Why I don’t use my Apple TV anymore

This is an important post, one that will set up a few more posts in the next few weeks. The small question is why I don’t use my Apple TV anymore, the big question is why the overall category of Digital Media Adapters (DMAs, as people in the biz call them) has failed to take off.

Let me start with the small question: Why has my Apple TV been unplugged for the last six months?

I was a very enthusiastic buyer for the Apple TV back when it debuted in early 2007 (so long ago, eh?). I had spent much of 2006 buying TV shows on iTunes. I have all the Battlestar Galactica episodes, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (short-lived though its witty repartee was), and the first two seasons of Lost. The Apple TV seemed the ideal way to bring those shows to the TV yet still have them on my laptop while traveling. I not only bought an Apple TV the week it was released, I publicly predicted that the Apple TV would likely sell a million units. 

Then something amazing happened. All the shows I was buying on iTunes became available for free via online streaming. I could spend less, watch more, all without managing precious hard disk space. I stopped buying iTunes episodes altogether. My Apple TV suddenly became a very expensive way to watch family photo slideshows. I tried to watch YouTube on it, but that’s terribly annoying (look for a new post later this month on the question of watching YouTube on the TV screen, I’m still waiting for an explanation of why we would want to do this more than once).

So I unplugged the HDMI cable from the Apple TV and moved it to the Roku box which we watch a ton more than we ever watched the Apple TV. Apple TV has not, to my knowledge reached my original goal of a million units. Though I believe they have sold between half a million and 800,000.

That answers the small question. Now for the bigger question: why is this category not taking off? I’ve addressed this question many times, starting with a whole Forrester report in which we found — using our convenience quotient methodology — that over-the-top set top boxes (what I prefer to call DMAs) suffer from some stiff competition. Namely,  your DVR and DVD player. If you have both, which 30 million households do, you can do most everything you would want to do with a DMA for a lot cheaper. 

But even that powerful duo of DVR+DVD is about to get challenged by an up-and-comer: online video, delivered to the TV set. That’s what the story of 2009 will be. And it’s already happening more often than you think. I have a whole Forrester Report planned on the topic, due in February, so I’ll share more data soon, but suffice it to say that about 5 million homes already watch online video on their TV sets a month. That’s much more than have bought or will buy a DMA. It also suggests the path that DMAs must take. More on that later. 

What do you think? Do you have much use for your Apple TV or other DMA?

(Note, read the January 5 follow-up to this post about hacking the Apple TV to watch Hulu on it)

12 Responses to Why I don’t use my Apple TV anymore

  1. Webomatica says:

    I also have a Netflix / Roku box and yes, it has taken away much of my desire to use the Apple TV for rentals. But right now, there are two things I use the Apple TV for – as a media extender to stream number of ripped movies stored from my Mac, and Boxee which streams Hulu among other Internet content. That said, both of those two uses aren’t the most user friendly things to set up, and I agree that online video like Netflix is taking off in a big way. The Roku box is way easier for me to use than even the Apple TV.

  2. James McQuivey says:

    Great comment from Jason — in fact, he’s on to something with the Boxee, because, truth be told, I will be posting on Monday about my recent experience with Boxee on my dusted-off Apple TV.

  3. william says:

    We use our AppleTV more and more. We’ve hardly bought any content at all, most everything on there is ripped DVDs but especially VHS tapes I’ve converted with a Dazzle DV bridge. The quality is rather good enough. The VCR was banished to the basement long ago, so these are things we haven’t seen in awhile too.

  4. James McQuivey says:

    Both William and Jason have mentioned that one of the things they use their Apple TV for is playing ripped DVDs. While ripping DVDs is technically a violation of their use (even if you own the DVD – I know, it doesn’t make sense), I’m hearing from more and more people who are amassing large collections of ripped DVDs. I will probably do a post on this later this month after CES, it’s worth a separate discussion.

  5. jonk00 says:

    I use AppleTV all the time, apparently all you have to do to love your AppleTV is to actually like to watch movies legally on your big screen TV…. rather than your computer; and to Love having Apple do the work of ripping movies, instead of me spending 20 mins or more to rip a movie. I’ll gladdly pay $4 so i can sit back and relax.

    strange, that is exactly what AppleTV is designed to do and do it with ease.

    anybody unplugging their AppleTV apparently doesn’t like to watch Movies legally on the “big” screen (for less than comcast no less)

    NetFlix is just a copy of what Apple did… as a matter of fact, if Apple didn’t do it, NetFlix would still be a PC only version, and a poor version at that, Netflix is none supportive of Macs in general, and are only there for Apple users because they saw their business shrinking from the proper job that Apple did.

  6. Doug Petrosky says:

    I don’t fully understand the logic here. Ya, the shows are available online but I don’t know of a box (except for a hacked AppleTV) that can deliver it to my home theater or to my iPod, or Iphone or even my laptop when not connected to the internet.

    There are issues with AppleTV but most of them are because people are trying to see how it fits in with their existing TV bill. If you look to use it to replace your current bill the equation changes quickly. Now this is not a solution for everyone but assuming that you are like me and watch 20-30 different season of shows a year. AppleTV/iTunes becomes a virtual wash for cost. Add to that the sheer joy of never watching commercials again and having access to all of my programing on all of my devices and the equation becomes unbalanced quickly.

