Me and my TV

I’ve been hankering after an Apple TV for a while now. The early versions never really appealed (why buy another piece of hardware, when I could just plug a laptop into my TV?) but when Apple moved over to the cheap, small, streaming-focused model I started to see the benefits.

The first small Apple TV was the Apple TV 2. I skipped that version (720p? Why not go all out for 1080p?) but the Apple TV 3 finally won me over and now its shining white light stares out at me from under the television.

One day I want to ‘cut the cord’ from my cable TV and get everything from either Freeview (the UK’s terrestrial digital TV service) or online. Buying the Apple TV is my first step down this path. An early attempt to move my viewing habits away from subscription TV and onto a pay per view model.

One week in and I can see the future. Unfortunately that future is still, well, in the future.

What’s good? Having the full iTunes movie rental catalogue delivered straight to the TV is useful. Impulse movie rentals are the best kind of rentals. No trawling through movie channels to find something you haven’t already watched, no being limited to the cable providers pay-per-view selection, and all delivered instantly (broadband speed dependent) in full 1080p HD. It’s the best way of renting films I’ve found.

Netflix has (in the UK at least) a limited choice of films but it is cheap and fills a movie hole if you’re just looking for something to wash over you for a couple of hours (my girlfriend likes to spend the occasional afternoon watching romantic comedies. Netflix is perfect for those situations). And thanks to Apple TV integration, you get full HD and 5.1 surround sound (not every film has 5.1 though).

On the TV side, Netflix is better. Lots of TV box-sets to choose from, including some classic episodes of Doctor Who. Consider me sold on the Netflix TV experience. If you’re going to watch repeats they may as well be repeats of your own choosing.

Equally, iTuned can provide access to many, many TV series. Easy to buy and stream to the Apple TV and no need to give up local storage to massive m4v you’ll only watch occasionally.

When it comes to movies the Apple TV is great. When it comes to older TV programmes it’s also fine. However watching new TV isn’t as good an experience and that’s why the cable cord remains uncut.

There’s a programme on TV tonight, 9pm. I won’t be in but want to catch it later. Apple TV doesn’t have the ability to record tv programmes (no tuner or HDD to record onto) so that’s not an option.

I could search the iTunes Store tomorrow to see if the makers have put the episode up for sale. Some TV programmes are available the day after transmission, some are available when the series ends, and some are never available. If my 9pm programme isn’t available tomorrow then I might never get to watch it with Apple TV.

And there’s my problem. Till every programme is available within a reasonable time-frame I’m keeping the cable and its PVR functions. Though it doesn’t have to be that way. There is something Apple could do to make me cancel the cable. It wouldn’t let me watch every programme I want, but I could watch enough of them to be prepared to wait for the others to show up on a box-set.

Apple could talk to the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the others, and ask them to develop their fantastic VOD catch-up services for the Apple TV. Put them right there on the menu next to Netflix (and the rather useless, for me, WSJ and MLB At The Bat).

The UK is blessed with a competitive catch-up TV landscape. Pioneered by 4OD and BBC iPlayer all the major TV providers offer their programmes for 7 days after transmission online. Many (possibly even all, I’m not sure) offer live channels for streaming through their VOD services.

I have no insider knowledge to support this, but I suspect the problem is more Apple stopping the providers, than TV channels not wanting to be on the Apple TV. Certainly the BBC have shown a commitment to getting iPlayer everywhere. It comes to something when I can watch BBC via a Nintendo Wii but not a box dedicated to media consumption.

If I could get these services on the Apple TV I would happily stop my cable subscription. But I can’t. I can fudge it by using iPad apps streamed through the Apple TV but that’s not the best watching experience. The quality isn’t HD and why should I use two devices when one could do it on its own easily?

Until the Apple TV provides every TV programme, or access to VOD catch-up services, it will remain a useful, but not essential, part of my viewing habits. Virgin Media can keep taking my money for a bit longer yet.

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