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Media (Apple) Media

Apple TV "Barely Watchable" 424

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the so-was-baywatch dept.
lpangelrob writes "Peter Svensson of the Associated Press reviews the Apple TV, and comes away less than impressed.While the Apple TV gets solid marks for "a very iPod-like interface, commendably clear and easy to use", the Apple TV experience falls apart on an HD television. The reviewer notes that "videos from Apple's online iTunes store look horrible on an HDTV set. The movies and TV shows have the same nominal resolution as DVDs, but look much blurrier, approaching the look of standard-definition broadcast TV.'"
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Apple TV "Barely Watchable"

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  • Okay, modders (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:24AM (#18662661)
    Maybe the modders can fix it. God knows they've been fixing all the many OTHER things that are wrong with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Firehed (942385)
      It's a pretty easy fix [thepiratebay.org].
    • Re:Okay, modders (Score:5, Informative)

      by ZachPruckowski (918562) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:56AM (#18663073)
      The issue with video quality that they have is that Apple only sells videos in 640x480. There's no mod needed to fix this, all you need to do is get your videos from elsewhere. If you get your 720p videos from the interwebs or from your cable/satellite/OTA or wherever, it'll look just fine on the AppleTV (as long as it's not DRM'd). The issue isn't with the hardware or the software, it's with the videos Apple sells.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        The issue with video quality that they have is that Apple only sells videos in 640x480

        Beyond that, it's heavily compressed 640x480, correct?

        • Yes, and that's the icing on the cake; 640x480 ought to look similar to a DVD. Same vertical resolution anyway, just less horizontal pixels. They also seem to be compressing the living crap out of them in order to make them small enough for iPod Video sales.

          What I think needs to happen, is Apple needs to find a way of letting people download video for a particular device. Unlike with audio, where most people will listen to the same track on their iPod and through their home stereo (which makes me think that a lot of people must be near-deaf, but I digress), people aren't going to do the same thing with video. They want high-def content for their HDTV, which means a different file from the quick-downloading version for their iPod.

          Assuming Apple has the source material available, it should be trivial to produce HD versions of the programming that's on the iTMS. What's more difficult is how they're going to let users choose between versions, and how it'll be priced. If you download a TV episode for your iPod, will that be the same price as a HD version for your iTV? And if you get the iTV version, will you automatically get the low-res version as well (because it would be trivial to transcode down if not)? Or will there just be one price that entitles you to all resolutions (fat chance)? Those questions are more complicated than the technical ones -- Apple has more than enough expertise to produce good-looking HD material...look at their own Movie Trailer site if you want examples. Some of those clips are practically reference material for people setting up HD displays, because they're pretty close to broadcast quality.

          The technical capability is all there, I just think they haven't quite worked out the business and user-training angle yet.
          • by inca34 (954872) on Monday April 09, 2007 @12:32PM (#18664549) Journal
            There is a technical solution to this problem.

            Using wavelets to encode the data you can create a multi-resolutional streaming format. Meaning, you set the level of detail, and it strips off the unused data in real tim
            • by D H NG (779318) on Monday April 09, 2007 @03:12PM (#18666715)

              Using wavelets to encode the data you can create a multi-resolutional streaming format. Meaning, you set the level of detail, and it strips off the unused data in real tim
              Looks like your comment is using the wavelets encoding.
              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by Sparr0 (451780)
                Successfully, I might add. We stripped off two bytes and got a slightly lower quality version of the original with the complete meaning intact.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by benwaggoner (513209)
              Wavelets are a great technology for still images, but they're not as effecient as DCT + motion compensation techniques like all the mainstream video codecs work. It's really hard to get wavelets to efficiently take advantage of the similarities between adjoining frames.
          • by uradu (10768) on Monday April 09, 2007 @01:12PM (#18665065)
            The "fair thing" to me would be to have a standard base "content price" since you're licensing the same show and IP regardless which resolution you watch it at, and then add a bandwidth surcharge based on the resolution and thus file size you download. Coming back later and downloading a different resolution of the same show should then only cost you the bandwidth surcharge of that resolution. Kind of like allofmp3 was doing it, except with an actual "artist remuneration" base cost built-in. I think this would be the fair thing to do because the industry has always harped on how consumers are just licensing content, not actually purchasing an "ownable" product. Therefore consumers should NEVER have to re-license the same content again and again just to have it available in a different format.
      • by forgoil (104808)
        Question is, can we can non-DRMed TV and movies out of iTunes? Music seems to be on its way, especially if it outsells DRMed music (money talks). I think Apple should compete with being better, and I am eagerly awaiting AppleTV 2, with 1080p and no DRM in sight :)
        • Re:Okay, modders (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ZachPruckowski (918562) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:44AM (#18663825)
          Getting video to drop DRM is going to be very hard. The reason is that while there's already a flood of non-DRM'd music out there (CDs) and will be for the foreseeable future, all DVD/BRD/HDDVD releases have some form of encryption, which (even when broken) allow those industries to tightly control legal digital versions on computers. With TV, the industry has plans to implement the broadcast flag, cutting off digital copying (and fair use) at the knees. In short, the music industry has no hope of creating an environment where all content is DRMed, while the video industry is clinging to that belief desparately.
          • DRM? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by tgibbs (83782) on Monday April 09, 2007 @03:25PM (#18666905)
            Although DRM is annoying in principle, in practice I don't much care about DRM on video unless it gets in my way. I might listen to the same song repeatedly for years, on multiple devices. There is not much on video that I want to watch more than once, and almost nothing that I'd want to watch more than 2 or 3 times. The only real issue is convenience and quality. I am annoyed that I have to buy a box to watch an iTunes video on my TV, when I have a perfectly good DVD burner on my computer. At least with a standard definition TiVo, it is possible to burn videos to DVD. And the XBox 360 videos aren't portable, but the box does a bit more than enable me to do something that I would have been able to do anyway if not for DRM, and the videos are HD.

