Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why iTV will fail miserably

I read today on Gizmodo or somewhere that Apple's iTV will not make it out by MacWorld (next week). They're having trouble getting an embedded version of OS X to work for them and it will be released sometime later next month. In thinking about this, I realized that there's almost no hope for this box.

Let's first talk about bandwidth. It's supposedly an attachment that will show movies and TV in HD over Wi-Fi. Anyone who has experience with a Windows Media Center Extender already knows that just won't fly. My Xbox 360 can play back video from my Media Center (Vista Ultimate, of course). Can it do it well? No. On 802.11g, it can barely do SD video and is not that far away from my router. I guess Apple could ask everyone who wants one of these to upgrade to 802.11n -- which is not an approved spec -- but is that going to happen before the bad reviews start rolling in? In the general case, I imagine there are going to be unhappy people here.

Second problem is processing and caching. I started wondering how much RAM and/or disk such a box might have. It would be nice if it had a significant amount so the video stream could be cached to give a better playback experience. But I also started wondering what kind of processor they're planning to use in this box? Intel? That wouldn't be prudent -- Intel is well disliked for embedded systems (ask Microsoft about Xbox 1). PPC? I suppose that might work. Even if these are all worked out, I just think that at $299, it's going to be an interesting price squeeze for Apple. The Xbox 360 Platinum (i.e. the one with the HDD) is reportedly costing Microsoft around $330 these days. I am just a little surprised if Apple will be able to make their first embedded HD system profitable from the get-go, but I'm sure they have top men working on it.

Third problem is the competition. This is one issue that I feel strongly that Apple can't overcome. Their competition isn't BitTorrent, or Microsoft's Xbox Live initiative, or any other downloadable movie gimmick thing. The juggernaut they face is the streaming HD digital content that Comcast is already delivering on demand (their service is originally called... On Demand™). Nobody can compete against Comcast when it comes to sheer bandwidth. I routinely get upwards of 8-10 Mbs when using my cable modem, and I'm able to stream HD content to my cable box using On Demand™.

Apple thinks people will spend $300 on this iTV box, another $1000 on a computer to serve content to the iTV box, and then wait for movies to download to watch them? I spend $10 a month on a Comcast DVR that does HD both On Demand™ and as a DVR. Not even Tivo can compete against that. Comcast's highly flawed--but very cheap--DVR makes the new $800 Tivo Series 3 POA (Pointless on Arrival).

So, I hope Apple has a trick up their sleeve. I really do. I'd like to see Apple give Comcast a run for their money. I just don't see it happening though. The big guy who controls the fast pipes is ultimately going to win this content battle.


brianc73 said...
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brianc73 said...

POA... Ha ha ha - I like it! Pointless on Arrival. Yeah... You might have a job offer from Apple soon if they're reading your blog. You're right on.

I thought it was just my WiFi that sucked at streaming SD video. After the miserable experience with XP Media Extender to my 360, I nixed looking at any other WiFi media streaming products and wrote the whole idea off. I do like the .11n spec, but yeah, I'd have to throw out my home network I just spent a few hundred bucks upgrading last year. If the Orlando backwoods ever gets OnDemand I'll go that route too. Seems like throwing a computer and streamer like iTV in the middle doesn't make sense (how much media is really worth saving and watching multiple times anyway? I've got a few dozen DVDs I bought, watched once, and never want to watch again... The best of the best I'm lucky to have watched more than 2 or 3 times... Why have all of this crap stuffing up a 500GB hard drive only to have to deal with the headaches of, like you said, blowing through another few hundred bucks on a streamer like iTV to deliver it??). Seems like a waste. Media-serving, oversized hard-drives and iTVs will only fly in couch-potato homes (ok, so that means 3/4 of the american market place... it could be successful if the potatoes don't have OnDemand).

Hopefully they take heed of this over at Apple before the big Expo next week.

Trimbo said...

Brian, what broadband solution do you have now? Do you have a cable modem? If they're offering 6-8 Mbs for your cable modem, I would imagine OnDemand wouldn't be far off.

You're absolutely right about keeping all the stuff around. I don't need any larger HDDs than I already have. Being able to get the stuff streaming, even if that means paying a couple bucks for it, is a much better solution.

BTW, a lot of the stuff on OnDemand is free. Only the newer movies cost money. I've watched Terminator, Fifth Element, MIB, Pumpkinhead and a bunch of other movies in HD On Demand for free. In fact, if there's anything bad to say about OnDemand, it's that they don't have enough of the new movies in HD.

Reason? Maybe the movie studios are afraid of Comcast's power when it comes to this distribution method. Comcast could essentially ruin the box office industry if they had HD of every recent movie released. Or maybe I'm over thinking it.

Anyway, back to original topic, it will be interesting to see what Apple does next week, and if they can compete here. They'll at least have Disney and ABC on their side, thanks to the relationship Jobs has with that company.