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On Apple TV

apple-tv.jpgAfter a brief delay, Apple TV is set to deploy later this month, and reporters everywhere are busy doing their homework in advance of launch day. It’s an interesting situation because some of the folks covering Apple TV have PC backgrounds rather than expertise in television technology. Given Apple’s rapid takeover of the digital music industry, it’s tempting to think that Apple TV will have the same effect on video. However, anyone with a background in cable knows the story is much more complicated.

I sat in on a press interview this afternoon with Motorola Senior Director Jeff Binder. The reporter Jeff spoke to was clearly smart, but just as clearly not well-versed in video delivery. He seemed a bit taken aback when Jeff suggested that Apple TV is a cool gadget, but not something that’s going to revolutionize television in the short or medium-term future. Here are some of the critical points that Jeff made:

  1. Cable TV and VOD are well-entrenched.
    Video-on-Demand reaches well over 35 million households. That’s a lot of set-tops to displace with Apple TV even if people wanted to give up on the real-time television that cable provides.

  2. Internet devices like Apple TV are not good for high-definition content.
    Most video on the web isn’t HD-quality, and it’s a good thing because the Internet isn’t built today to provide the bandwidth needed for gobs of HDTV. On the other hand, cable networks (including Verizon here) are. The more popular HD becomes, the more cable has the edge in TV delivery. (More to come on this topic when I can get a post out about Time Warner’s Bear Stearns presentation today.)

  3. Cable set-tops can add Internet capabilities. It’s much harder for Internet devices to integrate cable video service.
    If Apple wanted to plug into the cable infrastructure, it would have to contend with the wide variety of networks different cable companies operate, and many technical challenges that are unique to the cable industry. Plugging into cable is just not the same as plugging into the Internet.

As Jeff said near the beginning of the interview, Apple TV is a neat product, but as far as the whole television experience goes, it’s just not ready for primetime.

8 Responses

  1. The real issue is item 2. Why?
    1. There were lots of Sony Walkmans around when the iPod was introduced. “Well-entrenched” doesn’t mean “invulnerable.” (and I’d apply that to the iPod today, too).
    3. The point is to bypass the cable companies altogether, so 3 is not bug, it’s a feature :)

    Item 2 is the real question. If HD takes off, then the Apple TV probably won’t do well. But I should note that in music sales, people have shown a preference for easy and elegant delivery and use over quality. 128K AAC doesn’t hold a candle to CD-quality sound, but people still buy millions of songs from the iTunes store.

  2. 1. True. Well-entrenched doesn’t mean invulnerable.

    2 (3). Bypassing cable also means bypassing access to real-time, network-produced content. Apple TV is an add-on, not a replacement to cable today. And I wonder how many people will want to get that add-on when ultimately the same features are available through cable VOD. Meanwhile each movie purchased through Apple TV is at least $9.99. If not relying on VOD for movies, I’d rather have a rental subscription through Netflix.

  3. [...] On Apple TV: Connected Home 2 Go [...]

  4. Ummm, Mari? Have you used Cable VOD? You know it sucks right? The choices are limited, the GUI for finding things is awful, and the system is so non-responsive that you need to just put your remote control down and pretend it doesn’t exist. This is the background to the introduction to Apple TV. Yes, obviously cable is capable of streaming HD content while the internet may not be in most cases (though Apple can use h.264 and

  5. LOL. I don’t disagree that software can be an issue. Maybe there’s incentive now for improvement…

  6. [...] not least of which is that we have to find a way to sort out the home network. Also check out my earlier conversation with Motorola’s Jeff Binder on the [...]

  7. [...] on Apple TV. But the lack of data certainly doesn’t dissuade me from thinking that Apple TV may work best as a niche product rather than a mass-market [...]

  8. [...] Interestingly, Mr. Jobs went to great pains in his interview with Walt Mossberg today (blogged by Gizmodo, among others) to call Apple TV a replacement for your DVD player, not your set-top. I wonder where he thinks video-on-demand will play. In case you didn’t catch it the first time, Motorola’s Jeff Binder had plenty to say on the topic of Apple TV and VOD. [...]

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