Apple’s Showtime and the disappointing iTV

Today’s Apple Showtime event showed some great products, and some disappointing ones.

iPods

The tiny new iPod Shuffle G2, the fantastic looking iPod Nano G2 with the return of the iPod Mini aluminum casing and 24 hour battery life and 8GB flash option weren’t to be sniffed at.

The iPod got… downloadable $4.99 games and an 80GB model. No sign of the long sought-after wide-screen touch-screen model with the virtual wheel.

iTunes

The expected downloadable movie announcement was made with movies at 640×480 – that’s 4x their existing TV-show/music video size and now on-par with the resolution of PC’s circa the late 80’s.

Job advises us this is “near DVD” which is kinda true DVD being 720×480/576. DVD given good quality source material, careful encoding and decent equipment can look pretty fine even blown up to 120″ on your wall.

What I couldn’t find out thought was how they intend on fitting widescreen movies into their distinctly non-wide-screen resolution.

DVD resolution is a little wider but more importantly it has an anamorphic mode where rather than waste pixels on the black bars the picture is stretched vertically before being encoded on the disk and then stretched horizontally on the way out of your DVD player – much the same way as widescreen movies were shot on non-widescreen film albeit with anamorphic lenses.

Jobs didn’t elaborate on whether they’ll have such a mode or something better…

Thanks to the complex licensing agreements between studios worldwide movies are a US exclusive so the rest of the world will have to sit and wait anyway.

iTunes 7 & Software Update

Adds support for movie & iPod G4 game downloads and the user interface may well be a taste of things to come in Leopard. Flat blue gradients where aqua bubbles previously existed (equalizer, scroll bars).

Also introduced is a couple of new ways to view your local library using high quality rendered album cover art (like FrontRow) and a sort of mixed up mode (like Windows Media Player 11).

It’ll also now helpfully grab album art for albums you ripped from your own CD’s and show the breakdown of the disk usage of your pod by content type (movie/art/music).

What is interesting is iTunes 7 introduces “Apple Software Update” which looks curiously like it’s Mac OS X counterpart…

iTV

Towards the end of the announcement came the one last thing…. code-named iTV (I can’t imagine they’ll get the rights to this name in the UK where ITV is one of the big TV stations).

The announcement itself was a little unusual – it’s for a new hardware product they haven’t finished and won’t be available for months. I can only conclude they are airing the product to help shift downloadable movies with users knowing they can play it back on the big-screen.

I’m sure neither Apple or the studios want another Sony UMD disaster.

When I heard the words “Mac Mini” and “TV” I thought this could be the answer to my home entertainment hub… alas no. Rather than extend to the mini with support for DVB-S/T/C or UHF tuners and PVR functionality they abandon the hard disk entirely… and the DVD-ROM drive to boot.

Which leaves iTV with no TV support in the traditional sense. If you want content it’ll have to come from iTunes and unless Jobs and his pals add illegal DVD ripping that means buying everything again from the iTunes Store, sticking with your DVD player or buying a more capable media center.

Would the iPod have been such a success if you couldn’t link in to your existing content but had to pay for all your music again?

Very doubtful.

The final icing on the cake is that the box will set you back $299. That’s exactly the same price as the Xbox 360 which will also stream media from a host computer over a network. The difference being that the 360 will play DVD’s and let you play state of the art games for that price.

iTV? More like Apple Cube 2.

[)amien

One response

  1. Avatar for Lee Wallace

    I have to disagree with you here…bigtime !! There are sooo many different ways of getting content, via cable, satellite, over air, disc media etc, in both analogue and digital versions, not to mention all the DRM and security involved, it’s pointless trying to make a media center to accomodate all of that. Network delivery is the way forward which is why /initially/ the iTV won’t include it. This is precisely why “Everyone else who has tried to do this has failed.” I have an Xbox360, have you ever tried to stream media to it? Sure Pictures and Music are easy from XP and using Connect360 from a Mac too. Try streaming video though. XP and the Vista builds are so flaky, just check the xbox forums. You can’t stream video at all from a Mac to 360 either. The iTV /will/ allow you to play DVDs streamed from your PC, as well as compressed backups aswell, which is what it’s meant for. What’s more, I’ll bet you’ll just be able to plug it in and enjoy that sweet Apple experience as opposed to the usual MS headache. I can imagine having a few of these, one in the lounge, one in the kitchen for when I’m cooking and perhaps one in the bedroom all streaming from a central source. The only negative I would give it is for the price it could have a HD……

    Lee Wallace – September 18th, 2006
  2. Avatar for Damien Guard

    The way forward almost certainly is network delivery however products that don’t deliver benefit straight away are a dead loss - especially when they want you to buy all your content again. If the original iPod had not catered for the mass of MP3 and CD rip out there but relied solely on iTunes it would have been a total failure. Even today iTunes only apparently counts for 5% of the music on iPod’s and it’s considered a phenomenal success. I think if you survey houses today you’d find the sources of video content are broadcast(cable/sat/terestrial) and DVD. I doubt any other form of video content delivery even hits a whole percentage point. Apple have to hook into existing content if they want a success. Saying it will stream content from a Mac is useless - the only content likely to be there is shorts downloaded from the net and your own home videos. Slipping a slot-loading DVD device in there would be a start, ripping to a network share would be a bonus. As for broadcast - there are standards for terrestrial, satellite and cable interfaces and cards and indeed Windows MCE and other PC media centers support these out the box and throw in PVR functionality. Most of the time this content is actually DRM-free and even when it isn’t there shouldn’t be a problem as it records the encrypted stream and decrypts it using your subscription card at playback.

    Damien Guard September 18th, 2006
  3. Avatar for Lee Wallace

    One important difference between iTV and Windows MCE for me at least is: The Win MCE PC box has to reside next to your TV else you need a wired (pref.) extender. iTV will stream HiDef content through 802.11n (probably) so won’t need wires. This is a benefit! I currently have under my TV 3 DVD Players, a PS2, Xbox360 and a vanilla player. I don’t need another DVD player under the TV. You don’t need a slot loader ripping to network share when your media is centralised on a PC elsewhere. I’m quite happy to switch between media center mode and say Sky TV mode because the alternative is some cack-handed way of controlling the Sky box through MCE or Front Row with an IR blaster etc. The exception to this is Digital Terrestrial, but this is a moot point in Guernsey seeing as we will be the last people in the UK to switch in 2013. I totally agree with your point about the Ipod’s success in playing your ripped Music but video is a different ballgame and let’s not forget the Ipod was not and still is not the only mp3 player around, it’s just the coolest one. Is iTV cooler than Win MCE already? MP3’s are small, DVD’s are huge. Even a small DVD collection is going to fill up HD space very quickly. Do you really want to keep every DVD you own online?
    I’d need 1TB personally for my collection. Lee

    Lee Wallace – September 18th, 2006
  4. Avatar for Damien Guard

    You have 3 DVD players? Why? My point isn’t that a slot-loader in the iTV would be “yet another DVD player” but more “Oh good I can get rid of my big bulky DVD player” but now I think about it and how Apple stick to region coding maybe it’s a bad idea. There is no need to “control sky TV with a cack-handed IR device” - you can get DVB-S cards for PC’s and cam modules to accept the various decoding cards for most of Europe. Sky refuse to licence their code for use in such devices at the moment but I think if the demand was there then they’d have to give in. You say you’d need 1TB for your collection - thats not unaffordable these days… and without ripping or the iTV supporting DVD where do you see your collection fitting in 5 years from now?

    Damien Guard September 18th, 2006