Koolio

Thoughts & news on technology…well, mostly

AppleTV HD video review round-up


promo_appletv_box20080115.pngThis week Apple finally released version 2.0 of the Apple TV software that was demo’d by Steve Jobs at this year’s MacWorld. This is a big deal because it finally makes the Apple TV a lot more functional – adding the ability to buy and/or rent movies (SD or HD) and TV shows. However, the one question I had was, ‘just how good is the HD video quality compared to Blu-ray/HD-DVD?’ Answer: it’s surprisingly good…ranking #2 – right behind Blu-ray/HD-DVD.

It’s def worth reading the reviews as they have screen shots comparing AppleTV, Blu-ray/HD-DVD, HD Cable, and standard DVD:

I haven’t had time to rent an HD movie on mine, yet, but I’ll post a review of my experience when I do.

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Filed under: Apple, AppleTV, Digital Movies, HDTV, Home Theater, Movies, Reviews

Got my Joost beta invite


Well, I finally got my beta invite to Joost back on April 5 and I just was planning on downloading the install software but noticed that only Intel Macs running 10.4 or higher is supported. Since I’m running a PowerBook G4 with 10.3 I’ll have to install it on my Vista machine.

I’ll try to check it out later this week. When I do, I’ll post a review or, at least, my initial thoughts.

Update (4/11/2007) Well, I just tried to install it on my Vista Ultimate machine and I keep getting a “Joost stopped working” error message…ugh, what a pain in the ass.  I checked their forums and, with the latest version (0.9.2), some people are reporting issues with Vista while others aren’t.  The real annoyance is that I can’t post in the forums because the only way to create a Joost user account is via the client application.  Since I can’t launch the app, I can’t create an account.

I sent an email to their support email addy so, hopefully, they’ll help me resolve it soon.  Until then, no beta invites for me to give away. 😦

Filed under: Digital Movies, IPTV, Video, Web 2.0

How NOT to sell an Apple TV


Are you interested in buying an Apple TV? If so, I bet the first thing you would do is visit an Apple Store so you can demo it and see how it works, how good the video quality is, etc. Well, the good news is the Apple Stores have 3 of them – each connected to a Sony Bravia LCD. Great, right? Wrong.

I went to the Apple Store in Burlington, MA this weekend and watched National Treasure, Heroes, and Pirates of the Caribbean (each for 30 seconds) and the picture quality of all of them was terrible. Of the 3 Apple TVs, the two I tested had the same issues. In fact, the video quality was so bad that, if that was my only experience with an Apple TV, I would NOT buy one.  If the Burlington, MA store is indicative of all Apple Stores, then Apple has a problem.

My Apple TV is connected to a 50″ Panasonic plasma (TH-50PX60U) and the picture quality is 10x better. And, yes, I compared the same TV show (Heroes).

Why is the picture quality so much better on my display? Simple – the LCDs at the Apple Store weren’t calibrated. Sony Bravia LCDs are excellent HDTVs and are known to display a very good picture. I’m guessing they just took the TVs out of the box and set them up using the default picture settings (which you should NEVER do).

It wouldn’t be hard for the Apple Stores to calibrate a TV – all they need is someone who knows how to use a DVD calibration disc. Heck, I’ll be their consultant and travel to all of the Apple Stores to calibrate them…I’d be willing to take payment in the form of cash or Apple products. 😉

To sum it up: Apple needs to calibrate those HDTVs if they want to sell Apple TVs.

Filed under: Apple, Apple Store, AppleTV, Digital Movies, Video

How do you determine the video quality of an iTunes TV show?


Does anybody know how to determine the video encoding quality for a given TV show or movie from the iTunes Store (before purchasing)? I’ve tried Get Info but it’s useless.

When the iTS first started selling videos, they encoded them in 320 x 240 (which is similar to the quality you’d get from VHS) but starting around September 2006 they started encoding them in 640 x 480 (which is near dvd quality).  I’ve been thinking about buying some older episodes of Battlestar Gallactica and I don’t want to get stuck with a 320 x 240 video file because they look like absolute shit on a 50″ plasma.

Filed under: Apple, AppleTV, Digital Movies, iTunes, Movies, Video

Apple TV review from Ars Technica


In case you haven’t seen this (or aren’t sick of Apple TV posts), Ars Technica has a very nice, detailed, and thorough review of the Apple TV.

If you’re thinking about buying one, I recommend reading their review…and mine.  😉

Filed under: AppleTV, Digital Movies, Reviews, Video

How to upgrade the hard drive in Apple TV


I’m sure you’ve already read about people upgrading that measly 40GB hard drive. Well, Engadget has some sweet step-by-step instructions with pictures.

