Monday, March 26, 2007

Review of Paul Thurrott's Review of Apple TV

As expected Paul Thurrott has posted his review of the Apple TV and another his Internet Nexus site a Part 2. Why a part 2? To respond to John Molloy's criticism of Paul's original review.

It seems business as usual that there are problems with a Paul Thurrott review of an Apple product. John Molloy takes exception with this suggestion from Paul:
For the same price, you could get an Xbox 360 (see my activity center and review) and use that device to stream media from any XP- or Vista-based PC, access live and recorded TV, various online music, movie, and photo services via its Media Center Extender functionality and a Media Center PC, or download rented and purchased TV shows and movies, many in high definition (unlike iTunes, which only offers standard definition video). It also plays DVD movies, and, heck, it can play high-definition video games too. Yes, the thing sounds like a wind tunnel, especially when its playing games, but it's far more versatile and powerful device than the Apple TV. And it costs exactly the same price.

John says Paul is wrong, that the Xbox Core is $399 and the Premium is $499, not anywhere close to the same price as Apple TV's $299. Paul correctly calls him out since the Xbox 360 retail pricing in the US is $299 (no hard drive, no wireless controller) and $399 premium (20 GB HD, wireless controller). John's pricing is unfortunately wrong for the US market, but he's posting on a UK site, but even using for Xbox 360 pricing information and converting from Pounds to Dollars, the core is 189.99 pounds (amazon is discounting a bit off the 199.99 retail) which converts to $372.22 US, and the premium is 269.96 pounds (again, 299.99 retail) for $529.61 US. The Apple TV is 199.00 pounds, which is $390.40 US. So no matter what, John's Xbpx 360 pricing is wrong.

But there are multiple problems with Paul's comparing the Xbox 360 to the Apple TV (Disclosure: I have both the Xbox 360 Premium and the Apple TV, more on that in another post) and his review of the Apple TV in general. He is absolutely being disingenious when suggesting the Apple TV and the Xbox 360 Core (both $299) over the same functionality at the same price.
  • Xbox 360 Core can "download rented and purchased TV shows and movies" as Paul says. Wrong. The Xbox 360 Core has no hard drive, which you need to do either of these things from Xbox Live Marketplace. The cost to add that to the Xbox 360 Core is $89.99 on, which you guessed it nearly puts you at the $399 Xbox 360 Premium
  • Apple TV doesn't even come with a cable to connect to your TV. This is true, but the Xbox 360 Core only comes with Standard AV cables, which means non-HD. Sure, this could get you going, but you aren't doing any High Def gaming with these 1980s cables.
  • Xbox 360 has all this extra Media Center Extender functionality. Right, and of course you need a Windows XP or Vista Media Center PC, remember a PC, to use that streaming and all those extra services. Paul can't have it both ways. You can't tout all this connected PC functionality with Xbox 360 to PC and then deride Apple TV for doing the same thing. And the Apple TV requires the free iTunes (clearly acting as a server), while Media Center PC is non-free. Oh, and of cousee, iTunes works on Mac or PC.
  • Buying Xbox Live TV Shows or Movies is ultimately the same as buying them from iTunes, or better. If you are a "tool" as Paul says for buying content from iTunes, you must be bringing the whole shed when you purchase anything from Xbox Live Marketplace. True, some Xbox Live Marketplace is in High Def, but that is where the goodness ends. Content you buy for the Xbox 360 is not-tranferrable to a PC, any portable device, or even at this time another Xbox 360. You can't back them up (though you can re-download some stuff again from Xbox Live Marketplace), and you only have 20 GB of storage to play with. Clearly with iTunes, you can use the content you buy on any desktop (Mac+PC)/laptop (Mac+PC)/iPod/iPhone/Apple TV. It is tremendously more versatile, and you can leverage all the storage options a computer allows to hold as much content as you need/want/have. No, video quality is not up to HD standards yet, but its only a matter of time with iTunes, and buying HD on the 360 makes the storage problem acute. One more thing, you buy from iTunes in real currency, and not in some pseudo denomication called MS Points meant to confuse and earn interest on the float of your money.
  • With Apple TV, you have to hop off your chouch to purchase content and wait for it to sync. Partially true, you do not have to wait for it to sync. Apple TV streams the content from any Mac or PC in your house. So buy content on your laptop, then stream it to the Apple TV. Oh, and you don't even have to wait for something to finish synching, you can start playing content as soon as "enough" is synced to the Apple TV, I know, I did it last night, and you can tell because Apple TV shows you what is synching at any time.
  • Apple TV Remote doesn't even change TV volume. And neither does the Xbox 360 Core system or the Xbox 360 Premium, you have to buy a remote, and the MS brand one is the Xbox 360 Universal Remote, $19.99 on And then you have to program it for your TV, and its here where you lose the majority of people, including me. I have this 360 remote since I use the 360 as my DVD player. I have tried a couple times to program it with my TV, and succedded, but it always loses the setting, so I stopped bothering. Programming remotes I think replaced 12:00 AM VCRs as unused consumer technology feature that the techies say you gotta have, but normal people don't use. Oh and the Xbox 360 wireless controller sucks as a remote, since it always powers down. The Xbox 360 Core includes a wired controller, so it could act as a tethered remote, like I had on my 1984 cable box
Let's review pricing to achieve same or similar functionality with either Apple TV or Xbox 360:
 Apple TVXbox 360 CoreXbox 360 Premium
Cables for HD (HDMI or Component)$20 (Component bought from Apple store)$20 from AmazonIncluded
StorageIncluded (40 GB for caching, unlimited on computer)$90 from AmazonIncluded (20 GB, have to buy 20 GB HD add-ons for $90 for more)
Totals$319$428.97 (still no wireless controller for games)$418.99

You can argue whether Apple TVs limitations (doesn't play games, manage content through iTunes) or the Xbox 360's limitations (content bought on 360 stays on 360, limited storage) make one more valuable than the other, but for the 360 to achieve functionality similar to what the Apple TV offers (I didn't included wireless networking with Apple TV has and is another add-on to the 360), either SKU is absolutely not cheaper as Paul suggest. As many have figured out too, don't buy the Core system, if you want the 360, you get the Premium. Now of course, if you want to play games, then you can't do that on Apple TV at any price. As to whether the games you can play on the 360 is worth buying the console, well that is a discussion for a different post. If you want to play DVDs only, then you could easily buy a dedicated DVD player ($52.99 on for less than the difference between the Apple TV and the Xbox 360 premium. And oh yeah, the 360 is a power hog when playing DVDs, consuming 112.1 more noisy watts of power than a dedicated DVD player. Oh, and the Apple TV is reported to have a 48-watt power supply, pretty miserly. Of course I will be ripping DVDs...