Cut cable with AppleTV?
September 6, 2010 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Is Apple TV the silver bullet I need to kick Comcast to the curb once and for all? Or is it an overhyped device that I have no need for? Help me decide to save or spend $100...

We don't watch much in the way of TV programming, we watch 7 prime time network TV shows spread across NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX. Plus we enjoy some of HBO's shows like Big Love, True Blood etc. In the morning we do enjoy watching the local news as we get ready for work. Primarily our TV is used for incidental watching, just channel flipping to see whatever is on.

We also watch quite a number of movies from Netflix streaming through our TiVo.

Yet despite this, we spend about $100 a month on television. Our high def cable package with HBO is $80/month and then we have two TiVos for an additional $18/mo.

Apple TV looks like a great device for us, to finally allow us to cut the cable. Our thought is cancel cable, cancel Tivo. We could rent some of our shows for $0.99 per episode, buy some of the others. And for our incidental watching, our thought is we can take our library of TV-on-DVD that we never actually go through the trouble to dig out the disc and put in the player, rip them, and store them on our local server to watch on Apple TV.

The instant from any computer on our network to iTunes seems like a great feature, but we do also want to watch our first run stuff.

So we're looking at getting an Apple TV and cutting cable, but am I believing in this device too much? Given that only 2 networks are on the 99-cent rental plan, will we be saving any money?

And would we be better off spending more up front and getting one of the new Mac Minis with HDMI output? Is there anything the Apple TV can do that the Mac Mini can't? (Can the Mac Mini play anything on any computer on our network instantly? Can I send my iPad display to the Mac Mini?)
posted by arniec to Technology (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Truthfully you would be better off not using an AppleTV but a HTPC or a different box. Though an Mac Mini would be way smarter than an Apple TV.

With the Mac Mini you can load Boxee or Plex, both systems that are infinitely more expandable than (atleast what was announced) Apple TV. You could still rent the shows through iTunes and then just watch them on the Mac Mini. The Mini will also allow you to store files on it, rather than just stream like the Apple TV

The AppleTV can also not do 1080p, only 720p.
The mini will pull 1080p

Yes with the right program tha Mac Mini can play anything on your computer "instantly"

iPad display to Mac Mini I'm not entirely certain about. I imagine there is an app for that. You could VNC in for sure.
posted by lakerk at 8:06 AM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you want to watch anything live or on the night it airs, it's not a great choice.

It basically comes down to this, a cable or satellite subscription makes it easier to watch/record your TV than pretty much any other way.

If you want to lower your costs, but spend a more time tracking down your TV shows, then something like the Apple TV might work for you. But you might need a dedicated media computer to allow you to watch TV via the web (think using Hulu on your television directly).

Remember that at this time only ABC & Fox have signed up for Apple TV. More are likely to jump on board, but it will be a bit. Remember, it took Hulu a while to cut it's deals too.

Between relying on free over-the-air TV and combination of downloaded, streamed, and purchased content, you can put together a reasonable bit of television programming. You'll need very good broadband download speeds or you will be waiting a long time even if you rent the shows via the Apple TV.

I think the future will open up significantly for this kind of thing, but right now, interlocking business deals making it exceedingly tough to make very popular content that is paid for now, like HBO/Showtime/ESPN to be made available for free or ala carte. Cable/satellite distributors are willing to pay to keep the content exclusive.

Good luck.

Disclosure: I work for Disney/ABC in television technology.
posted by Argyle at 8:12 AM on September 6, 2010

Might be worth seeing if you can downgrade your cable to just broadcast channels. Or see if you can get any channels over the air.
posted by smackfu at 8:19 AM on September 6, 2010

So I've played with a lot of the boxes out there. I'm partial to the Roku, no iTunes but Amazon offers the exact same deals. I might wait a bit if I were you for Hulu Plus comes out of beta, since that gives you a cheap subscription model to a lot of content - as opposed to ala-carte which can add up quick.

The answer to your question really depends on what shows you watch regularly, you might want to go a hybrid approach - cut down to basic cable for <>
BTW if you intend to be primarily streaming content to your box via the internet then the 720 vs 1080 argument becomes a bit less valid,there's very few services that are supporting 1080 IP streaming yet, the bandwidth to the home just isn't there.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:20 AM on September 6, 2010

Engadget ran a good comparison of the Apple TV vs Google's offering. I think it's a great point the writer makes that Apple TV is meant to replace the second input on your TV, not the first one
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 8:50 AM on September 6, 2010

Mac Mini with Plex is what I use to avoid cable TV, never had cable TV since moving out of my parents' house several years ago.
posted by Brian Puccio at 9:02 AM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have comcast. We cut our service back to the really basic level, just the major broadcast stations and a few shit channels comcast throughs. Then we upped our internet bandwidth through Comcast (250 gig a month) and got streaming netflix, which goes through our computers, mobile devices and Wii. Result? Endless options to watch TV and our cable bill is $40 less a month.

