Daily Blog – Steve Smallcombe – February 13, 2008 – SHOULD YOU BUY AN AppleTV? I WON'T, YET.

At MacWorld recently Apple announced the ability to download movie rentals and purchases via the iTunes store. Of course there are many other movie download services and other recent announcement, e.g. HBO, Comcast, Netflix, etc. and this is definitely the way the industry is going.  No doubt someday the neighborhood Blockbuster movie rental store will go the way of Tower records.

What made Apple’s announcement newsworthy, but hardly a surprise, was that Apple was offering movies from “every major Hollywood Studio”.  This was expected to give a boost to Apple’s AppleTV sales, but, for me, I am still not ready to buy one. AppleTV is also often noted as the one disappointing offering from Apple in the last few years.  It just hasn’t taken off the way some might have expected or Apple might have hoped.  When AppleTV was first announced, I almost bought it immediately.

I am a Mac fan and have been one for as many years as there have been Macs, and I am typing this blog on my MacBook Pro laptop.  At first AppleTV seemed like the perfect way of getting video content from my Mac desktop computer in our study to my front projection HD TV in the living room, the video content largely being HD recordings of our dogs romping in the snow, or other “home video”.  Convergence is a good thing, and media servers are all the rage, I am just not sure it is ready for me, or visa versa (except as noted below).  The trouble is I am sold on HD video and high quality multi-channel audio.  On my Sony 1080p front projector, HD content looks fantastic.  Yes, up-converted standard def DVDs also look great, but not as good as true HD content.

When it comes to audio, same thing; a Dolby Digital soundtrack is good, but the new higher definition audio codecs are better.  So I am not likely to add any device to my system that does not support at least 1080i resolution and/or download movie content that does not at least includes a Dolby Digital soundtrack.  Right now, the AppleTV/iTunes movie combo does not pass that test.

OK, I am an AV snob or a troglodyte, or an early adopter, or some combination of the above.  That said, I do have an iTunes account.  We have lots of audio books that we listen to when driving, using either my iPhone or my wife’s iPod nano as a player, as well as downloaded music, etc.  Perhaps one of the more attractive parts of the iTunes store are podcasts and videos from various news sources all over the world.  It is a great way of getting a global view of local and global events.  Such video looks fine on the screen of the iPod nano, or even on a portion of a computer monitor, I just don’t think it would look that good on my front projector.  I guess I should try it.

In my particular case, another problem with downloading large video files such as HD movies, is network bandwidth.  As I live in a rural area and don’t get either DSL or cable access, I use Wildblue for Internet access, and they have a “fair use” policy that limits my monthly downloads to 12Gb.  One could chew this up pretty quickly with a few high def videos.  Download speed in another potential issue with Wildblue, although I can’t really complain as it allowed contact with the outside world for 5 days recently when power was out in the area and even cell phones were not working.  Satellites don’t seem to care about local power outages.  (We have a generator.)

Despite all of the above, the funny thing is that I do download high def movies all the time via satellite and use a media server to play them back, so maybe I am not so backwards after all.In this case, I am using my DISH network high def ViP 622 DVR for downloading and recording.   What brings this closer to a media server is that ability to add (and swap) additional USB disk space for archival storage.   I added a 750Gb disk, and now have quite a few unwatched and/or favorite high def movie and TV episodes, most all with 5.1 DD soundtracks, just waiting for the right moment to be played back, when I want, and as many times as I want.

As for music, there are so many music only stations available via DISH that one hardly needs to archive music for casual or background listening.  As one may have guessed by now, for me the ultimate AV source however is high definition DVDs.  I have a HD DVD and a BlueRay player in my system and either buy high def DVDs or rent them from Netflix.  For me Netflix works great as it stocks both HD DVDs and BlueRay.  I drop a movie in my outgoing mailbox one day and two days later a new high def movie from my queue arrives in my mailbox. 1080p, high def audio codecs, relatively low cost per movie – works for me.  I do agree with John’s earlier blog however that scratched or dirty HD DVDs can be a problem with a rental service.  I have had to clean several to get them to play properly, but have only had one HD DVD where certain chapters just could not be played.

I am sure YOU are handling your rental movies properly, but do tell your friends to do the same.