The Gaping Hole in the Apple TV

While I know the iPhone is going to dominate discussion around the Mac Web (and with good reason!) for awhile, I wanted to share some thoughts about Apple’s other product announcement today at Macworld – the Apple TV.

There's a lot to like about the Apple TV: it sports a plethora of connectivity options; its hard drive will cache and store content (ensuring smooth playback); it’s built with HD in mind; and its interface is dead sexy. With updates Apple could add functionality making more Internet content available (Youtube, anyone) and the offering only gets better. If I had a huge archive of iTunes movies and TV shows it’d be a no-brainer. But it’s not. Why? The Apple TV has one colossal downside: what do I do with my DVD collection?

Now, I know this isn’t the biggest problem. The Apple TV would, presumably, sit next to your already-existing DVD player, meaning you could still watch DVDs the way you always have. Plus, I wouldn’t want to clutter up such a nice set-top box with an internal DVD drive, so I’m not suggesting they go that route. What I’m wishing for is an Apple-branded and supported way of importing video into iTunes in the same way that iTunes imports audio from CDs. Just like CDs, DVDs are clunky! They scratch. They get lost. Pick up a few seasons of 24, The Simpsons and Battlestar Galactica and you’ve got a hundred DVDs scattered around your house. Want to watch a specific episode? Get hunting.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying importing this content would be easy, or even possible. What about DVD encryption? How would you deal with DVD menus? Even beyond that, though, there’s another problem, which you’ve probably already got a response for: “Hey! Idiot! Apple wants you to buy video from their store!” I get that. That’s obvious. I probably will! However, Apple didn’t remove CD ripping functionality from iTunes when they started the iTunes Music Store!

Without some way to import existing content into iTunes (for play with the Apple TV) Apple TV might be a non-starter: people won’t own enough Apple video content to bother paying $299 to play it (and only it) on a television set. Will this severely hamper the Apple TV? Is this a deal-breaker? I honestly don’t know – Apple’s media strategy has been remarkably successful lately, and therefore these problems might turn out to be minor. I do know one thing, though: iTunes was a helluva computer jukebox before it was a successful music store.

Update: Somebody pointed me to Flip4Mac’s DriveIn, which looks like it will do exactly what I want, and is currently in free public beta. Apple. Buy this NOW, and please make it available in iTunes 8. It’s perfect.

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