            So if Apple wants to sell me one of these gadgets, I'm going to want something more than SD.
      • Re:Okay, modders (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AdrianZ (29135) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:45AM (#18663839) Homepage
        While they only sell standard def, they give away free high def movie trailers.

        So the real test would be downloading one of the HD movie trailers from iTunes and trying it on the AppleTV product.

        If they work well, then chances are if/when Apple movies to sell full movies in HD, the device will handle it well and be more "future proof" than suggested here. If on the other hand it chugs along bandwidth problems, we'll know for sure that its a SD-only device.
      • Re:Okay, modders (Score:4, Informative)

        by prockcore (543967) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:56AM (#18664005)

        If you get your 720p videos from the interwebs or from your cable/satellite/OTA or wherever, it'll look just fine on the AppleTV


        AppleTV can only do 720p at 24fps. That's fine for movies, but not for anything fast moving, like sports.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tepples (727027)

          AppleTV can only do 720p at 24fps. That's fine for movies, but not for anything fast moving, like sports.
          What sporting events are distributed to United States customers as free or paid digital downloads? Remember that Apple TV cannot record, unlike TiVo.
      • Re:Okay, modders (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bwalling (195998) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:59AM (#18664043) Homepage
        It's certainly not as crisp as High Def content. It's better than standard def content. It's on par with DVD. I think most people have a TV that's too big for where they sit and this compounds the problem. I have a 50" 1080p set, and I sit 14 feet away from it. I don't really notice how bad the iTMS stuff is. I can tell that it's not high def, but I can't tell that it's awful. I have 20/15 vision, so I can see just fine. Really, I expect them to start cranking out HD content soon. It's a bit goofy that they don't already have it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by thatroom (1045976)
      oh, for crissakes.. can't you see that nothing is as good as direct media on a HDTV? just look at satellite.. all of that mpeg crap is easily visible as distortions on a decent LCD. to expect an, albeit cute, apple TV to record as clean as straight uncompressed video is insane. If you want perfectly clean tv recordings, then get a $2500 pro quality dvr.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by djdavetrouble (442175)
        Hi.
        The problem with your "perfectly clean tv recordings"
        is that if you have a cable feed, chances are that the cable co is doing
        quite a bit of their own compression. Usually it is quite noticible
        to the naked eye (blockiness, jaggies on round shapes, etc).
        This is why the DVD rips look better than HD caps.
      • Re:Okay, modders (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Cygfrydd (957180) <cygfrydd...llewellyn@@@gmail...com> on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:25AM (#18663523)
        If I'm understanding your post correctly... the Apple TV doesn't record (yet). The main issue is not the quality (or lack thereof) of the Apple TV, it's the lack of high definition content on the iTunes store. I've taken 1080p MPEG-2 transport streams, transcoded to 720p H.264, and it's absolutely jaw-dropping.
    • by pavon (30274) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:26AM (#18663555)
      The problem isn't the device, but the low quality of the videos purchased on iTMS. If you were to go through the hassle of ripping from DVD, you wouldn't have this problem. Which really gets down to the issue of why this device is so underwelming - it desperately needs more/better sources of content. There are many ways they could achieve this:

      * Add a TV tuner and make it a PVR.
      * Improve the format options for people with existing collections.
      * Vastly extend amount of content at the iTunes store, increase compression quality
      * Extend the iTunes video store to include pay-per-view.
      * Allow purchases derictly from the device.

      While a lot of people have been calling for the first, I think Apple is smart by staying out of that game. First off, the vast majority of people that want PVR's get them from their cable companies, and everyone else buys a Tivo, which is a very well polished product. Secondly, CableCard support has been a mess, making it a pain for third party PVR's, and limiting the service that they can provide to their customers. Between these two issues I really don't see what Apple could do to make themselves stand-out the way they have in other markets where the competition couldn't provide a good interface to save themselves. Lastly, cable television as we know it is on it's way out. It is going to take a while, but the future is internet distribution, and now is the time for them to get on that bandwagon if they want to be a major player. So jumping into an overcrowded market that will quickly be entering into decline isn't a very good idea.

