for all MCE users!

  11. My guess is that providing the TV programming in low res is intended to be a confidence builder. Show ABC/Disney (and everyone else) that there really is a market for downloadable TV programming, without taking the (perceived) risk that would come with providing higher res downloads. If this works, then at some point we’ll see the networks begin to provide downloadable programming in HD. But for now, let them get more comfortabl with the general idea of sanctioned downloads.

  12. hey at least they are not in B&W; 🙂

    i agree it is just a first step as a proof of concept. Good for the companies, not good for early adopters.

  13. dont expect apple to try to compete with the media center head on. this is a flanking move. They want to be #1 in legal downloads of tv. this is just the first step towards that.

  14. Dude, write about something you know, eh…

    Only 20 inches? No TV? This iMac is a computer, dude, a nice stylish computer with a cool 10′ interface when you want to relax in your room.

    If you want HDTV on your plasma, get satellite service. Then get a HD PVR, ’cause your MCE doesn’t cut it as a HD PVR either.

    You and your MS buddies also loved the great look and features of WMP 10. LOL.

  15. Apple has no intention on competing with MCE. It’s an entirely different animal. At present Front row is a compliment service to Apple’s iPod business not a real threat to the average MCE/PVR box

    The REAL PROBLEM is MS is going to panic and play follow the leader–
    Just watch MS will rollout a MTV download service with Rollup2. This will be MS pale attempt to look as hip as Apple.

    Instead– MS should focus on their own business and deliver what MCE customers really want HDTV! I hope i’m wrong because i really do love the MCE concept.

  16. Wow, Apple fanboys show up in droves to talk about how marvelous a not-all-that-exciting new product is. The fact that Thomas is as rabidly pro-Microsoft as you guys seem to be for Apple does not change the fact that this announcement is pretty lame. $2 for 320×240 with DRM? Please. FrontRow? It’s a half-assed version of MCE (and I don’t even like MCE, I use MythTV) with no TV component. I don’t doubt that Apple will come out with a better product eventually, one that will rival MCE, but for now none of these products are all that exciting.

  17. full disclosure: i’m an apple fanboy.

    that said i think the idea of a video iPod is ridiculous, I have no desire to watch anything at all on a 2.5″ screen. And I certainly don’t want to watch a 320×240 version of Lost via my Powerbook attached to my 42″ HDTV.

    To say that it isn’t as good as Windows Media Center though I guess isn’t saying much. From everything I’ve heard or read that isn’t the greatest product either, in fact it isn’t even widely used is it? I don’t know anybody that even talks about it and I have way more Windows using friends than Apple zealots.

    The iPod was dismissed the day it was launched too. Look how that turned out. Not to say that Apple has hit another homerun but I think it’s a bit too early to say they missed the boat.

  18. Interesting, but there is an awful start-up cost – both money-wise and in terms of grappling with the latest gizmos — related to using a TiVo or a Media Center PC, not to mention streaming stuff at your home or over the Internet. Come again, how many are actuallt *using* Media Center PCs to stream broadcast content to some other platform? MP3 players are mass-market products, and everybody can stand o lose two bucks on any given day.

  19. Note: I’m a Mac Zealot, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

    Now that that’s out of the way: I like it.

    However, I like it the same way I like the iPod with video. The iPod with video is just that, the great digital music play the iPod is, with some video capabilities. I like the idea, because it allows for you to watch an episode of Family Guy while waiting for your ride to and from whereever, for catching up on Auqua Teen when you’re waiting for your pizza, etc, etc.

    However, is it meant to be your portable DVD player replacement? No, just what you use when you don’t have it (that’s saying you have one).

    The same holds true for the new iMac. If I miss an episode of Lost, I’d like to see it without paying $40 for the Box Set, or waiting 3 months until it comes out, at which point you’ll figure out what happend in the one you missed. It’s also great for when the relatives are over, and you can get to your photos, music, and home movies with the push of a button.
    Even better, if you’re a college student or have a small apartment, what better than using you computer as your TV to (using an add-on like EyeTV from Elegato (Google it)).

    However, is the replacement for my TV? No. I’ll watch Lost when I can on it, use it for most of my DVD’s, and play my video games on it. However, it’s great in a pinch, or does work as a replacement in situations.

    You’re also forgetting that if you were to nab EyeTV and the new iMac that it does have a DVI out, which can be converted to composite or plugged in (if your TV has a DVI port). So if you stuck it in a cabinet near your TV, you would have the same functionality as the average media center.

  20. “disruptive technology is both radically different from the leading technology and … often initially performs worse than the leading technology according to existing measures of performance.”

    Apple have always done this.

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