When Steve Jobs previewed AppleTV last September, I was hooked: this box had (and has) the potential to be “The One UI To Rule Them All:” a user interface both elegantly simple as well as sufficiently powerful to manage just about any type of media from the comfort of your living room sofa. I was pretty sure I’d get one as soon as it was released. But now that the actual specs of the AppleTV are out, I’ll skip on this revision of the device for three reasons.
A Minor Inconvenience — Rudimentary Video Navigation
Like iTunes or Front Row, the AppleTV lets you navigate your music in a number of ways. You can view your tracks listed by artist, album, song, genre, and composer. Add playlists to the mix, and you can easily find that one track among the thousands in your iTunes library that you feel like listening to right now.
Navigating your movies or TV shows isn’t quite the same: you merely get a list of titles, even though more information is available as you can tell by this screenshot from the iTunes page (for “Once Upon A Time In The West”):
And, yes, if you search for the names listed in these Credits sections, iTunes will find the corresponding movies for you. The information is there already; the AppleTV’s navigation menus (as well as iTunes’s and Front Row’s, by the way) just do not present it to you. A software update could, and should, easily fix this.
A Major Annoyance — Limited Media Sources
The AppleTV is a great interface to your media library right there in your living room without having to place a computer next to your TV or stereo. That is, as long as your media library resides on a computer, because the AppleTV does not support any other media sources. The lack of TV tuner and optical drive means that you still need an additional VCR, TiVo, DVD player, etc.
Obviously, Apple would prefer to satisfy all your media cravings by selling you music, movies, and TV shows through the iTunes Store so that the AppleTV wouldn’t need to support any sources other than your computer. Nevertheless, Apple should allow and even encourage other companies to jump in and fill that void by building external devices like ElGato’s EyeTV or an HD-DVD drive that connect to the AppleTV via LAN or USB, and whose UI seamlessly hooks into the AppleTV’s menu structure. Why not apply the same accessory strategy to the AppleTV that already worked very well for the iPod?
It’ll be interesting to see if Apple will, indeed, support such efforts; if they add these features to future releases of the AppleTV; or if they will restrict the its functionality to what it is today.
A Show-Stopper — 720p
Sign me up for the group of bloggers who are seriously disappointed that the current AppleTV only supports HD movies up to 720p. While 720p already offers an impressive 1280×720 pixels on the screen, 1080p — the “highest-definition” standard right now — displays images at a massive 1920×1080. In other words, 1080p has exactly 2.25 times as many pixels, and you can’t even imagine the increase in “wow factor” until you’ve watched a 1080p movie on a machine that has enough processing power to smoothly display it. (Check out Apple’s HD movie gallery to make your own comparisons.)
Now, I can hear you ask the obvious: “Does your TV even display full 1080p?”, and the answer is: “No, not yet!” But the point is this: given Apple’s obsession with pushing state-of-the-art standards (think CD-ROM, USB, or Firewire), there can only be one reason why the AppleTV currently maxes out at 720p: its processor/graphics card combo simply is not powerful enough to handle 1080p. Consequently, it’s only a matter of time that Apple will offer an AppleTV that does 1080p. And just like I made sure that my new A/V receiver supports 1080p via HDMI, I’ll wait until the AppleTV will do that, too.
I Guess I’ll Wait For 2008
Don’t get me wrong: the AppleTV is an amazing product with lots of potential, but Apple needs to fix a few things before I’ll part with my money. However, as soon as AppleTV 2.0, which should address the three issues above, is released, I’ll order one. Probably that means: as soon as the Apple Store website comes back online after Steve’s Macworld Expo 2008 keynote.