      The fact that you have buy songs on a computer is a major pain, and something they could have fixed today, but in the end whether you allow purchases to be made from the couch or not, you will still need to link it to a computer that has more hard-drive space than the Apple TV. This is one of the reasons that I think that set-top boxes work better for pay-per-view / rental than for purchased media, but apparently that is not something that Apple wants to get into. Whatever they decide, Apple really needs to get the ball with their online video distribution, because their current offering are pathetic.
      • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday April 09, 2007 @12:23PM (#18664393) Homepage

        * Add a TV tuner and make it a PVR.


        oh god no. you need to add a ATSC aand QUAM tuner to it as well as a cablecard slot and that alone will triple the price of the damn thing. if you want a tivo then buy a Tivo. if you want a internet TV device then buy this.

        I have dabbled in "convergence" boxes for years and all you get is something that sucks all the way around. mythtv is great except you cant record most HD content on it. HD tivo is great but you cant take your HD content with you. Windows Media Center sucks completely as you get Draconian DRM with mediocre on a machine that can get viruses and works on it.

        This produce does what it is supposed to and does it well, the content blows because honestly the US internet infrastructure is way under powered for what it needs to do.

        itunes content sucked to high hell when they started out. I am not surpised that the video content stinks because itunes cant afford 20 OC48 lines into every major LATA to serve the HD content let alone the fact that every cablemodem and DSL connection is so anemic that the customer will get pissed with download times.

        I think the product rocks, it plays all the mythtv content I can chuck at it automagically (thanks to a modded myth2ipod module) and does other things well, my biggest complaint is that it will not get the RSS feeds it's self but requires a pc running itunes to do it, which is major BS. the thing can handle RSS on it's own, apple chose to keep you dependant on itunes for all content.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shmlco (594907)
        Video quality is an issue, but I have a 1.5mbps DSL connection at home, and a full-length movie takes three hours to download (at least) from the iTMS. Until we get faster connections / download speeds I don't see a major place for higher resolution content.

        Another issue to contend with is file size. One hour of iTMS video is currently about half a gig. Do I really want to double that? Do I really want an entire season of 24 to take up 24GB on my HD? On my 42" plasma iTMS video looks better than standard ca
    • Re:Okay, modders (Score:5, Insightful)

      by neoform (551705) <djneoform@gmail.com> on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:41AM (#18663783) Homepage
      Is this really a "problem"?

      Seems like 4 years ago people wouldn't be complaining about the quality of a 640x480 video.. why then is it suddenly "unwatchable"?

      I agree technology should move forward and improve it'self.. but this is downloadable content.. does he realistically think apple can host HD content that can be streamed live? Hell, Blu-ray movies are like what.. 40GB?

      Imagine the server load that would be required to handle millions of people downloading a few HD movies every week..
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ahoehn (301327)
        4 years ago people would have been hooking up their Apple TV to a SD set and 640x480 would have looked just fine. I can second the motion that iTunes video looks awful on an HDTV.

        I have a 32" LCD 720P HDTV that I use as a monitor. A few weeks ago I bought an episode of Desperate Housewives off iTunes (don't judge me!), watched it on the HDTV, and was severely disappointed. The quality was quite bad. I later downloaded the same episode off Bittorrent to compare the quality. The file sizes were similar, a
  • My spin (Score:4, Interesting)

    by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:27AM (#18662705) Journal
    Anyone here remember what TV was like before cable and the internet? Wasn't most of that stuff barely watchable? (Notice how hosts like Donahue, popular at that time, utterly failed when there was real competition.)

    So, couldn't you alternately say that Apple TV is as good as network TV?

    (I know, I know, the "unwatchability" is due to picture quality, not content. Still, you have to compare the total experience, not each aspect individually.)
    • Re:My spin (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FuzzyDaddy (584528) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:30AM (#18662747) Journal
      "approaching the look of standard-definition broadcast TV" and "barely watchable"?

      Growing up, my best friend's stepfather used to say that he used to be into high end stereo equipment, but gave it up and settled for a relatively crappy one. As he put it, "I found I was listening to the noise instead of the music".

    • Re:My spin (Score:5, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:31AM (#18662755)
      Hey buddy, I was a kid during the Hanna-Barbera cartoon era. I *KNOW* unwatchable television! Compared to watching that crap over a poor antenna signal, this is a golden age.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Life2Short (593815)
        Hanna-Barbera? That's like being kissed by an angel compared to a Sid and Marty Croft [wikipedia.org] production...
        • That's like being kissed by an angel compared to a Sid and Marty Croft production

          Maybe you didn't smoke enough weed when watching the S&M classics.
          Nothing like H.R. 'Puffin Stuff' on a lazy Saturday morning.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Carthag (643047)
        I assume you mean post-1957 Hanna-Barbera, as their Tom & Jerry cartoons for MGM were actually brilliant. The stuff that came after they decided to work for themselves and create cartoons specificially for TV is utterly worthless though, I'll agree.
      • Re:My spin (Score:5, Funny)

        by cei (107343) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:48AM (#18662999) Homepage Journal
        So you're saying AppleTV uses the same background picture during all chase scenes? That IS unwatchable!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hal2814 (725639)
        Hanna-Barbara was the good stuff. Who remembers the Hercules cartoon where Hercules often fought enemies BEHIND A BOULDER to cut down on production costs? That was crappy TV at its finest.
    • This is not an apple TV problem per se, it's an ITMS problem. I don't have an ATV but I do buy videos. Indeed there are two problems I have with all the TV shows I have bought there.

