No matter how you look at it, the TV industry is a race to the bottom. Every manufacturer tries to outdo the other by improving capabilities while lowering the price. Just five years ago, I bought a 32-inch 720p LCD TV that I thought was generously priced at $1100. Two years after that, I bought a 46-inch 1080p LCD TV for $50 less than the first. Looking at the current market prices, I could buy a better quality 46-inch 1080p LED TV for $600. That’s a slap in the face.
Honestly, I’m willing to bet that most people think 46 inches is the perfect size for a television. Unless you have an unusually large room and sit 25 feet from your TV, there’s no need for something larger. In fact, if you think about bumping to 50, 60 or 70 inches, you’re not getting a better picture… you’re getting the same 1920 by 1080 resolution on a larger screen. That leads to pixelated images and a poorer viewing experience.
So let’s assume that 46 inches is the optimal size for a TV. What features are absolutely necessary? I’d start with LED backlighting because it produces a much brighter, cleaner image. As many interfaces as possible, HDMI, Component, VGA, DVI is cool too… but for most people, it’s just HDMI. Hertz: let the TV gods bring us Hertz. We’ve come to believe that a higher refresh rate (measured in Hz), the better the TV. I’m not here to discuss that, but higher Hz is cool, right? Speakers are unimportant; any home theater enthusiast would have their own speaker system (not built into the TV). Does anyone really care about 3D? I personally believe it’s a terrible fad that keeps rearing its ugly face every few years… and it hurts my eyes. I don’t really care about 3D, but we’ll add it to the list.
Let’s look at two 1080p LED HDTVs, one cheap, one expensive and compare them.
- Element 46” Class 1080p Edge Lit LED HDTV from Costco — $599
- Contrast Ratio — 4,000:1
- Refresh Rate — 60Hz
- HDMI — 3
- Component Video — 1
- 3D Ready? — Nope
- Samsung 46″ 1080p 3D LED-LCD HDTV from Crutchfield.com — $2,099
- Contrast Ratio — 25,000,000:1 dynamic
- Refresh Rate — 240Hz
- HDMI — 4
- Component Video — 1
- 3D Ready? — Yes
The Samsung TV isn’t your mom’s TV. It comes fully loaded with all of the goodies including apps to give you Netflix, Hulu, etc. The only thing it can’t do: stream the digital media content you already own. Tack on another $100 for an Apple TV and you’re good. Or… just save $1,500 and just buy the cheaper TV with the Apple TV for your digital media consumption. It would nearly mirror the features.
In the computer industry, Apple has been able to bring down its prices to a reasonable rate for most of their customers. The base model machines start around $1000 — that’s not bad considering the reliability and longevity that accompanies the purchase. If you’re shopping for a $300 netbook… you’re not Apple’s target market. In the TV industry, most people want a 46-inch TV at the cheapest possible price. They’ll even sacrifice features to keep the price low. If you want to walk away with a TV for under $1000 — congratulations, you’re the average consumer.
Only 80% of households have a computer.
99% of households in the US have at least one TV.
Most people want their TV for shows, movies and home videos, but very few of them are willing to pay a premium for those privileges. For that reason, we think Apple should stick to the digital media receiver instead of diving into the lucrative TV market. If they started making TVs, I think we’d see the price start between $1,500 and $2,000… much higher than I’d pay for a TV. If they kept improving the DMR, we’d see amazing new features added to the TVs we already own. Ding, ding, ding — we have a winner.
So what needs to change with the Apple TV so it can legitimately redefine home media consumption?
- Complete interface overhaul (courtesy of Siri)
- Honestly, Apple tried to simplify the remote a little too much with Front Row, and later, the Apple TV 2. There aren’t enough buttons for it to function as we expect. It takes forever to type anything and navigation is far from perfect. If you use the remote app on your iPhone, iPod or iPad, it definitely gets easier… but not could possible compare to voice commands.
- With Siri as our guide, it would be easy to say “Search Netflix for The Big Lebowski.” Siri would come back with, “I found The Big Lebowski on Netflix. Would you like to watch it?” Then I’d say, “No, but I’d like to give it a 5 star rating.” Siri: “Okay, I’ve given The Big Lebowski a 5-star rating on your Netflix account.”
- We still need a reasonable remote to help with account sign-in, initial setup, Wi-Fi passwords, etc.
- Apple TV App Store
- To go along with the Siri integration, it would be great to see Apple open the device to third party apps. Without that, they’re just throwing away cash (with $80M in the bank, they probably don’t care). Put Hulu on there, let Blockbuster compete with Netflix, give me weather reports and a decent web browser.
- Games are largely unnecessary. With iOS 5 mirroring, you can stream video directly from your iPhone or iPad in the style of Real Racing HD 2 — that game is awesome by the way. Honestly, the Apple TV could outperform the Wii pretty easily… but not much more than that. We don’t need another subpar gaming console; if they want to tackle the living game scene, they should create something we’ve never seen or expected.
- A little more storage
- 8GB is fine for a $99 DMR, but give us a 16GB option at $149. If an Apple TV App Store appeared, I’m sure I would fill 8GB of space pretty easily. Not to mention the extra space you would need to cache the movie you’re streaming from Netflix. Realistically, Apple should be shipping these with 16GB as the base, but they would surely have to raise the price. At $99 it’s a steal for what it does… at a higher price, it moves out of the impulse buy and into the “Do I need that?” sector.
- Faster processor
- For what it does, the Apple TV is pretty zippy but it could use a little more horsepower… something like a Quad-Core A6. No, we haven’t seen that yet, but I suspect that Apple already has it in the final testing stages and could be ready to reveal it this Spring with a new Apple TV and a new iPad.
- Seriously, why doesn’t the Apple TV stream 1080p video already? There has been discussion that Apple could enable it via a software update, but I doubt the A4 processor could handle that. The A5? Definitely. A Quad-Core A6? Yeah, baby.
- The biggest issue here: Apple doesn’t have any 1080p content on iTunes. Yeah… wow. They’d need to add a lot of movies to their servers in order to stream higher-quality content. That costs a lot of money to implement, hopefully it’s already happening.
- If they bumped all 720p rentals down to $2.99 and offered 1080p rentals at $4.99, I’m sure they’d see more people renting movies. I still see $4.99 as a pretty steep price for a movie rental. 1080p may bring me around.
- Being brutally honest, your internet connection probably couldn’t handle 1080p streaming. I shouldn’t be penalized for your slowness… but that’s not how Apple sees it. Only 66% of the US has broadband internet; that percentage even includes dirt-slow DSL lines that top out at 1Mbps download speeds. You’ll never watch a 1080p movie with a 1Mbps download speed. Realistically, you’d need a 20Mbps connection for smooth streaming.
That’s a lot to expect from the next Apple TV. I doubt that Apple will accomplish all of that without serious hardware upgrades. Serious hardware upgrades cost money. It’ll be difficult to keep a digital media receiver under $100 with more powerful hardware under the hood… but I hope they do it.
Lastly, please don’t make an actual TV. That would just be stupid.