An Apple TV wish list

Let me follow up my previous entry about the Apple TV with some thoughts about the features Apple TV lacks and where the product goes from here.

I was traveling (a bit for work, a bit for pleasure) when the Apple TV finally arrived, so I had to let my colleague Christopher Breen write the official Macworld review. But I agree wholeheartedly with Chris’s take on the Apple TV. For what it was designed to do, the Apple TV is a near-perfect product. Almost all my criticisms of it involve features that I wish it had, not problems with the features that it already has.

So just for the record, here’s what I think is missing. Feel free to add your pet issues in the comments thread attached to this item, and we can debate and discuss.

Internet streaming support. Apple should work with major Internet streaming content providers to make their offerings available on Apple TV. Imagine if you could use your Apple TV to tune in a live video stream of CNN’s Pipeline, or Major League Baseball’s MLB.tv, or other live sources like BBC World News.

Browsing Web video libraries. In this YouTube world, shouldn’t we be able to browse video-sharing sites via the Apple TV? A link to the top YouTube videos in different categories would be a good start.

Buying and browsing via the Apple Remote. You should be able to browse the iTunes Store via the Apple TV. But even if that’s a bit further off, how about implementing the “impulse buy” from within Apple TV’s existing lists of the best-selling movies and TV shows? If one of the top-selling movies catches my eye, why should I have to get up and go over to iTunes in order to buy it? Let me buy it straight from the Apple TV.

More podcasting. There are a lot of video podcasts out there that look great on the Apple TV. But the Apple TV’s podcast menu is pretty bare. How about a Top 10 Podcasts listing, perhaps even broken into categories. And if we find a podcast that sounds interesting, we should be able to play back a single episode or even subscribe to that podcast directly.

Photo flexibility. Okay, this is a criticism about a feature in the existing product. Right now you can’t stream photos, only sync them — bummer. And you can’t sync photos from a different computer than the one you’re syncing everything else from — double bummer! I keep my photo library on one computer in my house, and keep my music and video library on a different system. Apple TV should be able to stream photos and should allow users to pick and choose its synchronization sources for different media types.

More HD video. More of an iTunes issue than an Apple TV issue, but they’re interrelated. Apple TV can play back 1280-by-720 video at 24 frames per second — and since most TV shows are shot on film, 24 frames per second should work out just fine. So let’s get some HD video up on iTunes! Even an “HD light” 960-by-540 clip looks awesome when played back on the Apple TV. (And yes, future versions of Apple TV need to be able to play 1080i, if not 1080p, HD video files.)

DVD quality audio. It’s a shame that the Apple TV has an optical audio out port but doesn’t have any multi-channel audio to play back. So when that new HD content comes out on iTunes, make sure it comes with a 5.1 audio track.

Support for optical media. Lots of people have limits — limited shelf space by their TV, limited ports on the back of their HDTVs and amplifiers, and limited budgets for next-generation entertainment devices. So why not let the Apple TV replace your DVD player? Yes, Apple wants you to buy everything from iTunes, but the fact is that there are massive numbers of DVDs out there. Why not create an add-on DVD module that attaches to the Apple TV via USB? (Better yet, why not one that supports a high-definition DVD format?) I’ll admit, this is more likely for the next edition of the Apple TV hardware, and that’s okay. How cool would Apple TV be if it was slightly taller, but came with a high-definition DVD drive?

TiVo support. I actually don’t want Apple TV to become a TiVo, for various reasons, most of which involve the insane complexity of the cable, satellite, and over-the-air TV world. (There’s a whole other blog entry in that one.) However, it sure would be nice if the Apple TV played well with others. For example, what if the Apple TV could connect to any TiVo boxes in your house and play back all the programs stored on their hard drives?

Clearly, when it comes to Apple TV, the sky’s the limit. The good news is, the existing product is pretty darned good all by itself. I can’t wait to see what comes next — from Apple and from those enterprising hackers out there — but in the meantime I’m pretty impressed with what’s been done so far.

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