      1) Though it varies, the patchy compression artifacts on my computer is wretched. For the same size AVI file compressed off of a cable card the quality of the latter is much higher.

      2) my 800Mhz imac can no longer play the itms videos without glitching. I've tried using quicktime insted of itunes but same result. I think t
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jcr (53032)
        I've tried using quicktime insted of itunes but same result.

        iTunes uses Quicktime. What did you expect?

        -jcr

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by goombah99 (560566)

          I've tried using quicktime insted of itunes but same result.

          iTunes uses Quicktime. What did you expect?

          -jcr

          one less layer of middleware. Others have reported marginally better results using quicktime. My own tests show that it matters more how long the program has been running. Empirically, quiting and restarting quicktime reduces the glitch rate. Thus I think people seeing better results with quicktime are doing so simply because they start quicktime only after itunes has gotten too glitchy.

      • by TMonks (866428) <TMonganIVNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:57AM (#18663085)

        But could they not at least admit they don't play on 800Mhz computers?

        They do admit that, look under "Additional Video Requirements" on the iTunes Download Page [apple.com].
        It specifically states, '1 GHz G4 Processor or Better'.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by goombah99 (560566)
          Well I'll be darned. I guess I'm the fool here. My bad for not noticing that. Still my comment about the patchy resolution munging still holds--that happens on my fast macs too. I've played AVIs of the same Battlestar galactica show and it's quite striking how much lower res the itms ones are.

          Of course I suppose that might also be some limit imposed on them by the studios. Just like music they cap the resolution to make transcoding an ugly prospect. After all in theory H264 ought to be about t
      • SUre my computer is 5 years old. But could they not at least admit they don't play on 800Mhz computers?

        It'll play. You just need the right tool for the job. [mplayerhq.hu]
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ben there... (946946)

          It'll play. You just need the right tool for the job.[mplayer]

          Yea but good luck getting DRM'd iTMS files to play in that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PFI_Optix (936301)
      So basically Apple TV is retro?

      Retro = stylish and cool

      Perfect fit for Apple :)

      (disclaimer: due to a handful of oversensitive Mac zealots, I feel the need to point out that that WAS A JOKE.)
  • by slughead (592713) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:29AM (#18662735) Homepage Journal
    I recently purchased an Apple TV for my parents who have a 46" 1080p LCD TV.

    I'd have to say that the associated press conclusion is correct about iTunes video content--barely watchable. They said the picture was "fuzzy", but I think they were really referring to the annoying artifacts present in low quality mpeg streams.

    That is not to say that the AppleTV is crap, however. When playing high def content (that you rip yourself from DVD or from HDTV), it's not half bad. The thing can output at 720p at 4000kbit/s (maybe with a software upgrade (VLC)), iTunes just doesn't sell that kind of content.

    Still though, with these kind of resolutions on these ginormous TVs, you're going to see artifacts even on some overly-shrunk DVD movies.

    I bought the AppleTV so I could jerry rig it into something useful [appletvhacks.net]. If I were buying it simply based on its stated features, it's so useless I'd have a hard time justifying the $300 price tag.
    • by Jake73 (306340) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:43AM (#18662917) Homepage
      Sounds to me like poor compression, not a bad Apple TV. I don't have an Apple TV, so I can't test it with a good stream, but many HD streams are over-compressed yielding very poor results. In particular, the iTunes store probably just hasn't caught up with the idea that people will actually be playing HD content on HD-capable devices.

      There are some really crappy DVDs out there, too, but they don't mean that the DVD player is junk.

    • by peragrin (659227)
      while I agree with the overall quailty those artifacts are most likely network, or hardware induced. As I don't get artifacts when i play itunes TV shows directly from my mac mini.

      The apple tv is massively underclocked, and most likely can't handle it properly. Hence why you don't buy revision A apple products.

      All that said I get digital artifacts on m cable tv lines all the time. They can't keep it running smoothly.
    • I agree that content from the iTunes Video Store is crappy quality, but I did find some content in iTunes' podcast directory to show off the picture quality possible. Here's [apple.com] a good example. There's a 720p video podcast, and it looks just as good as the HDTV content I get via Comcast. Wave of the future and stuff...
  • Pictures? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mr_matticus (928346) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:42AM (#18662891)
    Does anyone have pictures of this "horrible" video playing on a TV so people can actually make a judgment. When I played with one, the videos from the iTunes store exceeded my expectations (I was not blown away, but it was completely watchable). I assumed it would be like watching analog broadcast television on an old set, or running my LCD monitor in 800x600, but instead it looked like standard-definition (i.e. digital) broadcast. Obviously, iTunes needs to start selling higher quality content, but it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.

    If Apple had brought higher-quality videos to market first, there'd be complaints that they didn't have any device capable of pumping it to an HDTV. Since they released the device first, we get to hear about how they're not providing the content.

