Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Apple iTV? Not in the UK...

Update: Released as the Apple TV in Jan 2007
Update: More on the Apple iTV

The biggest announcement of yesterday's Apple special event is obviously their prototype iTV video streaming set-top box to be released during the first quarter of next year at a $299 price point.

CREDIT: Engadget
The prototype iTV

The iTV has Ethernet, USB, HDMI, component video, RCA and optical audio ports. It also has Wi-Fi, presumably 802.11g although nothing has been said anything as to whether that really is the case, and an IR port on the front for the Apple Remote. The iTV will come with an updated version of the Front Row interface.

CREDIT: Engadget
A look at the ports...

The O'Reilly team disagree fiercely on why Steve Jobs has given us this surprise look at a future Apple product, Apple never talks about future products. It's company policy. But whether the advanced look at the iTV was down to rumour control or whether it was supposed to be ready for release, and wasn't, now we know. Suddenly over two years of rumours about the iPhone, and the almost taken for granted release of a widescreen iPod, get thrown out of the window. For once we have an idea about where Apple is heading, we actually have a firm basis to try and draw some conclusions about their future strategy. They're heading into the still almost uncharted wilderness of video on demand with their new set-top box.

Apple are betting the farm that broadcast television is basically dead, and they seem to have decided that they aren't going to be competing head to head with the TiVo Series 3, or the Microsoft Media Center. They're seem to be betting that people don't really want a DVR, they want to be able to downlload the shows they want and watch them directly. It's a bold move, one which they can only win if iTunes 7 and their new movie store succeeds. Although conversely, it's possible that the new movie store will really only take off when the hardware to use it arrives, after all that's what happened with the iPod and the original iTunes store.

I could be wrong. After all the prototype box they displayed was just that, a prototype. It's possible they could integrate a TV tuner directly into the iTV and turn it into a DVR fairly trivially. After all the eyeTV from Elgato shows exactly how small a package you can fit that sort of hardware into these days. At which point, with the iTunes infrastructure behind them they probably could thumb their noses at TiVo and the Media Center with impunity.

Of course that name really has to go, at least in the UK, unless they want to get into a legal tangle with ITV, and some of the very broadcasters they need on their side if they ever want to close the iTunes divide and start offering TV shows outside the continental United States.

9 comments:

  1. > "They're seem to be betting that people don't really want a DVR"

    I disagree. They're heavily advertising Elgato's EyeTV products on their online store, and EyeTV now integrates with Front Row.

    I think Apple's just decided they can't add much to the DVR market. DVRs seem to be tied in to paid-for-TV services: cable companies in America, Sky Plus in the UK. Apple would need to be able to build a device that works with those services as well as free-to-air TV, and then either get cable companies to sell it with their subscriptions, or convince people to buy it in favour of whatever their cable company is giving them.

    And all for something that competes directly with the tv shows on the iTunes Store. I don't think Apple's concluded people don't want DVRs, any more than it's concluded people don't want fridges. I think it's just concluded it can't bring anything to the DVR market at the moment.

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  2. You could be right, and of course if they start to get into the TV tuner market they end up playing with the standards boogieman.

    Of course they're already playing with the boogieman when it comes to the connectors on the back of the box. The HDMI port that the iTV comes with will be little use in the UK, and the rest of Europe, where TVs most commonly come with multiple SCART ports. I don't think I've ever seen a component video + audio to SCART convertor, although I'm sure they must exist. But at that point the back of my TV would start to look like a Christmas tree.

    I can see myself buying one of these though, so long as the connector issue gets sorted out, and so long as it uses Bonjour to dig out "shared" iTunes content from the rest of the machines on my house network. But the man in the street? Tricky...

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  3. mungler12:11 pm

    just wanted to point out that, yes, they could integrate a tv tuner. however, where is the content going to go? there's no hard disk, and the box would end up bigger (say, the size of a mac mini) if you were to add one.

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  4. There is a USB port, off-board storage perhaps?

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  5. Anonymous3:27 pm

    <--- The HDMI port that the iTV comes with will be little use in the UK, and the rest of Europe, where TVs most commonly come with multiple SCART ports. I don't think I've ever seen a component video + audio to SCART convertor, although I'm sure they must exist. But at that point the back of my TV would start to look like a Christmas tree. --->

    Are you crazy? Every good quality TV has both HDMI and component inputs (worldwide, do you think Sony, LG, Phillips etc make different TV's for the UK/US??). Most people who have an interest in home entertainment will have a compatible TV in the next year or two--those who don't are probably not the type of people to own a computer, iPod etc so it won't appeal anyway. My major concern is the video quality; Steve Jobs was bigging up the higher iTunes video resolutions, but 480 is still very poor and way off of DVD quality. People will want hi-def video if it's being delivered to their fancy hi-def TV--using HDMI hints at hi-def quality but the downloads would be huge and I'm not sure the bandwidth offered by wifi would be that great for streaming hi-def.

    As for the USB, how about a USB stick TV tuner, having it available as an add-on rather then being built in will simplify the product and mean one iTV box can be manufactured rather than different regional models.

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  6. Of course Sony et al. make different TVs for the UK and US market, the US broadcasts in NTSC and the UK in PAL.

    Yes, a lot of TVs are multi-band now, but not all. I also think you're forgetting exactly how slowly the installed base of TV sets churn over, the iTV is supposed to be a mass market device, and most people buy a new television once every ten years.

    While high spec TVs being sold now might have HDMI, and I'd argue that in Europe that really isn't that common, most people are still using SCART and will be for a good number of years.

    Don't make assumptions about what everyone else owns from what's sitting in your own living room. Other people have different priorities, my TV doesn't have an HDMI port, and I've got more gadgets than you could shake a stick at, it's just not a priority.

    I think it was obvious from the demos, and the way Steve Jobs carefully worded around the issue, that the resolution isn't an issue. There will be HD TV and movies on the iTunes store by the time the ITV launches.

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  7. Anonymous1:00 am

    I look forward to the release of this product, and will almost certainly buy one.

    However, I cannot understand why anyone who has just spent vast amounts of money on a large high definition TV would want to watch 'low res' TV shows and films. I think the resolution is similar to DVD, but surely people are going to want HD content for their HD TV's.

    Me? Well, I'll be plugging mine into my old fashioned CRT TV via composite inputs...

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  8. RockDad1:32 pm

    Would iTV work with an Apple Cinema Display (the original 22") and so save buying a HD flatscreen TV? What does the team think?

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  9. RockDad4:52 pm

    Answering my own question here, Maplin do a HDMI to DVI Digital Video cable:

    http://www.maplin.co.uk/Module.aspx?ModuleNo=48585&criteria=DVI%20cable&doy=15m10

    I guess this would let the 22" Cinema Display's DVI connector display the iTV's signal.

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