Conscientiously Objecting to the Living Room War

Apple TVTime was, you’d buy a TV, bring it home and plant it in your living room. Then you’d watch it. For like a decade. And when the picture started failing, you’d go and buy another and do it all over again.

Nowadays, television is more than a piece of furniture, it’s an experience. It’s multi-sourced, time-shifted, narrow-casted, and/or delivered on-demand. Digital, in short. Like all experiences in the digital age, television now requires the support of a full complement of systems — a peripheral army of boxes, wires and software — to make it happen. You can’t experience digital television, really, with just one of anything.

This is why, I think, I’m an unlikely customer for Apple TV, Steve Jobs’ set-top contender in the living room war. To be honest, the couch potato in me is intrigued by its ability to access Internet video, which I’m sure I’d watch more of were it made as convenient as Apple TV promises. And last week’s announcement that Apple will rent movies on demand through the device, too, is intriguing.

But I just can’t imagine myself buying one anytime soon. It’s not only that I would be adding another box to my living room (though I’m certainly not eager to take on that added complexity), it’s also how much the digital television experience demands of us.

Out with the Old, Cha-Ching

To begin with, Apple TV would require me to replace my aging cathode ray tube television with a new HD-TV. There’s a million reasons why I should own a high-definition television, I’m sure. But to be honest, I feel very little motivation to do so. Even if it’s a forgone conclusion that one day I’ll bring one home from Circuit City, for the time being I’m not entirely convinced that I really need to create a ‘home theater’ experience in my home. That’s what the theater is for, right?

What’s more, a newfangled television is expensive. I’m just not willing to spend over a thousand dollars on a new screen, sorry. For me, that’s insane, especially when all evidence points to prices continuing to nose-dive this year. I can wait.

The New, New Wireless

The expenses don’t end there, though. I’d also certainly need to upgrade my wireless router to a new AirPort Extreme or, ideally, a Time Capsule. Either one would satisfy the requirement of moving my home network up to the 802.11n standard that Apple TV requires. At two to three hundred dollars, they wouldn’t be exorbitant, but they’d effectively negate the investment I already made into my older model AirPort Extreme wireless router some years ago.

Even worse, an upgrade to 802.11n would obsolesce the AirPort Express that I use constantly to stream music from my iMac to my living room stereo. That incredibly handy bit of hardware is a holdover from the now-archaic era of 802.11g. To be sure, it will run on the new network, but doing so will also have the effect of slowing down the faster traffic — exactly the opposite effect I’d be looking for.

There’s the easily underestimated task of wiring this all together, too. It’s wireless technology we’re talking about, but that’s more of a euphemism than a fact. I’d still have to deal with video and audio jacks, power cables, and the increasingly difficult challenge of finding yet more electrical outlets to plug all of this new stuff into.

Not Sitting There You Won’t

Let’s just say that I pony up the few thousand dollars that it would take to bring Apple TV into my life. What then? The next step would be to actually watch it. And I’ve already demonstrated to myself that, with the television current available to me already, I have a hard time keeping up with the ’watching it’ part of the bargain.

I’m already subscribing to digital cable television (no, I could never work up the will power to cancel) and Netflix, and I have a backlog of DVDs that I actually own but that I never seem to have the opportunity to watch. Adding the infinite additional variety that an Apple TV promises wouldn’t help alleviate that problem at all. What’s available at my fingertips today is already way more television than a healthy person really needs access to.

What I’d prefer, I think, is to get out of my house more often or, failing that, I’d like to actually get through more of these books piling up on my coffee table that I can’t seem to find time for. Say what you will, but yes, I do intend to waste my life away on reading and experiencing things in the real world. Having an Apple TV doesn’t fit into that plan. I’ll be able to confirm that fact positively, one hundred percent for sure when, eventually and inevitably, I own one. Sigh.

  1. It sounds like you, indeed, are not a potential customer for the Apple TV, so i won’t try to convince you otherwise. You’ve got plenty of good reasons it’s not for you.

    But, your network isn’t one of them. AppleTV works just fine over 802.11g. 🙂

  2. We need to have an intervention here. Relax. You’re among friends, and we’re only trying to help:

    You don’t need an AppleTV (nobody does), but you *DO* need an HDTV and following from that, you also need an HD Tivo. Not your cable company’s garbage PVR box that makes you hate the fact that you have a TV in the first place, but an actual Tivo. HD Tivos allow you to download movies much the same way AppleTV does, through Amazon’s $3.99 Unbox service… AND, they place a beautiful interface between you and your awful cable company. Arguably better than any interface Apple has ever designed, in fact.

