Dammit. I can’t sleep. And it’s because of the Apple TV.
No, as I type this at 4:52 a.m., I’m not still sitting in front of my newly hooked-up device and my Panasonic plasma. I let the Apple Remote drop from my hands just before midnight after taking in bits and pieces of Lost , Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (whew, what a stinker!), a DVD-rip of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World , several movie trailers, and an assortment of podcasts.
What roused me at the 22-wink mark was a vague sense that, as much punch as may be contained in the diminutive Apple TV, it holds at least as much unrealized potential. In short: I woke with a bad case of The Gimmes.
I understand the purpose of the Apple TV. It’s a go-between box that makes enjoying the content of your iTunes Library (or the iTunes Library of any passing networked computer) in a big-screen/big-sound environment as easy as possible.
But I also see enough hints of what the Apple TV might do that I can’t help wanting more. Perhaps all of this is on the horizon, and we’re waiting for nothing more than the infrastructure to be built (and the content deals to be made). But just in case some of these point haven’t made the whiteboard in Cupertino…
Gimme the Store Browse to the Movies, TV Shows, or Music screens, and you see that the Apple TV can project streaming content in the form of movie trailers and Top 10 movies, TV episodes, and music tracks available at the iTunes Store. Cool. Now that you’ve tempted me, let me select a Buy command, download said item to my Apple TV, and watch it as it downloads.
Gimme the Store (temporarily) I’ve discovered after purchasing several “entire TV season” DVD box sets that I watch the full run exactly once. I don’t need to own this stuff. Ditto for nearly every movie I’ve purchased. Gimme rentals too. Same idea as with the Buy button. Offer a Rent command and start streaming video content to the Apple TV the minute I select it. Have the material expire within 30 days of first watching it and I’m happy.
Gimme higher rez The Store’s H.264-encoded content looks good on my big-screen TV, but I know it could look better if it was offered in true HD-quality. I’ve got the bandwidth, you’ve got the know-how. Let’s make it happen. (Oh, and while you’re constructing those new server farms, build a few more and offer music in Apple Lossless format.)
Gimme conversion MPEG-4 is a very popular video standard and H.264 looks great, but there is a lot of digital video flying around that uses neither. I know I can transcode that video with QuickTime Pro and other utilities, but it would be lovely if you made it easier by building a Convert for Apple TV command into iTunes’ Advanced menu, converted video on the fly as it was imported into my iTunes Library or, dare I say it, allowed the Apple TV to play additional video formats.
Gimme your insight I realize that the Apple TV’s interface is not set up to offer a beneficial iTunes Store browsing experience. You need to be able to input text to really delve into the depths of The Store. However, it wouldn’t be too difficult to browse screens featuring New Releases, Staff Favorites, and What’s Hot. But why stop there? iTunes Just For You and MiniStore features are designed specifically to push media at me based on what I already own. I’m willing to allow Apple a peek into my movie, TV, and music libraries if it means a well thought-out Just For You entry on the Apple TV will direct me to content I’ll enjoy.
Gimme a two-way relationship Currently the relationship between the Apple TV and iTunes is largely one-sided. iTunes holds the content and you push it to the Apple TV via a network connection. For my Buy and Rent fantasies to work I need the Apple TV to give a little something back. Specifically, I want it to archive material I’ve downloaded to my computer. For example, now, when I purchase a movie from the iTunes Store, I can burn a DVD data back up of it. As the Apple TV has no disc burner, I’d like it to sync the media I purchase with it back to my Mac’s iTunes Library. From there I can burn the backup (for purchased content, not rented) or watch the movie on my computer or synced iPod.
Gimme that USB port The Apple TV bears a single USB 2.0 on the back. Apple maintains that—for the time being, at least— that “service” port is for Apple’s use only. I’d dearly love that port for my own purposes. Specifically, I’d like to plug my fifth-generation iPod into it so that not only could the Apple TV play content on the iPod but it could automatically sync purchased and rented media to my iPod. Additionally, if I feel cramped by the Apple TV’s 40GB drive, why not allow me to jack a 500GB drive into the USB port for additional storage?
Gimme shelter I understand that it’s poor form to judge a product on what it isn’t and that’s not my intention. I get the Apple TV and, so far, appreciate what it offers. But it’s clear this is just a first step (albeit a really attractive one) in making the device the 21st century’s DVD player. I like what I’ve seen. Now please, when you’re ready, fill in the blanks.
[ Christopher Breen is a senior editor for Macworld and runs the iPod Blog over at Playlist . ]