    Moreover, this man's not really an authority on anything. He seems to be under the impression that big, loud, high power consumption equates to "capable of playing HD content better," when this of course is bullshit. He worries that the small, silent machine and its high efficiency will somehow make it incapable of playing HD--but he didn't apparently bother downloading any of the dozens of *HD* trailers available right from Apple's flipping website to test that bogus hypothesis.
    • I don't think it is a chicken/egg problem. Apple's computers can all handle HD streams, and they all have DVI and audio out ports. The mac mini can be used in pretty much the same way the AppleTV is intended. You just have to buy some expensive adaptors.
      • You have to buy a computer and the adapter. Most people don't want to have to surrender their computer in order to watch video on their TV. Keep in mind that people don't have multiple recent computers lying around like most of us, and most of them don't care very much for fiddling with cables. Most people wouldn't put together a Myth box even if someone handed them the hardware for the same price as a Tivo. They just don't like dicking around, and they don't want loud computers in their living rooms.

        Al
    • by dave420 (699308)
      It is possible for Apple to have both HD and SD versions of media, and deliver the correct version when media is purchased. Apple releasing SD media on a barely-HD-capable box seems a little 2002-y to me, that's all. I thought they'd make something better than this. Is 1080p too much to ask for? Decent picture processing? Is Apple even trying with this product?
      • 1080p is a little unreasonable. The file sizes would be massive, and few HDTV owners have sets that support it. I don't think 1080p is meant for online distribution. There's just not a big enough market to justify the cost.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:42AM (#18662893) Homepage
    The videos are compressed to the point that Apple can actually affordably send them to you over the Internet. They cram 45 minutes of BSG into a 450MB-500MB download. A BSG DVD has what... 3 to 4 episodes on it? You could fit the entirety of Season 1 of BSG from the iTMS onto two DVDs, when the full set of Season one comes with 5 DVDs.

    Again, with shortcuts like that, what do you expect? When people are willing to pay the bandwidth costs to be able to just click a button, and have all of the trunk line infrastructure in place to allow them to receive 1.25-1.5GB of data per episode conveniently, things will change.
    • by Yvan256 (722131) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:54AM (#18663061) Homepage Journal

      They cram 45 minutes of BSG into a 450MB-500MB download. A BSG DVD has what... 3 to 4 episodes on it? You could fit the entirety of Season 1 of BSG from the iTMS onto two DVDs, when the full set of Season one comes with 5 DVDs.
      iTunes Store content = H.264, DVDs = MPEG-2. Please get out and give back your nerd card at the door.

      • by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:12AM (#18663333) Homepage
        Changes in the compression format can only go so far. MPEG-2 has "pretty good" compression. H.264 has better compression, but it's not a magical codec that allows you to compress stuff down to nothing without losing any quality. 45 Minutes in 500 MB won't give you DVD quality, no matter which codec you use. Even 45 Minutes of 128 kb mp3/aac will take up about 45 MB, you can't expect to fit the video part of that feed into the remaining 450 MB while still maintaining DVD quality.
      • They don't have the luxury of shipping 4.7GB of data, per disk, to their customers. They have to cut corners wherever they can. Yes, I know it's not MPEG2. MPEG2 would look like shit if you crammed that much content into such a small space. If they could afford to deliver as much h.264 content as could be stored on a DVD, I suspect things would be different, but for right now they can't because it'd probably skew all of their prices to ship that much data over the net.
    • by FlopEJoe (784551)
      eh? Not sure about that... 45 Min AVIs (BSG, Heroes, etc) clock in at 350 Meg and they look fine on my 42" HD TV. Most probably look better than SD. But there you have the true professionals... those that do it for the love of the craft. They capture off of a HiDef source and have their utilities tweeked out to the max. I don't know what Apple is doing but maybe they don't have their process down yet.
    • by Dogtanian (588974)
      I think we can assume that Apple are using H264 or one of the other MPEG-4 codecs instead of the far less efficient MPEG-2 that DVDs use. Therefore, it's more than reasonable to assume that the downloads you describe would be at least comparable with standard DVDs.
  • I agree...sort of. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rindeee (530084) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:42AM (#18662895)
    Firstly, I do not have nor have I seen Apple TV. What I have noticed and what I'm commenting on is the poor quality of videos purchased on iTunes. A good example: Before deploying to the middle-east I ripped all of my DVDs using Handbrake so that I didn't have to haul them with me. Included in those rips are a number of TV shows which have new episodes out since I left the States, so I have since purchased them on iTunes. I am really disappointed with the quality of the video. I rip my DVDs at fairly high quality and the resulting file size is pretty predictable. I was shocked at the file size of the iTunes videos given the (in my opinion) very poor quality. Sorry Apple, I'll buy my music from you, but your videos suck.
    • by jfengel (409917)
      Fuck the anonymous coward. Stay safe.
  • XBox 360 (Score:2, Informative)

    by nam37 (517083)
    Not to turn this into a MSFT vs Apple thread. But I find that the XBox 360's media capabilities to be great. Good HD, network aware for music, pics, and movies. Online "rentals" and purchase. All-in-all a very complete and well done product.
  • The apple attitude (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:45AM (#18662945)
    Its just annoying to see when theres problems with a company product that isnt MS everyone jumps on the "its 1.0, it has bugs dont be harsh" yet they turn around and smack anything MS does right into the ground cause M$ SUX LOLZ.

