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Editorial

Thoughts on the Prediction of an Apple Branded TV Set

Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster thinks that Apple is going to come out with its own branded TV set in 2011. It's an interesting idea, one I have mixed feelings about.

I have a keen interest in optics (telescopes and binoculars), calculators, anything Apple, and HDTV technology. It's that anything Apple part that tickles my fancy. Would I buy an Apple branded TV set?

Apple TV set

Of course, my profession depends on using Macs. I have some old ones (TiBook, decommissioned, and PowerBook for surfing while watching TV) and some newer ones. There are a million things one can do on a Macintosh, and of all the things that I do each day, I prefer to do them on a finely crafted tool like the Mac.

But, I think, we all have lower standards (and may budget) for TV viewing. My wife and I spend a lot of time watching movies and the SyFy Channel (Ycch. I hated that name change.) But sometimes I watch junk, just to wind down from a day of writing. How much premium needs to be attached to a TV set? Can Apple improve the customer experience dramatically? For example, eliminate cables? All the outputs from DVRs and Blu-ray players are HDMI. Apple needs to be careful there because I think it'll be harder to enforce its typical kind of leadership in that industry.

I'm also wondering about the choice of display technology. Would it be of limited size, something for a den, office or studio? Or is Apple thinking about 50-inch Plasmas? When Apple first shipped the Apple TV set top device, the company demoed it in the retail stores with Sony LCDs. However good the Sony TVs are, LCD displays can look harsh and two dimensional in bright surroundings. I noted with interest how all those have been replaced with Pioneer Plasmas, arguably the best picture money can buy in 2008-9. So would Apple follow that lead in their own TV? Interesting question.

So an Apple TV set would have to fit in and yet stand out. Apple would have to justify the price, and the product would have to make money in what seems to be a cut-throat industry. It also seems to be a risky venture for a company that likes to keep its vision simple.

Apple's customers have been pleading, on what seems to be deaf ears by Apple, for essential improvements to the Apple TV set top product as we know it. We'd like to see integration with Netflix and Hulu, better hardware, officially supported USB storage expandability, and so on. But competitive pressures have kept the current Apple TV from being all that it could be, and Mr. Munster sees the Apple TV suffering somewhat as a result.  He also predicts, for the short term, a subscription TV service that would compete with cable. That's great. However, selling display TVs seems to be the same kind of mess Apple got into when it got distracted by QuickTake cameras, Newtons, and laser printers in the 1990s.

Finally, HDTVs are starting to reach saturation levels in U.S. households. That's not to say the market isn't still growing and households won't add second and third HDTVs.  They will.  But Apple would be coming along very late in this game at a projected 2011 launch. 

So I'm watching with keen interest. My wife and I are planning to get a Blu-ray player at Christmas with built-in support for HD streaming from Netflix and dispense with discs in the U.S. Mail. Between that and the 40 GB Apple TV and DIRECTV, we feel we have every thing we need. Throughout 2009, a lot of people have been buying HDTVs but dropping cable, connecting Macs to TVs and watching Hulu, and doing all kinds of optimizations. They probably feel like they're all set as well.

I'll be fascinated to watch and see, if the company proceeds with this vision, just exactly what Apple thinks people are hungry for. Maybe we won't know until we see it.

3 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

jimothy said:

Netflix Streaming, while convenient, is no where near Blu Ray quality. Perhaps over cable modem (I used it with 3.0 Mbps DSL), it’s better, but I’d still expect less-than-DVD quality and two channel sound.

   Quote

John Martellaro said:

That’s right.  Video comes off the Blu-ray disc at about 30 Mbps.  We’re lucky if we get a 5 Mbps transmission over Ethernet, and 720p.  It’s a trade off.  I will say that when we’ve watched HD movies with Apple TV, they’ve looked pretty good.  Perfect is occasionally the enemy of good enough—except for the staff of “Widescreen Review”  Magazine.

Sound is an issue as well.  Some of the Blu-ray movies we’ve rented from Netflix have DTS Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD.  Now THAT is amazing. Shakes the room. 

-JM

   Quote

toke said:

“But, I think, we all have lower standards…”
Like Macs not having eSata, HDMI & blu-ray?

   Quote

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