    So, here are your costs:

    – 42 inch HD LCD or plasma on refurb: about $600-$700
    – HD Tivo: $300

    Done. $900-$1000 for both. Hook it up!

    P.S. Books are SO yesterday! Nobody reads anymore. You heard The Steve.

  3. Also, can I just say that you are a dick for accelerating global warming with your cathode-ray-tube watching ways? LCD = less energy usage.

    There’s your rationalization right there. Help the planet! 🙂

  4. In the same position as well. I just splurged on the lcd tv but still wonder if an apple tv is worth it.

    One thing I have noticed is that living without cable tv and just using what’s available (ie. laptop hooked to tv, running, joost or whatever) works just fine. I find that I actually have more time during the day because i’m not watching Talledega Nights for the 10th time on Starz.

    No matter how awesome that movie is.

    So yea, i’d go the tivo route like Mike D. suggested if you already got cable.

  5. And another thing…

    It’s people like you who are dragging this economy down with your unwillingness to spend, spend, spend on the latest and greatest. Don’t just think of the BestBuys of the world. Think about the grandmas and grandpas who have their retirement funds invested in BestBuy. Do you really want that on your conscience? I don’t know how you live with yourself, honestly.

  6. Hah. Well, I’m clearly helping the economy, as I have an HDTV, a TivoHD, and an Apple TV. And really, I love all three. The Apple TV is the least necessary of the bunch, but I really love it (even if it’s 1.0 state — can’t wait to check out 2.0!).

  7. You’re watching The Wire on a CRT? (OK — I am as well, however, my 32″ widescreen CRT is HD though!)

    It is easy to justify consuming new products, because, we can’t seem to live without them. But, as you’ve already determined real life is much better than HD.

    You mentioned a queue of books — I’m assuming all interesting. Care to share? One you may want to throw in your list that my wife recently bought me is “Telling True Stories (A Non-Fiction Writers Guide)”. It is one of those books you can skip around in the chapters and read what interests you at that moment (and is truly helpful).

  8. I love the concept of the AppleTV, but besides the necessary TV upgrade I would have to undergo, I struggle with the idea of investing money in yet another set-top box. For some reason I feel it should do more than it does. At least play my DVDs so I can get rid of that box, or even better, record TV so I don’t also have to get a Tivo, but alas, Apple’s business model pretty much precludes it from adding either of those features.

  9. Go for the HD — you’ll enjoy watching the Red Sox beat the Yanks in luscious, amazingly detailed, more-in-focus than you can actually be in real life. Then the new AppleTV makes sense. I already have an Airport extreme hidden in the Eames cabinet the TV is sitting on, it’ll make a nice stack of two. It’s Tivo done Apple style, and it means I’m maybe ready.

  10. Khoi, stick to your guns and keep your wallet in your pocket. Just push your sofa back a couple of feet, and you’ll instantly find yourself in HD heaven. I sometimes like to take my glasses off for additional, anti-aliased viewing pleasure.

    That, or, if you don’t have a couple of feet leeway, you could downgrade your CRT to a smaller CRT, and make some money in the process! Use Skype to smooth over the eBay transaction, and you’ll be making Meg Whitman a little happier.

  11. I’m in a very similar position – the thing is that with kids I get out less, and therefore feel more deserving of a nice LCD TV! I still haven’t gone for it though, it just feels wrong to spend so much to replace something that works just fine at the moment. I keep encouraging Daniel to spill things in it and ‘have an accident’ in the hope that it finally goes.

    Apple TV though, seems more of an extension of the iTunes ecosystem, than a real media centre. I’d want to play and record and DVDs and record TV like a TIVO, rather than have to have yet another box & plug to deal with.

  12. I haven’t routinely watched TV for over twelve years. And I don’t really miss it. Recently, while on vacation, the wife and I turned it on for a while and it was even more ridiculous than we even imagined. Unplugging altogether is an option.

  13. To chime in on the other side I have an apple tv and I really like it. Although I also have a good collection of video podcasts that I like to watch and enjoy them being readily available on my tv.

    My husband on the other hand really likes the youtube feature and the music feature. We’ve also enjoyed the photo slide show, as I don’t print (for no reason in particular) most of the digital pictures that I take.

    So the apple tv has been a great fit for us. But based on my experience setting it up and using it I’d agree its not really right for everyone.

  14. I’m assuming you’re letting your cable-provider handle any problems related to this, but it should be noted that by February 17, 2009, anyone in the U.S. wishing to receive a TV signal “over-the-air” must have a new TV or converter box as that’s the “all digital” date. As for me, I’ve just canceled Netflix as I rarely watch enough movies to justify the subscription vs. the 2-3 rental downloads I may possibly now watch via iTunes or the Comcast on-demand service that is being upgraded to compete w/ iTunes.