    Maybe think next time and judge everything accordingly. Theres no doubt that vista is drm riddled right now but stop kissing other corporate ass just because its sleek and shiny.
  • by greg_barton (5551) * <greg_barton AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:45AM (#18662949) Homepage Journal
    I have a 42 inch 1080p LCD, and the image quality is "bad" just watching regular DVD's. Granted the iTunes content is a tad worse, but it's in the same ballpark. The only stuff that looks really good is broadcast high def or a blue ray disk.
    • Maybe you just have a bad upscaling DVD player. I have a Sony DVD player hooked up to my 720p Panasonic plasma via an HDMI cable, and the quality of picture when watching DVDs is considerably better than standard def tv. It still isn't like watching broadcast HD, of course, but it definitely isn't bad.
  • Duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by r3volution11 (1004873) * on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:48AM (#18662989) Homepage
    Who would of thought a compressed movie format would look bad on a high definition tv?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "Would HAVE thought"

      Think about the meaning of the words you use when you string them into sentences...
  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Monday April 09, 2007 @10:48AM (#18662991) Homepage Journal
    Slashdot title: Apple TV "Barely Watchable"
    TheLedger title: Apple Appalls Where Xbox Excels

    Too bad, then, that where looks really matter - in the quality of the video on the TV screen - the $299 Apple TV comes up very short. It's as if Apple had launched an iPod that sounded like a cassette player.
    So he puts the AppleTV down its "video quality"...

    On the TV screen, the Apple TV projects a very iPod-like interface, commendably clear and easy to use. It also looks great, especially on a high-definition TV. It uses your own pictures as an animated screensaver.
    But then say it's got a great-looking interface on a high-definition TV...

    It's surprising, then, that videos from Apple's online iTunes store look horrible on an HDTV set. The movies and TV shows have the same nominal resolution as DVDs, but look much blurrier, approaching the look of standard-definition broadcast TV.
    And THEN complains about the real problem, which is the iTunes Store content itself, not the AppleTV. The movies and TV shows will look even worst on your computer LCD display, which are even better than a crappy HDTV that will most probably rescale your image before displaying it. But no, he has to make it sound like it's a problem with the AppleTV.

    According to the company's specifications, the Apple TV can play HD video with a resolution of 1,280 by 720 pixels, but it doesn't actually seem that well suited to it. The hard drive is small, and the low power consumption speaks of weak processors inside. And since Apple's standard-definition video looks so bad, I'm not confident the HD video will look good either.
    What does he mean by "doesn't actually seem that well suited to it"? The hard drive is more than enough for H.264 content (requires less space than regular MPEG-4), low power consumption means nothing with dedicated solutions (if the MPEG-4 and H.264 decoding is done by the GPU, you don't need a Quad-Core 3GHz processor).

    And what the hell does SD content looking bad has to do with HD content? That's like saying my 1280x1024 LCD will probably look shitty with a 1280x1024 wallpaper because it looks shitty when it has a 320x256 wallpaper on it. No correlation at all, this guy is an idiot.

    So, the guy knows the real problem (varying video quality from the iTunes Store, but that's the content providers fault, not Apple) but still puts down the AppleTV for fake flaws.

    In short, I call Microsoft shill on this guy.
  • by hey! (33014)
    Don't most people still have non-HD sets? I know they're supposed to go out and get new HD sets when broadcast goes digital, but a lot of people will be buying converters when that day comes. And if Apple gets enough content by D-Day, maybe they'll be happier subscribing to Apple content than buying an HDTV.

    I'm probably way off base, but I have to think Jobs has something up his sleeve; he's a tactical thinker who introduces products when they have a reason to exist. He doesn't have a track record of cre
    • by BorgDrone (64343)

      Don't most people still have non-HD sets? (...) maybe they'll be happier subscribing to Apple content than buying an HDTV.

      You're forgetting one 'minor' detail: you need a HDTV to use the AppleTV, SDTV's do not have component or HDMI inputs (at least not here in europe) and the AppleTV does not offer S-Video output.
  • The movies and TV shows have the same nominal resolution as DVDs, but look much blurrier, approaching the look of standard-definition broadcast TV

    Err... forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't DVD resolution (i.e. 720 x 480/576) the same resolution as digital broadcast TV, and as near as can be measured the same resolution you typically achieve with analogue broadcasts? I've seen estimates varying between 700 and 768 "pixels", depending on the quality of your equipment and the strength of the signal you're rece
    • by Mprx (82435)
      DVDs are usually progressive scan, so they'll look better if you can play them without interlacing.
  • everyone buys the AppleTV for the podcasts, don't they? How do they stack up against the commercially made stuff?
  • by Griim (8798) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:11AM (#18663311) Homepage
    Apple^H^H^H^H^H TV Barely Watchable.

    Fixed that for you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Paulrothrock (685079)

      Exactly.

      Why would I want to blow $1000+ on a TV so I can watch commercials interrupted with bad acting most of the time? Until an HD TV can actually improve the CONTENT of the shows, I'm not going to buy one.

  • Oops! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "It's as if Apple had launched an iPod that sounded like a cassette player."

