Sunday, September 05, 2010

And After It Grew Up, It Got Senile!

A while ago, I wrote about my positive impressions of the Apple TV after I recently acquired one and discovered feature after useful feature. In particular, I wrote how surprised I was that it suited my desire for a music and video jukebox that could play content on its own accord. Not that I emphasised it at the time, I was rather pleased to know that the Apple TV was capable enough to free my computers of any dedication or devotion to playing music or videos through a television set or a home Hi-Fi system.

With the new so-called streamlined Apple TV just recently released, I wasn't expecting that the Apple TV was going to be a lesser device than its predecessor. In particular, that the Apple TV is no longer a device which can operate on its own accord. Instead, I was just expecting the Apple TV to be an iOS-based system that had flash storage and otherwise operated as it had in the past.

Nothing like it. The new Apple TV doesn't have any storage space for you to sync your iTunes library to, and it now relies on a partner gadget to operate at all, whether it's a computer, an iPod, iPhone or iPad, or the iTunes Store, or any other network services that it wholeheartedly endorses, because it now plays its content directly off the network.

This makes the original concept of the Apple TV as an iPod a no deal. You cannot sync content to your iPod-for-your-television anymore, and thus, you cannot treat your Apple TV like you can any other iPod. Instead, you now have to treat an Apple TV as an iPod accessory (computers running iTunes 10 included).

This reduces the usefulness of the Apple TV somewhat as a stand-alone player, and imposes new resource requirements just to run an Apple TV. Firstly, you need sufficient bandwidth to be able to watch movies that you rent from the iTunes Store or NetFlix. Alternatively, you need a computer or an iPod-class device from which the Apple TV can source the content you want to play back.

It's as if Apple have redesigned the Apple TV to cater those who want to rent content as first-class citizens, while delegating everyone else to sitting in front of their computers in order to purchase the material they want to watch. No longer can Apple TV make purchases for you!

I see Apple TV's newest problem being related to bandwidth and the need for extra equipment to make it useful, and the features that don't require you to be glued to something, if not your television set, have been removed. I myself don't have the network capacity nor bandwidth to rent titles on a regular basis, and it now requires to have a dedicated computer to play back music throughout my house using AirPlay! Since computers can run iTunes 10, which can use AirPlay to play back music directly, why would there ever be a need to use an Apple TV to play back music anymore?

And think of all those battery-powered iOS devices which now have to stream their content over to Apple TV—the battery life of those devices has now been cut in half.

This incarnation of Apple TV is not superior over its predecessor. Sure, its predecessor has a slower processor and inferior graphics processing, but it has its own local storage, which enables it to work without any reliance of any other gadget in the house. And it is also interesting to bear in mind that earlier Apple TVs could also stream content from other computers if they were configured to, making the superseded model Apple TV more capable than the one replacing it.

I don't think I'll be replacing my Apple TV at this point. The loss of autonomous functionality is a step backward to the evolution of Apple's home theatre system enhancement, and I hope that my Apple TV doesn't die before Apple reconsiders restoring that functionality in a future version of the product.

Particularly since Australia is not getting any TV shows for rent any time soon!


—tonza

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