Jan 18 2011
There has been much buzz building over the past year about moving television away from a satellite/cable delivery model to an IP solution where the viewer pulls down programming from a pay-as-you-go or all-you-can-eat store such as iTunes or Netflix. Pushing the DVR out of the rack and replacing it with an IP delivery solution such as AppleTV, Google TV, Roku, or even an XBox requires a leap of faith I suspect many won't take for another few years. But confront a monthly DirectTV bill approaching $200, do some math on one's digital content expenses (fodder for a future post) and the economics of moving to a new model is compelling except for a couple big stumbling blocks.
First off, as the insightful interactive TV blogger Uncle Fester pointed out recently, while the world is moving to a time-shifted model where programming is recorded and then viewed at one's convenience, sports will remain a real-time event and as such -- given the expensive scale of the broadcast rights -- is not likely soon to migrate from Fox or ESPN to MLB.com or a sports-specific streaming provider.
Second is the spotty distribution of high bandwidth to the home -- America's shameful data networks continue to lag other countries (Korea for example) -- and without a dependable high speed connection IPTV fails for the masses.
Uncle Fester provided me with a first generation AppleTV unit a couple years ago and it sort of languished in the closet -- being connected and pressed into service on a couple of occasions, especially by my offspring who are far more comfortable with consuming their shows on a PC. For them it is fairly natural to decide to watch something then go find it on iTunes or Hulu or even YouTube. That first generation AppleTV was a challenge to embrace because of the meager DSL rates I was experiencing on Cape Cod (350 to 400 kbits per second) and because my home network was primarily Windows XP machines with an unstable iTunes machine because of my need to switch PCs every few months in my former role at a PC company.
This all changed last week when I killed off Verizon DSL and replaced with with a much speedier Comcast connection and then ordered the second generation AppleTV device -- for a mere $99 -- and plugged it's very straightforward HDMI out into the flat panel over the fireplace. Two things drove me to the new device -- first was AirPlay, the ability to push video from an iPhone or iPad onto the television with amazing ease, and second was the integration of Netflix. At this point I'd declare that AppleTV is providing at least half of the content consumed, especially spur of the moment video on demand via iTunes, or "channel surfing" through Netflix's instant offerings.
The ability to stream movies stored on my ThinkPad into the unit and onto the screen via the home Wifi and the Home Share capability in iTunes is more than convenient and holds big possibilities for sharing home digital video, etc. Installing Apple's remote control app on my iPad makes text entry into search boxes a hundred times easier than moving a cursor around with the AppleTV's little remote (itself a nice example of Apple design engineering). All in all, I can't recommend the new AppleTV highly enough.
For more on the cord-cutting phenomenon I recommend the New York Times' series on the topic.