My High Def Life: Sync or Stream?

by Erica Sadun

I apologize in advance for disjointed nature of this post. I've been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about how Apple intends you to use AppleTV and my time spent going over the new AppleTV strings in iTunes 7.1 has made me explore some new areas of thought.

It all comes down to this. Apple seems to think that AppleTV is an iPod:

  • They display it as part of the iPod store:

  • The AppleTV strings in iTunes 7.1 show functionality that's very close to the standard iPod strings: playlists, syncing, movies, songs, photos, etc.

  • It's only got a 40 GB hard drive! For video. Even presumably high-quality video. That's iPod-levels of space, not media center-levels of space.

More after the jump...


2007-03-08 12:49:12
AppleTV is an iPod. Here's why:

Microsoft hallucinates and sees a future where EVERYTHING runs Windows; everything is a PC. From servers to Xbox to smartphones to watches. Even a wireless display has to run Windows! As a result the Media Center PC is a gigantic, over priced beast.

Apple delivers. They haven't taken the Mac and shrunk it into an AppleTV; they've taken an iPod and transformed it into an AppleTV! And the result, third or less the price of an Media Center PC, a fraction of the size and Apple simple/Just-Works.

Both AppleTV and iPod sync with iTunes to play your audio and video collection.

AppleTV is plugged into the wall so it can use wireless connection with your computer while if an iPod had wireless it would run the batteries down so fast you'd have to connect it to your computer to charge it anyway, what would be the advantage?

Speed: USB at 400Mbps versus WiFi at 11-54Mbps; no speed advantage.

Power: You have to plug the iPod in to charge it; if you connect wirelessly to the computer you'd have to plug it into the wall to charge it which would be no easier than just connecting it to the computer to charge and sync at 8-40 times the sync speed of wireless; no power or convenience advantage.

The Future: The only reason to add wifi to the iPod in the near future will be to add the "iPod Tablet" functionality of wireless access to the web, email, voip and widget-apps.

Connecting the AppleTV to the computer with wires would kill it's usefulness.

Both are so easy to use you could say they're Obvious!..........

2007-03-08 14:09:16
First, thank you for your serives of "My High Def Life" posts. The posts have been very helpful, and I have read every one of them.
I too am perplexed by the AppleTV. I would like to jump on the bandwagon, but I am not sure how the product will fit into my workflow. I do not mind the streaming bit except for the fact that I use a laptop. If the video resides on my laptop, it won't be much good to my wife when I am not at home. I seems that if I want to use an AppleTV, I will be forced to my a Mac Mini to host the video. If I buy a Mac Mini, why would I not just hook that up to the TV and skip the AppleTV all together.

I must admit, when it comes to the media exetender, I am a bit envious of the Microsoft camp. It is my understanding that the X-Box 360 costs the same as the AppleTV, works as a media extender, and plays games to boot.

2007-03-08 14:44:50
I guess I really saw Apple TV as a "headless iPod" (BYO HD display!) in the way that a Mac mini is a "headless iMac". It's not a fully fledged Mac OSX machine (if you want that you can pay the extra for the Mac mini), so it's really just an iPod - one that can handle HD.

That said, because of Apple TV I'm really reconsidering whether a Mac mini isn't better for me since I know that with the Perian/Flip4Mac plugins it will play almost anything I want to throw at it. With the Apple TV I'm not so sure (but I'll be looking for the answer to this in your hands on review once your Apple TV arrives).

Thanks for the great series of articles.

2007-03-08 15:15:42

I think its all about maximizing profit from early adopters. Probably by year end, there will be an "improved" model, sporting a 120, 160 or 200 GB notebook drive. Or possibly a flash memory model, if prices in the flash memory markets fall sufficiently. Any idea what the particulars are on the internal 40 GB drive? SATA? 7200 rpm?

The other thing is that Apple peripherals (including the iPod) are designed to strongly nudge one towards attachment to a Mac, and the use of the Mac's resources. So the 40 GB is likely only a cache, a bigger buffer than mere memory would be, allowing for all kinds of interference in the flow of data from the Mac to the AppleTV without disrupting the picture on the HDTV. Being a device that connects to a wide variety of computers, Windows and Mac, it must deal with host machines that are incapable of streaming data fast enough -- the obvious solution is to park the data on the AppleTV's disk drive on its way to the big screen. It will almost certainly work without the 802.11n connection, using only an 802.11b/g connection -- but there will be an awfully long delay until it begins appearing on the screen.
Which only provides greater motivation for the customer to upgrade to an 802.11n connection.

And let me join those thanking you for your "My Hi-Def Life" series. You are, of course, planning on pumping out a print version as an O'Reilly book, yes?

2007-03-09 00:17:23
Told you so.

2007-03-09 06:09:04
I have 4 TVs in my house. Wouldn't it be cool to have access to all of my media on all of them? I could have one really good media center Mac, with one or more Elgato tuners to capture TV shows, and AppleTVs spread around the house as needed. Given the cost, it's probably something I would ramp up over time. :-) But it would be iPod-simple to do, wouldn't it?
R Boylin
2007-03-09 08:21:38
Too big for streaming cache, and too small for HD video, It's for TV shows. With the potential to move the show(s) to the AppleTV HD so you don't need your computer to view the HD content when you get home from work.
2007-03-10 19:38:43
Hey Erica, I also have been enjoying and looking forward to this series, as I am sort of torn between the mini approach and to a lesser extent the Apple TV. Thanks! I also can't wait for you to get your hands on the Apple TV to answer some of these questions. And there are many.

The Apple TV is like a black hole when it comes to info. There are some things that just seem plain obvious that it doesn't look like it will do--like purchasing off of the iTunes store (or downloading content from other places for that matter). But most of all, is the topic of media formats it will support. This is like my biggest issuse, that and exandability. Like, I'm not sure if I've seen it, but will the iTV (why they didn't just slap that name on and deal with it later like the iPhone I'll never know) stream IP radio streams? Maybe if they were in the iTunes library? Then the whole issue of video formats has me really up in arms. I buy a lot, rip my own, I mean back up my own, and then some times I hit up BT, and end up with stuff in various formats. Conversion is too time consuming, unless you don't have a job.

So this really boils down to expandability. I guess from that angle, I should just settle on the Mac Mini, but it would be nice if Apple would develop the mini more just for this purpose, you know like a Macintosh TV or Apple TV Pro. Anyway, keep all the good info coming.