Personally, I’m not planning on doing this since I haven’t maxed out the hard drive…yet.

Filed under: AppleTV, Digital Movies, How-To, Video

Review: Apple TV


apple-tv-menu.jpg I got my Apple TV this past Thursday and have been using it the past two nights. Everything about it is Apple-esque: the user interface is gorgeous, setup was extremely easy, integration with iTunes was perfect, synchronizing and streaming content performed flawlessly, and watching shows, film trailers, iTunes previews, etc. worked perfectly.

Overall, it rocks! But, as with anything, there is always some room for improvement. Here are the details:

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Filed under: AppleTV, Digital Movies, iTunes, Reviews, Video

Apple TV review from Walt Mossberg and David Pogue


The initial reviews are in: Walt Mossberg (From PC to TV — via Apple TV) and David Pogue (Apple TV Has Landed) give the Apple TV a thumbs up. Walt Mossberg summed it up nicely:

We’ve been testing Apple TV for the past 10 days or so, and our verdict is that it’s a beautifully designed, easy-to-use product that should be very attractive to people with widescreen TV sets and lots of music, videos, and photos stored on computers. It has some notable limitations, but we really liked it. It is classic Apple: simple and elegant.

Some points of interest:

  • Video and music that was streamed to the device did not hiccup or stutter on a 802.11g WiFi network (Walt Mossberg)
  • Setup was incredibly simple (Walt Mossberg)
  • After syncing your iPod to iTunes, Apple TV remembers where you stopped watching or listening to a movie, TV show, or song (David Pogue)
  • Pictures cannot be streamed but Apple plans on adding that feature soon (Walt Mossberg)
  • Only files from one computer will be synced/copied to Apple TV. The other 5 computers can only stream content to Apple TV (Walt Mossberg)
  • In iTunes, Apple created a page for ‘Apple TV podcast showcase’ (iTunes link)

The primary limitation that Walt Mossberg highlights is the lack of content that can be directly streamed from the Internet to Apple TV. Currently, only movie trailers, preview clips of songs, TV shows, and movies can be streamed. Another complaint was how

Hopefully, Logitech will update their Harmony remote control database to include commands for the Apple TV.

So far, things are looking good…

Filed under: AppleTV, Digital Movies, Reviews, Video

Gizmodo’s Apple TV Unboxing Pics


appletv-unboxing.jpg

Gizmodo’s got the unboxing pics. Check ’em out!

Can’t wait to get mine…two more days. 🙂

Filed under: AppleTV, Digital Movies, Video

Apple TV has shipped (for real)


I just checked my order status and I can say with 100% confidence that my Apple TV has been shipped via FedEx with an estimated delivery date of this Friday, March 23. Sweet!

I’m debating whether or not to post un-boxing pics (if you want me to, post a comment!) but I will definitely post my initial impressions by the end of this weekend or early next week so stay tuned!

Update (3/22/2007) My Apple TV was delivered this morning – one day ahead of FedEx’s estimated delivery date.  Nice!  I know what I’m doing when I get home from the office.  😉

Filed under: AppleTV, Digital Movies, Movies, Video

Hands-on impression of Amazon Unbox on Tivo


Gizmodo posted their hands-on experience with Amazon Unbox on a Series 3 HD Tivo and Charlie White says it’s “off to a fair start”…but I’d rather say the execution of the service is less than ideal. The key drawbacks are usability and the one technology we all love: DRM. Here’s the skinny:

  • After renting a movie, it takes up to 15 minutes your Tivo to start downloading the movie
  • You can’t watch the movie until it is 100% downloaded (one person commented that it took 5+ hours for a movie to finish downloading on his Comcast cable connection)
  • If you cancel the download before it’s completed, you’ll have to pay the rental fee, again. So, you’re shit outta luck if your router locks up or your internet connection fails.
  • Good ‘ole DRM…after the movie is downloaded, it will expire after 30 days BUT, here’s the kicker, if you click Play, the movie will expire after 24 hours. Sweet, huh? We can thank the paranoid movie studios for that.
  • The quality of the movies were standard definition. They saw compression artifacts (aka macroblocking) and felt the picture (The Illusionist) wasn’t very sharp. They didn’t say which version they downloaded but I’m assuming it was the “Tivo Best Quality File.”
  • Last but not least, no Mac support.

