Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Apple TV meets Sony Bravia and the New Zealand iTunes Store

Be advised, as  this is a toy review,  there may be drooling. Moreover, user reaction may cause extreme apathy in some and sofa rage in others. So don't read it while driving a sofa . 

Last Sunday night had me and mine sitting in front of the 'big tele' [bought and paid for - well nearly] in this case a Sony Bravia with Dolby surround sound via five external speakers.


To the right of the tele was the rather cute wee Apple TV box currently on loan from Apple Australia. In my hand the little white remote, which was all set to play the hi-def version of Batman - begins, which we had rented and downloaded from the New Zealand iTunes store for the magnificent sum of $5.

Two hours later I was a complete convert to 'download a movie from the internet' idea. The hi def pictures were lovely, the soundtrack integrated just fine.In short it works. You pays your money - and hey presto the movie arrives. Sort of. But more of that latter.

In the meantime was the set-up painless? To be honest , it truly was. Herewith the steps.

The Apple TV
First up you need the Apple TV box. See above for picture. The cost in NZ is around NZ$500 for a 40GB version. [160 GB version around NZ$650]

It comes in the typical well designed perfect packaging which once again delivers on the famous 'Apple out of the box experience' It included the HDMI cable. You plug the latter into the back of the TV - plug in the power , and switch to the assigned HD channel. The screen flicks into life, the Apple logo appears. And your onboard.

Internet connection
It then looks for an Internet connection. If you had chosen to extend an Ethernet cable from your DSL modem then it would have sorted all that in the background. If, like us, you run a Wifi home hub, then it displays the available wifi zones, including your own. You select it, and then , bingo the Apple TV is online and is heading for the iTunes store.

The iTunes Store
The iTunes store is even easier. After you authenticate - still using the onscreen commands including an onscreen keyboard, you are presented with the menu of movies, either to buy or to rent. You pick one, agree the terms and conditions, and then it starts downloading.

The drawbacks
Naturally there are some drawbacks. First up the selection of movies is, frankly, a little US centric. Moreover, lots of them feel old. For example Batman begins is listed on the IMDB as having been released in 2005.

The download
Second - the download. Even with a decent ADSL2 service it takes a while to download. Thus, though I started this tale by saying we sat down Sunday night, actually I had started the whole thing late on the Saturday night.

Download Streaming
The download message first of all said three hours - however, to be fair it did start to play about 5 mins later when 12% of the movie had arrived on the Apple TV hard drive.
But it needed to pause and catch up a couple of times - so 20 minutes into the movie I thought, leave it - come back tomorrow Which is what I did . And yep, for sure, there it was sitting waiting for me when I checked the following morning.

So definitely not an instant download hit - and so the question is, why persevere - why not stick with Sky, especially the new HD channels, and give away the notion of Internet downloads

The other stuff
Good question. I guess the answer is complex. First up, I'm intrigued by the idea of Internet movie downloads, and am keen to keep it as an option. Second, and probably more importantly, the Apple TV offers a lot more that just a 'download a movie' service.

Podcasts
The movie download came at the end of a week in which I had already twinned the Apple TV to my laptop. This gave the Apple TV access to my podcasts and music and photos. Actually I did very little - just click two options telling both devices to talk to each other. And that's what they did.

Photo Library
The same process had linked the big screen TV to my photo collection on the laptop - so the screen saver while listening to the podcasts, or music, consisted of a lovely slide show of all my own pictures, including the predictable, but nevertheless completely precious collection of family pictures, many of which had come via email from Scotland.

Flickr
I was also able to set up a permanent connection to my Flickr account, and could use the on screen keyboard to search across multiple collections including the increasingly intriguing Flickr Commons project.

You Tube
Finally, using the same on screen keyboard I connected to YouTube and have had a lovely couple of sessions playing some of usual nonsense, as well as catching up with the detail on the Sarah Palin acceptance speech, i.e. the detailed stuff which main stream TV just doesn't have the time for.

The hub
In short the Apple TV experiment gave a really solid glimpse of how main stream media - in the likes of movies or TV-  can become part of a personal cultural hub which I can manage, contribute to and programme to my needs and interests depending on whether I want web 2.0 social content, mainstream Hollywood, or more serious learning and teaching material that I might be interested in, including the likes of the OII lecture series.

The Context Machine
And that's interesting. In fact, its more than interesting. It feels like I have had a glimpse of the context machine I was trying to explore over a year ago when I was up in Seoul with the IBM deep divers. At that time I spoke of looking for a  'context machine', which I described then as as a connecting point for context and content. Here's a flavour of that post. 
The connecting point to all this is context - and for me, that's where the future lies - not so much creating new content streams [though that is an inevitable part of the mix] but creating new contextual tools and spaces - which in turn give me the framework[s], to interact and rearrange my relationships between one kind of media and another, and, crucially, integrate these content
relationships with the different social groups of friends, colleagues and family who share all this with me.

For example - if I've totally enjoyed a new movie in the family area - say
Pans Labyrinth - I'd like to see a layer, either on the DVD, or more likely the web, that switches to a deeper set on linked sources on the Spanish Civil War, or the History of Fayriae, etc.

I also want to share this with the people I saw the movie with. Similarly, if I'm in a study space, I want to be able to switch out of the space I'm in and see how current news or other media is treating what I have been studying.

Or maybe, all I'm doing is responding to an IMS, or a skype call. Or, if I'm in the noisy eating/chattering space of the living room, I want to be able to pull up all manner of local happenings reviews, restaurants etc, as well as mark some stuff for quieter times in the study area.

In short the changing context of my life is matched by an equally intelligent context machine which is able to scan the surface of an issue - flood it with group noise and opinion, or take a step back, quieted down, and be able to take the time to sit and think with some serious sources.

Reality Check?
I'm not saying apple TV has given me this - I'm not saying that at all - however, in the last two weeks, thanks to the cute wee Apple box sitting to the side, I've definitely seen a flavour of it. I also had some fun with a really neat toy.

And yes, I have to give it back.