September 29, 2007: AppleTV Day

Media Today: Watching AppleTV

I was stuck sleeping in later than I wanted this morning because Oreo was being massively snuggly and was sleeping with his head on my pillow and with his back to mine so any movement from me would cause him to wake up. And we couldn’t have that. So I was stuck just laying there waiting for Oreo to decide to get up.

After Oreo got up we got up and got ready to head back to Best Buy to exchange the AppleTV that we got yesterday to try out a different unit but before we could make it out of the apartment I got paged and had to work. I got stuck working for about two hours. So Dominica ran over to Food for Life and got us lunch so that we could at least eat while being stuck in the apartment. We had been planning on going to the diner for breakfast.

Around one in the afternoon we were able to escape the apartment and ran to Best Buy and exchanged the AppleTV. We also hit the A&P to get some much needed supplies – like water. We were as quick as possible and got right back to Newark.

The new AppleTV works well. Not perfectly. It still has some issues with its image with blue lines on occassion but for the most part it manages to work and it definitely doesn’t do the total loss of image thing anymore. So this is basically working and we are going to give it a serious try. We hooked it up and watched tons and tons of stuff on it. We tried downloading some television shows from iTunes, checked out some shows like Jet Set and Rocketboom and watched loads of YouTube videos. Good stuff. So far, AppleTV is pretty cool. Far from perfect but quite an interesting idea. We are excited.

The reason for buying the AppleTV is mostly to allow me to continue to explore current and emerging Internet culture and new media which is a hobby of mine. AppleTV itself may not be groundbreaking but it is a significant move for new media towards the mainstream. The AppleTV is a great showcase for how technology like this can be enabled with a simple device that can take great Internet based content and turn it into a transparent experience for “traditional television-like viewing.” It isn’t there yet but the AppleTV makes great strides in this direction.

The AppleTV is both interesting and crippled because of its backend use of iTunes to provide its media store. iTunes is one of the worst pieces of software ever made. It is buggy and unstable – using it today required at least three restarts of a computer that usually can go a month without having any piece of software cause that much of an issue.

But much worse than being buggy, believe it or not, is just how hard iTunes is to use. Context driven menus that are simple and straightforward simply don’t exist. It is totally unintuitive and pointlessly complex. And it is full of a mix of new media terminology and legacy media references that make it difficult to decifer. For example both “Good Night Burbank” and “Back to You” are television shows. One airs originally online and one airs originally on network television and online. But are available to iTunes online. One is classified a podcast – which is incorrect since podcast means audio. And the other is classified as television – even though it too is online. But “What the Buck?” which is available both online and on satellite television is only available through the “YouTube” interface and not through iTunes at all.

While hard to use, one thing that I do really like is the ability to grab television shows (legacy television shows that is) through iTunes. The only problem is that they are way too expensive – $1.99 is a bit much for an old television rerun that is only half an hour long. So I am only willing to get the free ones which, because this is the season opening week, there are several of. So we downloaded a bunch of series pilots and season openers to check out some television shows. It works just like (both metaphorically and literally) on-demand cable television service and looks just as good.

We watched two series pilots. One, “Til Death”, was total crap. It is total sitcom fodder. All the worst and most bland elements of 90s sitcoms coming back to haunt us. Bad acting. Horrible writing. Ugh. Avoid avoid avoid.

The other show is the only thing on television that I am sorry that I cannot watch (as I don’t have television and won’t pay iTunes prices for their wacky proprietary format shows when later I could get them on DVD for cheaper) is “Back to You” which is the new, traditionally styled sitcom by Kelsey Grammer. The show was entertaining but we were both shocked to discover that the show is little more than a glossy reproduction of “Goodnight Burbank” – the Internet television show. The characters are roughly the same. The situation is roughly the same. And they even use one of Burbank’s stock recurring jokes in the very first episode. It is a bit shameless but there are only so many stories in the universe I guess and all that. But Burbank is still running and a fairly new show. It is a little early to be copying it. I guess they are assuming that their target audience is very literate in new media.

We also really like having movie trailers available through the AppleTV. Since we have no other access to current movie trailers we have been completely missing all knowledge of what is going to theatres. But the trailer selection looks to be extremely limited to just a few studios with one being the “B” movie manufacturing firm Lionsgate. So mainstream and quality films are mostly unrepresented in the trailer selection making it a bit weird.

We really like being able to grab YouTube videos to watch on the AppleTV. It would be better if it would use the YouTube subscription feature to queue them up, though, as it is tough to really get into watching things since it has to keep stopping and buffering a lot of the time. The one thing that is really surprising is how good YouTube looks when put up on a big screen. What it really shows is how awful traditional television is and just how little it takes to compete with it.

We ordered in from Nino’s and watched stuff on the AppleTV all evening. It is very addicting. Especially when you realize how much better video podcasts and YouTube are than regular television. And when you realize that you are in total control of what you are watching. It is great not being tied to timetables or anything else when watching television. Which Dominica and I are already so used to that it would never occur to us to think about the “time” that shows are on anymore. It has been so many years since we had to think about something like that.

We moved the television and the AppleTV into the bedroom and put it on a stand so that we could try it out for the evening and make sure that it is going to work for us when we mount it on the wall.  It seems to work fine – the AppleTV gets great signal in there so the wireless shouldn’t be any issue.  It is going to be really neat having a television with AppleTV in our bedroom.  It gives us music and stuff to watch.  I just discovered that you can get the “News from Lake Wobegon” via RSS now which is one of the best uses of the technology yet.

It was around midnight when we fell asleep.

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