Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Apple TV – Early Impressions

My Apple TV came yesterday. I missed the Fedex delivery so had to drive to the Fedex distribution center to get my package. I could have waited until Monday, but you know how it is with new Apple hardware. 2 days is a long time.

For those who don’t hang on Apple’s every word, Apple TV is basically an iPod for your TV. You hook it up to your TV and it will synch itself with an iTunes installation within your house, bringing your iTunes content (music, TV shows, movies) and your photos to the biggest TV in your house. Contrary to its name, Apple TV is not a TV and the box clearly states TV not included.

I use Phanfare for my photos and videos, and I upload them from a bunch of different computers. I use a Mac at home, running Windows within Parallels, and I use a PC at work. And of course, I have a laptop or two. So there is no single iTunes/iPhoto installation that contains my full collection of photos and videos. Hence, my little Apple TV box is unable to show me my most important stuff.

I pretty much knew what Apple TV did before I bought one, so why did I buy one? I bought one because I wanted to see just how buttery such a device could be. And indeed, it does not disappoint. Controlled entirely by a six button remote, you can quickly navigate your content and enjoy it in your most-lean back environment in the house.

Setup was nearly flawless. The only glitch was that i could not get the Apple TV box to associate with either my wireless G or wireless A network, both of which use WPA security. My guess is that they only got it working with WEP. I have a Proxim AP-4000 wireless access point, a business grade access point that typically works properly with any device that follows standards. If the Apple TV had failed to work with a Linksys access point, I would not even mention it ;-) .

You pair your Apple TV to your iTunes installation much like you pair a bluetooth keyboard. The Apple TV shows you a 5 digit code on your TV and you type that at your desktop into iTunes to complete the association.

Although Apple’s DRM limits you to playing ITMS content on 5 computers, each one requiring authorization, the Apple TV does not count against this limit. Again, it’s the iPod model.

As far as I can tell, the Apple TV does not show your personal videos on the device, a serious limitation. Even if you have an iPhoto album that contains a video, the video is omitted.

Also, after initial synch, I had to click “sync” in itunes to make it see additional iPhoto content. Possibly it polls once per day and I had not waited long enough, but given the whole thing is on your local network, seems like they could have done better there.

The experience at the TV is pure Apple. When you first start the box, it uses stock photos in an elaborate way to create a screensaver when the Apple TV is idle. Once it is synched with your content, it silently moves to using your images. Slick.

But fundamentally, the concept is flawed. Synching a device with a desktop computer is not really what you want. What you want is to Sync Apple TV with the cloud. Imagine if your Mac was instead at an industrial datacenter and somehow or other, you could could administer it remotely and get your photos and videos onto the computer. Now imagine that it is backed up, on conditioned power and the content is available from any web browser. In this configuration Apple TV would be brilliant for your photos and videos [if it supported videos]. This fungible $300 device could sit next to your TV, sync itself to the net and give you a more immersive experience with your photos and videos.

Of course, what I am describing is a Phanfare/Apple TV combination. Alas, we don’t have the resources to build an Apple TV-like box here. And it is honestly not quite clear that you even need one as time goes on. Once the 25 megabit/second fiber comes to your house, the TV could just browse your content at your Phanfare site. Our slideshows are as good as the Apple slideshow on the Apple TV. True that it would require the network be up in your home to see your content, but that is not likely to be a big limitation in 3 years when your cordless phones also require that.

While Apple TV won’t sync with Phanfare, you can turn your computer into a digital picture frame and pull content from multiple Phanfare accounts using our screensaver.

I know why Apple did the Apple TV. They started with the Mini and Frontrow and realized that consumers did not have any content on the Mini because they still managed their life from their den. So their solution was to create a cheap appliance that syncs with a desktop or laptop computer in your house. But the flaw is the philosophy that you ever needed a media hub in your home.

What you really want are caching appliances in your home that synch themselves with the cloud. In that way, your media is truly “homed” in the cloud. This way of doing business has a bunch of good properties for consumers, not the least of which is that you won’t lose all your photos and videos to your next disk crash, there is a natural solution for multi-client (cell phone, wireless camera [it's coming], and laptop) and when your upgrade your computer, you don’t need to figure out how to migrate your photos and videos.

It works even better for commercial content. Once you buy a song from ITMS, Apple could make sure you have perpetual access to it, and even upgrade the bitrate as time goes by. And of course, just because your local computers are just smart caches does not mean that you could not export an asset and copy it onto a CD or use it for a local project on your computer once Steve Jobs gets his way and kills the DRM.

This is the Phanfare vision. We don’t have it all built yet, but watch us!