    I need read no farther - the reviewer is ignorant. Cassettes are, when played on quality equipment, better sounding than any lossily compressed digital file and in fact approach CD's clarity. I have CDs I sampled from cassettes that I've played on musicians' stage equipment and the musicians are amazed that it's sampled from cassette.

    I understand his ignorance; like most, he never heard a factory-recorded cassette with Dolby-C playe
  • by keytohwy (975131) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:23AM (#18663499)
    I have an AppleTV. I also have a hi-def video camera and a decent digital SLR. Content from those devices looks fantastic. As for content from the iTMS, yes it is lower quality. Apple has quadrupled the pixels of it's offering from the first introduction, and perhaps we'll see another bump in teh future. Bt that puts an enormous strain on the networks moving that data, and takes longer for customers to get the content. When talking about the AppleTV, I always circle back to the less-obvious; How does YOUR content look? keytohwy
  • No one can afford an HD TV. That's what the anti-Sony folks said about the Playstation 3. Also, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD will both fail because no one wants to watch HD video. DVD forever. You can't tell the difference. No one is going to re-buy video anyway.

    That's what they said.

  • by schmidt349 (690948) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:32AM (#18663649)
    People have been complaining of low bitrate on iTMS video. The thing is that H.264 includes a lot of really neat kit that MPEG-2 can only dream of:
    • Quarter-pixel motion compensation (computationally expensive, but it dramatically improves picture quality and reduces macroblocking)
    • Multiple bidirectional frames (up to 32 as opposed to the previous 2)
    • better quantization
    • And much, much more!


    Getting the picture yet? Yuk yuk. The bottom line is that you get radically better performance out of H.264 than MPEG-2 at similar bitrates. So a ~45 minute TV episode weighing in at 400MB for a total combined audio/video bitrate of around 1250 kbps gets nearly identical quality to a 2500 kbps MPEG-2 bitstream. Of course on DVD you get goodies like the 5.1 surround audio track, so it's still a better deal, but Apple's done a lot to close the gap.

    The REAL problem with iTMS video has absolutely nothing to do with bitrate. No, it's the shitty masters that the TV producers are provisioning Apple with. The people who do Monk, for instance, don't even bother supplying the 16:9 master -- instead they give Apple a crappy 4:3 version. The BSG people have more than once given Apple 480i broadcast masters instead of the HD masters or at least a 480p source, and you get deinterlace artifacting on some episodes as a result. Garbage in, garbage out.

    Start an email campaign to the TV execs demanding that they give Apple the same stuff they give to the HD networks and you'll see an improvement in quality. Until then, you'll get the same old crap.
  • by Churla (936633) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:34AM (#18663665)
    Apple has long strived to merge the concept of the device and the service into one. It's what made the iPod/iTunes combo such a devastatingly effective one. Is this a case where that same mantra is biting them in the posterior? In this case the lacking of higher definition content on service (iTunes) is magnified by the product.

    Don't knock the hardware for it. It's a nice little hardware platform, place the blame on the shoulders of an iTunes service which just doesn't have enough HD content.

    It's like my wife blaming Windows Media Center for choppy video performance watching a video when it was really a flaky wireless router dropping packets.
  • Actuallly I do, but it was the only statement I could think of that was more sanctimonious than an Apple Fanboy.

    In all seriousness, people need to look at the best tool for the job and not be so tied up in brands.

  • by constantnormal (512494) on Monday April 09, 2007 @12:03PM (#18664101)
    I have a Hitachi 42" plasma HDTV, supporting 1080i and 720p formats, downscaled to the 1000x1000 physical pixel layout of the device. Yeah, it's not your typical uber-video 1080p whiz-bang HDTV, but it still blows me away.

    For the several years I've been using an el gato http://www.elgato.com/ [elgato.com]eyeTV HTDV gizmo to record over-the-air HD content to disk, and then (lacking any means of directly driving the Hitachi HDTV from the server) burning the programs to DVD for playback on the better screen via the set-top DVD player. Packing HD content onto a standard DVD is a learning experience in itself, as it's all to easy to put more bandwidth into the DVD than the player will handle, with subsequent artifacts and other nonsense.

    So when the AppleTV was announced, I leaped at it, and have been getting accustomed to the device over the past few weeks. My goal has been (and is) to use the server in the next room as a media server, streaming content to the Apple TV for playback on the Hitachi plasma HDTV. In this, my intent has been to put DVDs and recorded broadcast content on the server, taking advantage of the rapid decline in cost of hard drives.

    I've had most success using Handbrake to rip DVDs to bits-on-a-disk in MP4 form, then using VisualHub to fine-tune the conversion to AppleTV format, transcoding to H.264 and 1280x720, 24 fps for DVDs. For broadcast content, I go directly from eyeTV to an AppleTV-compatible format (960x540, 29.97 fps, single-pass H.264). The AppleTV-formatted content is then added to iTunes and streamed to the AppleTV via 802.11n wifi. I find that streaming gives me better results than syncing, especially if the content has longer playback times. In all cases, I maintain the max playback bandwidth at close to 5 Mbps, the published limits of the AppleTV.