No, we don't have Apple TV or any other similar device at this time. For now, we're quite happy with streaming netflix.
posted by nomadicink at 9:27 AM on September 6, 2010

We ditched cable well over a year ago and now use a combination of over-the-air for network programming, and iTunes Season Pass for shows that aren't on network.
Currently, my Macbook Pro serves as the source for iTunes, but I am considering getting the new Apple TV.
The only thing I miss about cable is watching tennis.
posted by nickthetourist at 9:34 AM on September 6, 2010

Free to air! Power to the people!

500 channels and not a bill to pay, after you buy the initial equipment. Yes, you might not get the Superbowl, as the satellite companies scramble the signal for big events, but people can usually get HBO, Showtime, and all that stuff.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:36 AM on September 6, 2010

Also keep in mind that Amazon totally owned Apple by taking all the TV shows that Apple offers for rental for 99 cents and putting them on sale for 99 cents on the same day the Apple TV was announced.
posted by azarbayejani at 10:19 AM on September 6, 2010

I've got rabbit ears for TV (we've got an analog TV), and a Roku for Netflix streaming. Roku/Netflix combo is amazing -- just 9 bucks a month and we are never out of things to watch.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 10:57 AM on September 6, 2010

If you want broadcast TV and movies, you might be better off with Apple TV. Dropping Comcast and buying an Apple TV instead is exactly what I plan to do. Here's my thinking:

Renting instead of buying TV show episodes: It's TOTALLY a non-issue for me. The idea of paying for a free TV show seems silly, but I am a casual TV watcher at best. I doubt I'll ever rent a show on Apple TV and even if I did, an episode of a TV show isn't like a song. I can listen to music again and again and again, but once I've seen an episode of a TV show, I know the story, so I really don't need to see it again. If I were going to buy TV shows, I'd wait for the DVD and buy entire seasons. If you're reading this and thinking "Me too!" then I'd bet you'll love an Apple TV box.

For me, it's all about trading one form of content for another. I don't subscribe to Netflix yet, but an Apple TV and Netflix instead of Comcast seems like a great way to save money and get better content: Movies I will watch instead of a trillion TV channels that I don't watch.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:16 AM on September 6, 2010

It is a bit overhyped in that the major feature is the rentals for $0.99, which isn't even really an Apple TV feature. The rest of the features like Netflix and Youtube are available in existing devices like the Roku which costs less. And what is the chance that TV rentals will be restricted to the iTunes stores for long, given that Amazon already has movie rentals and the networks really hate giving Apple a monopoly?

I do suggest adding Netflix to your plans. It's only $9 a month and there is a ton of old TV content to watch instantly. Yes, you can rip all your DVDs but that is kind of a pain for TV shows and it's so easy via Netflix.

It will also be interesting to see if they add Hulu to the Apple TV.
posted by smackfu at 11:47 AM on September 6, 2010

My advice: ditch cable, TiVo. Get a decent antenna so you can watch broadcast if you feel the urge.

Do you have a laptop? Hook that up to your TV if you feel the urge to watch something on Hulu you missed, or decided to rent. If you find yourself hooking up the laptop often enough, then consider buying a dedicated device. First though allow yourself the opportunity to decide whether you "need" all those TV choices, or whether you'll find better things to do with your time.

Me? I have an old analog tuner card vie never used because figuring out the antenna situation was never that pressing. When the analog tv phase-out happened, I bought a friends dual stream networked DTV tuner, but again, it sits unused because I didn't want to work out the antenna situation and my wife decided she didn't really miss broadcast tv. We've never had cable -- every time we've been tempted, we've been reminded that thee still isn't anything good on, but you've to go through more channels to figure that out.

We have made use of netflix streaming, hulu, and the rare downloadable purchase from amazon or iTunes. If there was an inexpensive box that could do both hulu and netflix, I'd probably buy it in an instant. One problem though is that to view hulu on a device, you need to pay $10/month for HuluPlus, which kind of negates some of the cheapness. The same is, of course, true of netflix, but we already had subscription to use that anywhere. We use an old PC hooked to our TV. It works pretty well, but it is bulky, and dealing with netflix in a browser kind of sucks. The best solution for me right now is probably to run Windows home ultimate, which I may do.

Anyway, my point is, if you are looking to rething your home entertainment spending, why not go further than planned and figure out how much tv you really need. By that time, hopefully there will either be better choices of devices or you'll realize the cost of a media center PC is worth while to you.
posted by Good Brain at 12:14 PM on September 6, 2010

I have a PS3 which I can use for both Hulu Plus/NetFlix. However I am thinking of getting the mini mac just to be able to save some shows/movies to watch them later. I dont think that apple tv is the answer to your questions.
posted by The1andonly at 6:34 PM on September 6, 2010

Response by poster: I didn't realize that Hulu Plus was available on the PS3. I have a PS3.

So if I take Netflix + Hulu Plus + Apple TV, does that improve the equation?
posted by arniec at 6:44 AM on September 7, 2010

The Apple TV cannot play Hulu Plus.
posted by Monochrome at 7:29 PM on September 9, 2010

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