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  • http://www.microsoftisawesome.com Whatever

    It’s been said all over the place, but 360 > AppleTV by far. The boys over at MIA have a few things to say about the Apple TV.

    http://www.microsoftisawesome.com/2007/03/apple-tv-vs-xbox-360-media-center.html
    http://www.microsoftisawesome.com/2007/03/apple-tv-i-cant-stop-not-liking-it.html

  • http://www.timschneider.org honemastert

    You can put your own personal videos, prOn, whatever on the box.. all you gotta do is get them into mpeg4 or h.264 (formats of the video iPod and iTunes, on both PC and or Mac) and you’re set!

    Yeah, the streaming over the web deal would be the holy grail.. (think flickr/you tube integraton? )

    But this isnt bad.. very nice design and interface.. worked flawlessly for me..

    My thoughts here:

    http://www.timschneider.org/2007/03/i-got-around-to-dumping-some-video.html

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  • Alan

    Andrew,

    I really like your vision for Phanfare with respect to Apple TV. The idea of “syncing with the cloud” is non-trivial but a very good idea!

    My Apple TV should arrive in a few days, so I’ll probably have some additional comments.

    I will say that I look forward to Apple TV for some of the things I do. For example, I typically sync my iPod-mini daily to update my podcasts of interest. I have it connected into my car sound system and am able to listen to my music and these podcasts during the day. I would not try to watch a video in the car; hence, the reason I don’t have a video iPod. But, for me, the idea of having a giant video iPod in my livingroom is a dream come true!

    There are 100,000 free podcasts available from iTunes with thousands having a video (h.264) version and many more to come in the future. (For example, check out http://dl.tv) For me, this is the best reason to buy an iPod; lots of niche programming available updated daily on almost any subject imaginable. And, this will only get better in the future.

    Also, I believe I can get my home videos on Apple TV by converting to H.264 format. Also, I use vdownloader to download YouTube videos; with one more conversion step, I believe I can put them in my iTunes library for display on Apple TV. (I already know I can insert them in my Phanfare albums without the second conversion step.)

    I’ll see if much of what I say above is true when I receive my Apple TV. I did test it at the local Apple Store, and it looks like a terrific first generation product that will only get better over time with future software updates and new product releases.

    Andrew: Thanks for your feedback on Apple TV and related vision for Phanfare. Looking forward to additional comments from Andrew and everyone else!

    Thanks,
    Alan

  • Andrew Erlichson

    Alan,
    For commercial content the Apple TV has great potential mostly because it is more likely to bridge the gap between internet and TV than Tivo. But for your own content, I still believe the model is flawed in the long run.

    As far as showing your video, the process you describe for conversion is far too cumbersome to most people to embark on I believe. But I think the product will improve there.

    One question is whether they will force people to buy new versions of the product or push feature upgrades over the internet in the form of updates. I believe they will do the latter since it really is just a little computer running a stripped down OS.

  • Alan

    Good point about it being too cumbersome for the average non-geek user to do the conversion. A simple 3rd party app. might help, but this is doubtful unless it is very easy to use.

    Yes, I think Apple will push feature upgrades over the Internet. Also, new hardware versions will be deployed.

    The potential ease of dealing with video podcasts is a plus for the Apple TV. What do you all think about this potential?

    Also, could the Apple TV become a feasible vehicle for online Movie Rentals? I understand that this would require agreements with the movie studios, but it does seems to be a fairly straightforward technical leap from their current position. Although, from a business point of view, they would need many more content providers to participate than they currently have for online sales of movies.

    Any comments appreciated!

  • Andrew Erlichson

    Alan,
    I think that accessing both commercial content and prosumer content (podcasts) is one of the most interesting potential enhancements that could be designed in.

    The current Apple model asssumes you decide what you want when sitting in front of the computer and consume it in front of the TV. This is a bit tortured. If I want to rent a movie, I don’t want to rent it from my desktop. I want to go to the TV, choose the movie and rent it.

    Apple may need a more sophisticated remote control to offer direct access to the ITMS from Apple TV and have it be useful.

    Andrew

  • Alan

    Andrew,

    The current Apple model is the same for the iPod and Apple TV. Selections are made from the PC not the iPod or Apple TV. After all, the Apple TV is simply a giant iPod in your living room. This will hopefully evolve over time.

    I will say that any non-technical user who has an iPod will have not problem setting up Apple TV. Results so far are quite superb, including access to some HD (720p/24fps) video podcasts.

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  • Bethany K Ford

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    Does Apple TV have a good quality.? So is Apple the one who'll deliver the TV or we have to rent a delivery truck?

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    I wouldn't be surprised if it makes it big soon. Because after all, it's bearing the gigantic name of Apple, which will ensue a landslide of followers.

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    oh really just like an ipod t.v. with such features. wow this apple t.v is great. im thinking to have one now.

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  • http://www.wheelmax.com/ Rims

    Yes, I think Apple will push feature upgrades over the Internet. Also, new hardware versions will be deployed.

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