Apple TV has limited appeal

15 Jul
Apple TV is a compact device that fits snugly in the palm of the hand. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Apple TV is a compact device that fits snugly in the palm of the hand. (Geoff Meeker photo)

By Geoff Meeker

July 15, 2013 – I have never owned the Apple TV device until now

It sounded intriguing but frankly, I had no use for it. I’m set up with fibreoptic cable TV – complete with Netflix – so my TV viewing is already rich with content.

Recently, my parents won an Apple TV unit (retail value about $110) as one of the secondary prizes in a dream home lottery. Having no use for it they offered it to me, suspecting I’d be eager to play with it. They were right.

It’s a tiny device that connects to your TV with an HDMI cable and wirelessly to your computer, serving as a portal from computer to TV. You plug in Apple TV, select the HDMI input, connect to your network and off you go. The device has very little internal storage – movies, TV shows and music are streamed from your computer’s iTunes or from the cloud.

There are a number of apps on Apple TV, which you scroll through using a remote that is both simple and irritating to use. It’s simple because you can navigate easily and intuitively between apps; irritating because you have to scroll one digit at a time through an alpha-numeric screen whenever you input text. (There is a free app available that enables the iPad keyboard to interface with Apple TV, which would be lovely except I don’t own an iPad yet.)

Apple TV has free services – like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and a handful of others – and some paid services, though none really turned my crank. Qello airs only concerts and music documentaries, while CrunchyRoll offers more than 600 Japanese anime series and movies. They cost about $4 per month.

Movie rentals aren’t cheap, at $6 for new releases and $5 regular. You can purchase them as well, for anywhere from $12 to $20. Once you start watching a rental, you have 48 hours to finish it, and all rentals expire after 30 days.

You can also purchase TV series – old and new – by the episode or full season. One episode of the animated series Futurama is $2.50, while a full season is $18. On the higher end, an episode of Game of Thrones is $4.50, with the full season going for $44. There’s a bit of free content in there, but not much. If you watch a lot of TV, this is an expensive way to do so.

To cut to the chase, the real intent of this product is to get us on iTunes, where Apple would like to see us purchase movies and TV series with the same frequency that we buy music – and at a premium price. It’s a business model that holds little appeal to those of us who are already connected to cable and pay-per-view TV.

There are some exceptions, of course. If you have a lot of video content in your iTunes, Apple TV makes total sense – especially if you already own a number of Apple devices. It will allow you to view all that content on your TV, with the user-friendly iTunes interface.

And some people watch very little TV – perhaps just a handful of movies per month. In such a case, an occasional $5 rental may well be cheaper than cable.

There is one other advantage to iTunes. Purchased programming and active rentals are stored in the iCloud, accessible on your computer, iPad, iPhone, iPod or TV (via Apple TV). This means you can access your entire library, wherever you are (it’s ideal for travelling with a family, but beware those data download costs).

For me, the one redeeming feature on this device is the Netflix app, a video streaming service that I have raved about in a previous column. Netflix offers unlimited access to hundreds of movies and TV series, all for $8 a month. Compare that to $5 and $6 per movie on iTunes and you’ll see why Netflix is such a runaway success. If you don’t already own a videogame console – which can be pricey, starting around $300 – and want to stream Netflix to your television, then Apple TV is a low-cost alternative.

But if you are already set up with cable TV and Netflix, you should give Apple TV a pass.


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