So far, every movie download service does not offer the equivalent to buying or renting a physical DVD or HD-DVD/Blu-ray disc. Those that want to rent or buy digital movies have to concede one or more things. For example, no surround sound, the 24-hour expiration (which is an insult), etc. There are several people out there who need more than 24 hours to finish watching a movie (I know, crazy, but they exist).

Surprisingly, the only service (that I know of) that offers HD movies for download is the Xbox Live Marketplace but there are also drawbacks to that service.

Well, cheers to another video download service that’s not perfect. Hopefully, Apple will get it right with iTunes and Apple TV…

Filed under: Digital Movies, Movies, Reviews, Technology, Video

Amazon Unbox integrates with Tivo


If you own a Tivo Series 2 or Series 3 DVR, you can now buy/rent digital videos from Amazon Unbox and watch them on your Tivo. I guess that’s a nice option to have if you own a Tivo but I’m curious to see if this partnership will actually increase sales for Amazon. You may or may not know but Amazon Unbox has been generating lackluster results and working with Tivo is one way for Amazon to try and spice things up a bit. Personally, I don’t think this will improve sales all that much for Amazon Unbox.

I’ve had zero interest in this service because I have no desire to watch a movie or TV show at my computer desk. At least, Amazon understands this issue and has created a solution for you to watch those shows in your living room…but it won’t make a dent in Apple’s momentum. iTunes is where it’s at for digital content and I don’t see anything taking its place in the near future.

Now, all that being said, there is one nice thing I noticed about Amazon Unbox: when you buy a show/movie, you get to download it in 3 different qualities. For example, here are the options for an episode of ’24’:

amazon-unbox.png

I hope iTunes offers something similar…like an HD version and a DVD-quality version.

Here’s to another ecosystem for digital shows. We now have: iTunes, Netflix Watch Now, Xbox 360 Video Marketplace, and WalMart. Am I missing any?? *sigh*

Filed under: Digital Movies, DVR, Movies, Video

Apple CFO answers questions about Apple TV, Leopard, and the iPhone


Last week, we had Apple’s COO answer questions at the Goldman Sachs Technology Symposium. This week, we have Peter Oppenheimer (Apple CFO) answer questions at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference. There were a lot of questions (from Morgan Stanley’s analyst and the audience) and, honestly, only one of them – the one about Apple TV – was of interest. The rest were your typical analyst questions that received fluffy, high-level answers. There was one interesting question asked by the audience:

Q: Is the content that is coming down to you iTunes, is that full HD content or is it similar to the chopped music, not fully analog TV equivalent? When you download “Pirates,” is it the full equivalent to buying the DVD at your local Costco?
A: It is near DVD quality. I’ve seen it running in our labs, and I can’t tell the difference. It’s an excellent experience from my point of view.

As you know, my biggest question is whether or not Apple with offer HD content on iTunes and the above question is the first time I’ve ever heard someone ask Apple anything remotely close to it. Frankly, the question should have been re-worded to, “Will Apple offer HD content on iTunes for Apple TV?” This is a much more direct question that would yield a direct answer. The question that was asked allowed Peter Oppenheimer to confirm the obvious.

I’m still baffled as to why no one else has asked Apple my question. After all, HD is the future and no one has asked Apple how they will address it.

Filed under: Apple, AppleTV, Digital Movies, iPhone, MacOSX, Technology

Apple TV Delayed Until March 20


I just checked my Apple Store order and my Apple TV ship date has been delayed from February 28 to March 20. Apple’s spokeswoman has confirmed the delay:

“Wrapping up Apple TV is taking a few weeks longer than we projected, and we now expect to begin shipments mid-March,” spokeswoman Lynn Fox said by email.

MacRumors is reporting that Apple Stores will still get the in-store display units on March 5. If this is true, at least, we’ll be able to check it out.

Since my estimated delivery date is March 26, the release date is effectively the end of March.

Well, those rumors about an Apple TV delay from a couple of weeks ago are now true. The thing that annoys me is how Apple officially denied those rumors.  Anyways, this blows.

Filed under: Apple, Apple Store, AppleTV, Digital Movies, IPTV

I’m Getting an Apple TV!


A very good friend of mine just bought me an Apple TV for Christmas (thanks!) and it’s expected to ship on February 28 so I should have it no later than March 6. This also supports Apple’s denial of the shipment delay rumors that were circulating around the rumor sites a week or two ago.