    Just my view.

  7. […] Why I don’t use my Apple TV anymore « OmniVideo: The Future of Video Blog with James McQuivey (tags: apple multimedia) […]

  8. Art says:

    We watch movies, slideshows of our own library + whatever linked library we choose from the mobileme list. Then there are the video podcasts, especially the University vids where you can learn about all kinds of things, from physics to economics to cooking.

    AppleTV will pick up more as Apple gets the studios to loosen up their inventory. As Jonk said above, it’s legal, fast, convenient, and cheap. There’s nothing like a few clicks to watch a movie.

    Lastly, I have a whole folder of funny videos that I’ve collected over the years. When we have a party, everyone busts a gut watching these silly snippets. Whatever I can cram into iTunes, I can view on my big screen.

    For the price, can’t be beat.

  9. James McQuivey says:

    This is a great discussion, thanks, all, for your comments. In particular, I’m glad there are Apple TV users who are motivated to defend the box because I need to hear these kinds of perspectives in order to figure out where this market is going.

    I’m going to oversimplify Doug’s comment and suggest that one of the reasons he’s so into the Apple TV is because he’s into Apple generally. I’m not accusing him of being a fanboy, which is too easy. Instead, I can see that in his case, the Apple TV is an integrated piece of the whole picture. For someone like that, an Apple TV can make a lot of sense: you already use iTunes a lot, and you can share your media across multiple devices. And with 12 million iPhone users, there is at least a decent target market for the Apple TV. Yet it hasn’t sold a million units nonetheless, so something is failing to hit its mark.

    In response to Jonk, let me first say I think the point about wanting to watch legal content on the big screen is a good one. Except that doing so on the Apple TV is not much more satisfying than picking up a DVD from Hollywood video which is just a few blocks from my house. Besides, they’ll sell me Red Vines to go with my movie :). The nice thing about a rented DVD is that: a) I already have a cheap DVD player, b) I have more than one, so I can watch the DVD in many rooms in the house as well as the car, and c) I can watch it for more than a 24 hour period. That’s important in my house as my wife always falls asleep in movies and has to finish them the next evening. That’s not possible with Apple TV (or Comcast). DVD still wins. Which is a bit sad that at the peak of the digital video transition, DVD is still the most convenient format.

    Art is a very rare case: he’s got a collection of videos he’s managing, including home videos. I personally see this as a big use case in the future, but not yet. For now Art is avant garde because he’s willing to manage all that video without intelligent software to do the file management (indexing and sorting, for example) for him. I, for one, have about 100 hours of personal video that I would love to have sitting on a home server, properly indexed so I could pull up the old high school play of Romeo and Juliet as well as last winter’s ski escapades with the kids. But from our surveys, these use cases appear to be very rare for now. Give it 5-10 years and Art’s way will be more common.

    Keep the comments coming, team, this is a great conversation.

  10. Mark says:

    I agree completely with Paul. Our experience and the value my family gets is summed up nicely by him.

    Once we unplugged the overpriced, underperforming cable TV (whose performance is an utter joke now here in Canada – and we led the world not that long ago – but I digress) and went 100% to AppleTV for vid, it became clear that for us it is a superior experience.

    James, good for you. You like DVD’s. I don’t and in my book they completely blow compared to my AppleTV, used in my home theatre, streaming content to/from 5 macs, multiple iphones, ipods, etc..

    Apply the same arguments to yourself that you applied to oversimplify Paul’s point. Hey are you a closet luddite?

    That said — AppleTV is still too complicated. They missed the mark so far in ease of use, IMO by dumming it down too much. Still not ready to make automagic everything just work. When it gets there, and it will; when the apps store is running on your TV; when the frigging studio’s take the shackles off; we’ll see if it becomes a bigger seller.

    For me right now, warts and all, it’s a great fit for my family. (Boxee is next to useless so far outside of the US.)

  11. Art says:


    I agree on the drawbacks so far. For some reason, Apple hasn’t tried to mimic the interface of iTunes on AppleTV. And I don’t mean pixel for pixel, but the same basic paradigm. Choose something on the left and, in hierarchical fashion, option spill off to the right.

    Navigating ATV can be brutal. It’s not very responsive and you have to frequently ‘start over’ from the main menu instead of intelligent navigation through sections.

    Huge: The studios and their reluctance to join the 2000s. We need more movies. And let’s stop it with the stupid time limits. Give me a week to watch something, thank you. If I want to pirate stuff, I’ll do it all day from my regular DirecTV box. I don’t have the time or inclination, along with 302 million other honest people. Let’s get real.

    Lastly, throw in a browser. Youtube is fun, but I have other sites that I’d like to surf. My iPod touch can do it, and I’d like my ATV to do it too.

    Oh, one more thing…


  12. […] refers to my escapades over the holiday dusting off my Apple TV (which I wrote about last week, confessing that it had remained unplugged since early 2008 — in fact, I lost the mini-remote and offered my kids $3 to scour the TV room to find […]

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