    The reason I go for the 960x540 format for broadcast content is that it's gonna end up that way anyhow, due to the content provider's (that would be the studio, not Apple) inclusion of the ICT http://broadcastengineering.com/mag/broadcasting_c pr_redefined/ [broadcastengineering.com](Image Constraint Tag) in the video stream, so that higher-resolution video thusly tagged gets knocked back to 960x540. If you just let QuickTime do the conversion via their AppleTV menu choice in QuickTime Pro, you also get the bandwidth throttled back to 4 Mbps.

    The end result is that the viewing experience is very close to set-top DVD playback, but less than over-the-air HDTV. All in all, a "good enough" experience, especially for only $320 (including the HDMI-to-HDMI cabling).

    In my initial testing of the device, I predicted that there would be a chasm between two groups of users -- those who love the AppleTV, and see it as a significant advance in bringing computer-controlled TVs into the living room, vs those who see it as an abject failure. The difference between these two camps is largely one born out of expectations. The people who hate it wanted effortless 1080p quality video, a built-in DVD player and HD receiver, and were shocked to discover that it actually was a little less than Steve Jobs pitched it to be, instead of a lot more. Maybe a second- or third-generation model will come closer to their dreams, but if so, it will be because the studios have loosened up in what they will permit such a device to do, and because the internet providers have boosted the available bandwidth to permit downloading of multi-gigabyte files in a reasonable time (hint: an hour of HD MPEG2 video takes around 5 GB to store on the hard drive).

    Today's limitations on what can be done with connecting the internet to HDTV are constrained mostly by the available bandwidth and the studios' restrictions on how much fidelity they allow in downloaded content. When the Xbox HD content-via-the-web becomes available, I expect that it will be similarly hobbled.

    So long as you don't have over-the-top expectations, y

  • The guy's a crock (Score:4, Informative)

    by sl3xd (111641) * on Monday April 09, 2007 @12:22PM (#18664377) Journal
    Considering I've got almost everything mentioned in the article. (I don't have Blu-ray, and I chose HD DVD because it has less restrictive DRM-- that and I see Sony as the Microsoft of consumer electronics)

    I think I'm able to make a decent comparison:

    HD DVD & Blu-ray use the same codecs (in many cases, there was only one encode, which was then copied to both discs), and bitrates well above human perception-- they look and sound identical.

    Xbox Live Marketplace is only 720p, vs the 1080p of HD DVD & Blu-ray. (The difference between 720p and 1080p do exist, but you've got to sit pretty close to the screen to see them.) Movies are VC-1 encoded, and are about 6-8 GB in size, and are 'rentals.' You have to watch it within 14 days of 'renting' the movie, and you can only watch it for 24 hours after the first time you play it. The cost is somewhat hidden, as it is rented in terms of 'microsoft points', which you have to buy first. Why there's an additional level of indirection for xbox live purchases, I don't know.

    DVD is the standard most are familiar with. It's better than broadcast TV.

    And Apple TV is anywhere from TV Broadcast quality (obviously in cases where the source was broadcast quality), up to DVD quality. Movies are about 1.5-2 GB in size. And you buy the movie outright, and can watch it whenever you want, forever.

    So, to nobody's suprise, the Apple TV doesn't to full HD content -- and frankly, I'm fine with that. Most people forget that full HD would mean much larger downloads, and more hard disc space.

    Part of the 'joy' of the iTunes store is that you're able to download something in less time than it takes to go to the store and buy it. And at the moment, it takes a lot less time to drive to the store and buy a HD DVD than it does to download on consumer broadband.

    So in a few years, when there's higher speeds for consumer broadband, I can see full HD downloads, and an upgraded Apple TV. Apple is probably trying to build a new market, not compete in a pre-existing one.

    The Xbox suffers because it can take *forever* to download movies, because you can't keep the movies ('rental' only), and because Xbox Live Marketplace movies can't be transferred to a PC for storage. Apple TV works with both Mac and Windows (and is probably hackable for Linux use), where the 360 is strictly Windows-only. If you only use Windows, it's no big deal, but if you use something else, you're SOL.
  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Monday April 09, 2007 @12:46PM (#18664765)
    What a stupid review. he watches a "standard definition" video than complains that it looks "almost as bad as standard definition" and then blaim the Apple hardware. The trouble, if it is trouble, is wit the source. It's like looking at and old VHS tape and complaining that it looks like an old VHS tape.

    The root cause of this is that the Apple iTunes store sells only standard definition video. Watch something else.

    No, the real root cause of this is a writer looking for a topical, sensational headline. I'm sure he is not so stupid. He's just trying to earn a buck and editors suck up topical, sensational headlines. No the editors are not stupid either. They know it's crap but they know that this kind of crap sells. The root cause is the stupid readers who are suckered in by the headline
  • by Swift2001 (874553) on Monday April 09, 2007 @03:36PM (#18667021)
    Standard def for an NTSC encoded DVD is 720 x 480, which is a lot more than what Apple's selling now. Also the bitrate is 4000 bps encoding, which is a LOT more than the iTunes store sells. I went into an Apple store and noticed the problem immediately. Ironically, some of the podcasts show up very nicely. And go, modders! I want BitTorrent and Internet access on it.

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