What’s wrong with TV?

Today was officially my last day of Verizon FiOS TV Service with HD DVR. Not because of rumors or anything but because I realized something during the summer when nothing was new: I actually like buying my shows one at a time from iTunes. And that goes double for documentaries.

Also, I don’t have an HDTV, I have a 1280×800 (16:10 version of 720p) DLP projector from Dell hooked up to some JBL creatures. There’s also a monoprice HDMI switch in there that ties in the Xbox and a Mac Mini. Between all of those I can watch whatever I want (except Blu-Ray) but I’ve found my favorite is the Apple TV using my iPhone as a remote. And I think that’s why I hated the FiOS box so much even though it was a lot better than the Cablevision box it replaced.

IR remotes are somewhat directional. When you’re using a projector, all of your equipment tends to be behind/next to where you sit rather than in front of. This made using any remotes really annoying. During movie nights I would sit in the only seat you could use the remote from.

Then I discovered Apple’s remote App. What’s great about it isn’t the ability to use it to replace the buttons on the remote. The real advantage is being able to use it to search through your library and select what you want to watch or listen to. Also, it has a keyboard. A USABLE keyboard. On Demand TV demands a keyboard and those godawful Sony remotes for the Google TVs are not the solution.

Before I got sucked this deep into iTunes for my content, I used to use the Mac Mini. And, for Flash content (Hulu, CNN, CSPAN, etc) I still do. I used to think that the wireless keyboard/trackpad was the way to control that but I soon found a more elegant solution to that too. My 11″ MacBook Air. I use screen sharing to remotely view and control the Mac Mini and get a proper control experience. I’ve also tried VNC apps for iOS but the Mac OS works better with a trackpad.

So do I think Apple will release an HDTV? Probably. Here’s my official spec list guess.

Size 32″
Res 1080p
Price $999
Inputs 1 x HDMI AirPlay
Outputs RCA Audio
Optical Audio
Operating System None iOS
Misc Internal 2.1 Speakers (like Cinema Display)
HD Facetime Camera

That’s right. It won’t have input selection because my grandparents still can’t figure that crap out. That would freak out most geeks, but I’m comfortable with my HDMI switcher being separate. Based on that Real Racing multiplayer demo the new AppleTV brick that’s made for it is going to give consoles the same look in their eye portable consoles have right now.

It’s pretty obvious that the new AppleTV brick will be an A5 with 512MB RAM and 8GB (I mean “Zero”) storage capable of 1080p for real. In other words, a screenless iPhone 4S.

So what’s going to make this great? True À la carte access to SHOWS, not NETWORKS, with sane variable pricing. If they want it to take off they need to make 22* minutes of SD $.99 and scale prices from there, with HD being a flat extra $1.00. I know it’s trivial but here’s a table anyway.

Duration* SD HD
22 $0.99 $1.99
44 $1.99 $2.99
88 $3.99 $4.99

*In case you never realized, a 30 minute show has 22 minutes of content + commercials.

As commercials become a thing of the past we may or may not see actual 30 minute episodes but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Maybe Apple needs Steve Jobs to negotiate these things with networks, but something tells me they’re going to be much more frightened of Tim Cook. The way he confidently refers to the entire 90% Windows market as potential is going to make his reign interesting.


Shaw Wu points out that due to many subscribers “cutting the cord” like myself that Apple may gain an advantage as providers look to Apple to “bring subscribers back”. So that brings up the theoretical $30/month iTunes Pass (or whatever) that lets you view all available content on demand. I would love that because I wouldn’t have to use so much HDD space on shows, but one wonders if iOS (non AppleTV) and Mac OS X viewing would be included, or if it would be set top box only. If iOS viewing for example becomes an add on $10/month then we’re right back to paying $10/month per cable box which is what Steve Jobs told Walt Mossberg is what’s wrong with the current system.

Even if a magical $30/month all device pass exists, with the current selection of content on iTunes it may not be worth it for some people, as it will be “less for less”. iTunes is pretty good about having new episodes of things and old seasons of the shows it has new episodes for, but it’s not complete. There’s no DragonBall Z Kai for example. Some of us don’t just watch new shows either. We like watching shows that are over being reran on USA or TV Land or something. Some networks are better at getting their stuff on iTunes than others. Some of my childhood cartoons (Batman the Animated Series) are available in full, but Spider-Man and X-Men have one season as of this writing.

And then there are one time “specials” that don’t really fall into a series. The History Channel and National Geographic have made a “specials” series they can through these things into but they usually take time to show up, unlike a new Simpsons episode which is available within 24 hours of airtime. A particularly telling example is that Discovery’s recent “iGenius – How Steve Jobs changed the World” isn’t on iTunes.

This brings me to why even though I’d like it and save money, subscriptions are not the future TV needs. À la carte shows fund themselves and can continue with only a cult fallowing. Futurama and Family Guy were both uncanceled due to DVD sales. If they were À la carte to begin with the numbers would have prevented cancelation in the first place.

I have a feeling that game shows and reality TV wouldn’t do to well under the À la carte model.

News might also suffer, but the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are Comedy Central’s best selling shows on iTunes.

The final piece of the programming is things that can only be live. The President addressing the nation, presidential debates, 9/11 type events, and anything else that shouldn’t be pre taped. The answer is simply to make live streaming possible for this sort of thing only. Every single network doesn’t need to broadcast the same Presidential Address, that should come straight from Washington. Only one network gets to have each presidential debate (as they do now) and in the case of actual breaking news (the Casey Anthony verdict does NOT need to interrupt my regularly scheduled programming) any network that covers it would be available and if necessary any other iTunes downloads would be suspended for bandwidth.

Bandwidth is the potential bottleneck here. The reason cable works now is because there’s only a hundred channels with hundreds of repeaters nation/world wide. Live internet events have a history of being unable to operate under a load. A few years ago I tried to watch NJ Governor Elect Chris Christie in a conference room at my job (in the public education sector so we were more worried than excited to hear/see him) and bandwidth coming from NJN or whatever wasn’t sufficient. Luckily there was also an audio only stream that worked. My attempts at watching Rutgers Football on ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360.com) have been better but similar. At the start of the game when everyone is tuned in the stream is 320 x 240 at some abysmal bit rate (and yes that’s somehow not 16:9 but 4:3) but by the third quarter when people start to stop watching the quality goes way up and I get a proper 720p experience. Things like sports would have to be free but the stream originator would be free to insert ads (can’t skip ads with live TV so no problem there).

It’s obvious that the networks would stream to Apple and Apple’s data center would stream to you, but Apple hasn’t had a perfect track record either. A lot of the nation doesn’t have what we Coastal Elites call broadband either. Any connection can take all the time it needs to download a show to watch later, but would Apple offer 360p and 180p streams for lower bandwidth customers? Could Apple convince AT&T to let us watch at least the 180p stream over 3G?

1 thought on “What’s wrong with TV?

  1. Pingback: Input? HDMI? nope, AirPlay | Rants

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