As a long term user of an Apple TV (useful when hacked) and reading recently about the Google TV and adapter boxes to come, as well as other ventures into merging “internet Video” and “The lounge room experience”. These approaches almost always have a 20′ interface: one that can be read from the comfy chair remote from the screen.
Apple’s minimalist approach certainly fits that screen factor, but there’s no real way to get Internet content there, other than where there’s a special deal, such as with the YouTube access. But here we run into the fundamental problem with this kind of interface: try searching for a video in YouTube, or heaven forbid (if you’ve hacked the Apple TV with ATV Flash to get a browser), actually typing in a URL!
Yahoo and Google want to bring a “social” presence to the big screen, as do Boxee and others, but I think they’re fundamentally going about it the wrong way.
Why do we watch TV on that big screen anyway? I think there are two fundamental reasons why we watch TV on a big screen instead of a computer screen (and one of them may indeed be bogus): a bigger image and watching socially.
In our household we have an old G4 laptop that serves as the primary media server via an Apple TV to the biggest screen in the house: in the living area. We frequently watch shows on our computer screen instead of the big screen, particularly when it’s a show I might enjoy, but my partner may not. Or I watch old TV episodes while scanning slides or processing images. But we watch some TV together and when we do that, we watch it on the big screen. Why? Because we’re watching communally.
When I’m watching TV communally I’m already involved in a little social networking with the person, or people, across the room. If I wanted to tweet my approval (or not) of a particular program, I wouldn’t want to do that on the communal screen, I’d do it on a personal screen: in my case my laptop.
The big screen argument may well be bogus: where I’m sitting right now I have a view of our main TV and my laptop screen and my laptop screen takes up approximately 4x more of my field of view than the TV. I would have a bigger screen experience watching on my laptop at 3′ than a big TV at 20′. So, for a lot of content, it’s really only the social aspect that requires the large TV.
I simply don’t want Twitter/Facebook etc. on the program screen. (That big TV.) And I don’t really ever want to explore web video on a big screen TV display without a keyboard or better input device.
And the it hit me: Apple and Google (et al.) are going about it the wrong way. The program goes on the big screen. Period. The interface is on our laptop, or iPhone, or iTouch, or (the killer one) an iPad. All have a keyboard for easy entry of urls and search; there are social applications that work just fine on those existing screens.
Trying to put the interface on a screen 20′ away without a keyboard (and wireless keyboards aren’t really an option) is just wrong: not only is it the wrong place, I don’t want to clutter my program communally (which presumably I’m watching because I enjoy it) with social media that’s personal.
The two screen approach makes much more sense. Put the program on the screen – uncluttered like the program’s director intended – and put the control and any desired interactivity on another screen. An iPad would seem to be perfect for this, but since I don’t plan on getting one, an iPhone or iTouch or Laptop could also run the interface anywhere on the same local area network.
It turns out that an interface designed for a 20′ experience works equally well as a 2′ experience, but with touch and keyboard at hand.
Ironically a display designed for 20′ all works well at 2″ on a smaller display.
In the discussion about Flash-on-iDevices following yesterday’s post it occured to me that not only was there no Flash on the iPhone, et al., but there was no QuickTime either!
Not what QT was at least. The iDevices support H.264 video and AAC audio, primarily in a MPEG 4 file wrapper (although some devices will play H.264/AAC in a MOV wrapper) that is really not what QuickTime has been. (More below). Try playing a Sorenson video file on an iPad. What about QuickTime interactivity (Wired Sprites)? Ever seen a QT VR play on an iPhone?
Of course not. QuickTime is not supported on any Apple device other than desktop and laptop computers. I also believe that the QT I loved and evangelized heavily late last Century is destined for the scrapheap. It’s been increasingly obvious, since around 2002/2001 that Apple decided that the future of web video was MP4: open standards. Initially they supported the MPEG-4 Simple Profile (just MPEG-4 in Apple’s world) in QuickTime 6 and then H.264 – the Advanced Video Codec from MPEG 4 Part 10.
Now, a lot of MPEG-4 is adopted from QuickTime. Apple donated the QT container to the MPEG group for consideration as their container format. Because of that MPEG-4 can do pretty much anything that QT could do, except there are very few implementations of anything beyond basic video playback. So with the QT container at the center of MPEG-4 it was easy for Apple to adopt and support this evolving (at the time) technology.
So QuickTime became the pre-eminent MPEG-4 player. When it came to the Apple TV, iPhone, iTouch and now iPad, the decision was made to only support simple MP4 playback. When QuickTime X was announced it referenced “the experience of the iPhone video” suggesting that QuickTime X was a different approach. When it was released it’s clear that QuickTime X will be the next generation of consumer-facing video playback.
So I expect that QuickTime X will never get the advanced features that QuickTime currently has. There’s no business model for it within Apple, which was always the problem with QuickTime. Frankly that Apple never provided a development environment was why Flash was able to so quickly “take over”. Remember that in QuickTime 6, Flash 5 was a supported media type. (Support was dropped because of security concerns with that version of Flash.) It took Flash to version 8 before it equalled all the features of QuickTime 3! (Seriously).
Few people made use of the advanced features of QuickTime. Our Australian company was one of them, making all the movies for the DV Companion for Final Cut Pro, and most of the other Intelligent Assistants with QuickTime wired sprite animations so the file size was acceptable. We were in the era of small hard drives after all. There was never a development environment from Apple: Totally Hip stepped up with our development environment (LiveStage Pro). Had there been a business model within Apple for QuckTime then the story of the web would have been different.
The advanced features in QuickTime have had no development since, well, QuickTime 4 (before the return of Jobs to Apple). I believe, without proof, that there was a fundamental shift within Apple around that time to, really, abandon the features they could get no return on, and make QuickTime the best MPEG-4 player; a great architecture for creating media and the foundation of their total media strategy. Without the advanced features, because, by this time Flash had “won” the interactivity war.
And I’m OK with that. QuickTime – MOV distribution – served Apple well and continues to power their iLife applications and Professional Video and Audio applications, but without the features that it had, and no longer needs. Apple are always “good” at dumping technology that no longer meets their need. I think it’s one of Jobs’ strengths.
I also believe Apple are being consistent by not allowing Flash: it’s on a par with their own technology also not getting on the platform.
Recent reports suggest Apple are pushing content owners to subscriptions or 99c TV shows to co-incided with the launch of the iPad. While that’s a start, it’s nowhere near far enough.
Apple gave us back the FireWire connection on the 13″, upgrading it to MacBrook Pro status, but removed the ExpressCard34 slot on both models. And a little bit on QuickTime X.
In trying to change Apple’s iTunes pricing NBC have managed to move themselves out of the only digital distribution channel that was making money for them. Was it about the pricing? What is a fair price for a TV show?