Sync or Stream

The Apple TV has a problem. You can hardly blame the little guy. I'm sure the decision was made in his best interest. He had to be introduced to the world and given a chance to grow.

The problem is that the Apple TV thinks its an iPod...at least as far as the iTunes management goes. Apple TVs sync like iPods. You pick what things you want to sync and iTunes will make that happen. This is a problem because the Apple TV is a far more capable product than the iPod. It spits out HD content, and lets you stream from a number of sources. But HD burns disk, and streaming presents a different use model than iPods. It wouldn't be so bad if the Apple TV support sync and stay. In other words, you could drop content on it and remove it from your local drive so you wouldn't be burning 2x the space. Unfortunately, you can't. You can go through some sync'ing gymnastics to let stuff live a little while, but that's mucking, and mucking is not allowed.

The 40GB drive in my Apple TV is hardly big enough once you start tackling movies and TV shows. If you just want to sync music, that's alot of songs, but I don't want to just sync songs. This is not an iPod. This is a remote enabled interface to my entire iTunes library. The 160GB drive option really wouldn't be much help. I'd still have more content than would fit on it, so I might as well have no hard drive and just stream everything.

The streaming functionality is technically great. I rarely see skips or glitches. Content is quick to play, and browsing remote libraries is just as fast as the sync'd library, once you get connected to it :) What sucks is that the computer that I have designated to by my sync source is also considered to be a remote library. If I want to look at a podcast that isn't synced or I want to watch a feature length movie that was too big to fit on the Apple TV, I have to menu back out to the top and pick a whole new source to browse. That's unacceptable and needs to change. Apple should build a way to view the synced content and at least the other content of my sync source within a single set of content. If the sync source is unavailable (asleep, off, network down), they can gray those selections in the content and it won't be a problem. They could provide an option to disable this feature for those that use the Apple TV in a mostly offline mode.

I have to believe the Apple TV engineers have thought of this and want to do it. I think they haven't because they wanted to reuse the iPod sync model as a first step to get the product out the door. Here's hoping for this in the next release.

So, if they made it easier to access multiple stream sources, how about we ditch the hard drive altogether? Could they knock another $50 off the price if they had no disk in there? If that 40GB drive and hard drive controller cost them $25 in parts (which might be high), then it isn't unreasonable for that to translate to a retail price of $50 less. They could skip a price drop and switch to flash. Maybe just a few gigs of flash to hold the OS. It would be nice if the device ran a bit cooler.

One last stream wish. Let me stream DVD playback from my Macs to the Apple TV. I don't want a DVD drive in there. I have a perfectly fine one already available on my network in a Mac. This would allow me to watch Netflix on TVs that have nothing hooked to them but an Apple TV. You're probably thinking "damn, how many TVs does this guy have?". You'll be surprised at the answer. I have 1 TV, and it is only a 26" :) I do like to keep my options open though.

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