Regarding the actual device, I do have some reservations about this device – primarily, it doesn’t have HD DVR functionality nor is there any HD content available on iTunes but it will still be nice to watch those episodes of 24 or Lost, that my DVR didnt’ record, in the comfort of my living room. To be honest, I *really* hope Apple will start offering HD content on iTunes. If not, I have a feeling I won’t use this device all that much. Needless to say, I’m still excited to get it and watch some shows in my living room instead of my PowerBook.

Btw, take a look at my previous post on how Apple can be the first computer hardware/software company to make some searious in-roads into our living rooms (‘Can Apple be successful in our living/media rooms?’)…with the Apple TV being the primary driver.

Anyways, I’ll post a review after I’ve used it for a week or two.

Filed under: Apple, AppleTV, Digital Movies, IPTV

Review: Netflix Watch Now Service


Netflix Watch Now HomepageWell, I’ve finally given the Watch Now service a test drive. Overall, the service has been implemented very nicely (assuming you don’t mind sitting in front of your computer to watch movies) and is not reminiscent of the hi-cc-up-ing streaming videos nor did I have to wait 1+ hour for the movie to download before playing. While the functional implementation was executed very well the delivery is very poor – I can only watch movies at my computer and the video quality was below average.

Now, onto the review:

Hardware:

  • Pentium 4, 3.0Ghz processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • Windows Vista Ultimate
  • Internet Explorer 7
  • RCN cable modem service (10mbs down/800k up)

Installation:

  • In order to watch the ‘instant shows,’ you have to install Netflix’s video player (which is embedded in your browser). I was able to install the video player without any issues. Installation took about 2-3 minutes.
  • After the player installed, I got a prompt telling me that I had to update Windows Media Player. The update went smoothly and took an additional 10-20 seconds.
  • I was ready to watch my first ‘instant show’ within 5 minutes.
  • Rating: A

Video Playback:
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Filed under: Digital Movies, IPTV, Movies, Netflix, Reviews

Can Apple be successful in our living/media rooms?


In a nutshell, yes. But, I think it’ll take another 1 to 1.5 years. Why? Because the Apple TV only meets part of our needs as an entertainment device/media extender. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great first generation product (and, apparently, is selling very well) but it leaves a lot to be desired.

If Apple makes the following scenario a reality, then I think Apple will dominate our living rooms and sell more Macs but Apple will need to introduce the following products:

  1. The next gen Apple TV (let’s call it AppleTV 2.0)
  2. Standalone iPod/iPhone docking stations that will wirelessly sync to iTunes/Apple TV and charge the device
  3. DVR software for the Apple TV that can record HD content
  4. Updated synchronization software to sync the content between a Mac, iPod/iPhone, and Apple TV.

Synchronization & Content Portability

I come home from work, wake-up my Mac and connect my iPod and/or iPhone (or dock it in a standalone docking station). Upon doing so,
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Filed under: Apple, AppleTV, Digital Movies, DVR, iPhone, iPod, MacOSX, Technology, Thoughts

Sales of Apple TV are Exceeding Expectations


Apparently, orders for the Apple TV are through the roof:

“Specifically, orders have already exceeded the original 100,000 order that Apple had placed with Inventec, and Apple is preparing to place a second order for twice that number. Apple is now planning to sell over a million Apple TV devices leading up to the 2007 holiday season, and at least that many again during the Thanksgiving – Christmas period this year.”

If this is true, part of me is somewhat surprised and the other half is not (more on this in a later post).

So, have any of you ordered the Apple TV? If not, are you planning to? If you’re not going to buy one, why not? I’d love to read what you all think so feel free to post a comment!

Filed under: Apple, AppleTV, Digital Movies, Home Theater, IPTV, Rumors, Technology

Netflix Begins Offering Streaming Movies/TV


Last week Netflix began offering free streaming movies last week (named “Watch Now”). They’re rolling out the service to 250,000 members each month (I wasn’t one of them – if you were, post a comment and let me know what you think!) and are expecting to have it rolled out to all members by June 2007. I’ve read Gizmodo’s positive review but I have to admit it seems pretty worthless. Here’s why:

  1. The content is streamed not downloaded.
  2. Since the content is streamed, you can only watch the movies and (presumably) shows on your computer (are you kidding me?).
  3. No Mac support – the service supports only Windows XP w/SP2 or Vista with IE 6+.
  4. The content is in standard definition, only.
  5. The quality of the content can/will vary. Netflix determines the picture quality based on your internet connection and how much their servers are being slammed.
  6. To start, only 1,000 titles are available and according to Gizmodo, the selection is pretty poor.
  7. And, did I mention the movies can only be watched on your computer?

Now, for some of the good news:
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Filed under: Digital Movies, IPTV, Movies, Netflix