    Sidenote: I do have an Apple TV and have found 802.11g works fine (but I’ll probably upgrade like some Apple fan-boy sheep anyway).

    That said, I think you should NOT watch TV and blog more.

  15. I own an Apple TV. And I bought a new Airport Extreme to help it along.

    And by the way, they’re real and they’re fantastic!

    Yeah there’s more wires… two. A power cord and an HDMI cable to the TV. Done.

    For a little more complexity, I’m going to connect my printer and my hard drive to it so those will now be out of sight and out of the way (probably not an issue for those of you in the ‘burbs but in Boston, space is at a premium and hiding things away adds space, if only perceived space).

    And I don’t ever plan on owning another clutter producing DVD. I already ditched CD’s. Even more space.

    Plus, it just makes the money I spent on my 42″ HD flat panel widescreen that much of a better investment.

  16. Since when is 11n the new 11g? The 802.11n spec isn’t even finished, is it? The last thing I want to do is invest in an immature technology, remember all (eight of) the consumers that bought into HDTVs when they first became available, and how screwed they were when 780p was replaced with 1080p?

    Where I need more than the 54mbps that 11g offers me, I use a wire. ONOES, not a wire, right? It’s not like our modern existence isn’t innundated with cables with difficult-to-remember names.

    I have a lot of problems with HDTV, and TV in general; first, a screen with 1080 vertical pixels shouldn’t cost over a thousand dollars–a 24″ LCD panel that does better than 1080p costs about $350. Second, if I get an HDTV, I want to buy HD channels ala carte. I want the Discovery Channel, Scifi, History, and PBS in HD. I couldn’t care less about the rest.

  17. I’m glad I’m not alone in this. Truly, there is way too much TV for the average person to watch, and with the rising cost of maintaining such an entertainment hub these two factors are exactly what’s kept me from taking the plunge.

    Enjoy the books and the outdoors – your body and the rest of your life will thank you later.

  18. I completely agree about the Apple TV, but your last paragraph hits a nerve that I think a lot of people have different opinions on.

    I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, a fairly quick reader and a movie buff. However, I cannot stand to read. There is just something about the process that really bothers me. Maybe it was grade-school book reports on books that I had absolutely no interest in reading? Regardless, I watch 1000x more movies than I read books. Am I a worse writer, speaker or less intelligent because of it? I think not (maybe people will disagree if I have any grammar or spelling mistakes in this comment).

    The point I am trying to make is that I don’t see “sitting down with a good book” as a better way to spend time than watching a really good movie. I don’t think it is fair to compare a Tufte book and an Adam Sandler flick, but there are tons of books out there that are full of crap and tons of movies full of great messages and lessons.

    Point of this rant: Education leans to books of course (no Khoi’s guide to Grids movie) but entertainment could go either way.

  19. I can definitely see the argument for maintaining some simplicity in your living room. That said, I’ve found the whole “Home Theatre” thing to be of real benefit when I want to hang out with my friends. Out here in Lafayette, IN there isn’t much to do, and it’s great to be able to say “Let’s play Rock Band on my wall!”

    Although technically, I’m the shores of Tripoli in the living room war – using an open-source projector, a hacked Xbox, and computer speakers.

    Peace out!

  20. Good to see I’m not alone in this.

    Sure, I can buy a newfangled big mama LCD and a killer home theater system, but money won’t buy me the time to enjoy it.

    Seriously, I prefer to get comfy, close my eyes and crank up the stereo (viva la old school) or curl up with a good book after a heavy work day. The last thing my fried-up mind wants to do at that time of the day is to yet stare at another screen. If the new economy is really creating more leisure time for people (and therefore pushing the sales of big TVs and HTs) I have yet to hear from it.

  21. I love this post and agree – nothing compares to getting up off the couch and experiencing life “in person.”

  22. I grew up without TV.

    At this point, a lot of people weird out, though many are genuinely interested in how/if it affected me negatively or positively. Some people even shared my plight.

    Anyway, I’ve been living with a TV from my university years right up till now, 8 years later. I watch it reasonably regularly, and if I had the money, I’d probably buy an HDTV. I love a sharp picture.

    But to be honest, I’d rather see things in the can’t-tell-the-difference VR of the outside world. No flicker, no pixels, and you can feel the wind on your face.

    Maybe that’s a sign of being misadjusted, but I’m happy in my insanity.

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