The Poor Man’s Apple TV

When I first learned about the 2010 Apple TV, I thought it was an amazing. This device represented an opportunity for Apple to truly enter the living room — with a gaming console. Apple’s iTunes App Store is already putting fear into Nintendo. The biggest threat to the Wii and the Nintendo DS is not from Sony or Microsoft, but from Apple. With 99¢ games and ubiquitous Apple hardware, Nintendo is in trouble. The Apple TV can literally be a game-changer. But instead, the latest version of Apple TV has been rather wimpy.

Apple could have ripped open the gaming market last Christmas. The PlayStation 3 and the XBOX 360 were trying to catch up to the Wii’s motion-control gaming. The PlayStation Move is a joke. It’s like a phallic lollipop.  I don’t want that thing in my home. Microsoft’s Kinect looks cool, but I’m not ready to spend $300 for the XBOX 360 / Kinect combo. That’s a lot of money, especially considering that it might end up like my Wii — collecting dust. The Apple TV could have been a welcomed accessory to my living room. At $99, it’s a cheap gadget. I would have bought it. Except, it doesn’t really do anything.

Feature list:

  • HD Movie and TV Show Rentals
  • Netflix and YouTube Streaming
  • iTunes Music and Photos

That seemed familiar to me. I already have a device that performs similar functions. It’s an iPhone. Why would I want to spent money on Apple TV when it’s like an underpowered iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. The Apple TV doesn’t have a screen and isn’t meant to go anywhere. It’s just a thing that connects to a TV… and it doesn’t even include the HDMI cable to do even that. Sure, I have an extra HDMI cable, but I realized a different kind of cable would be better a solution — a component cable for my iPhone.

Instead of spending $99 on an Apple TV, I could spent $30 on a cable that would turn my iPhone into something similar. I call this the Poor Man’s Apple TV. Within moments of receiving the cable, I had it hooked up to my TV and I was watching Netflix. The picture quality was pretty good too. While not perfect replacement for an Apple TV, it’s good enough.

The limitations are minor. For example, Apple actually locks out screen display for most applications. No, I didn’t jailbreak my phone. But even on an unmodified iOS device, some things can get through. It’s a bit of a hassle to change movies. I actually have to stand up and walk over to the iOS device. Since I was using a laptop on my living room TV, the iPhone is actually a more elegant Netflix player. Another annoying issue – notifications. If you’re in the middle of a good movie, a sudden text message can ruin the mood.

These problems are software related. Apple could add better support for hooking up an iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch to the TV. Yet, that would probably hurt Apple TV sales. But since an Apple TV is not ready to play games — at least not yet — I decided to save money.

There are five connections — two audio and three video. The cable I have even includes a USB port, for charging the iOS device.

Component vs. Composite – These two words are so close together, that I still get confused about the difference. Basically Component is better, as it uses three cables for video. A composite cable to connect your iOS device will work too, but the picture quality will likely be diminished.

I’m not sure what Apple is waiting for. Either iOS should have better TV support or the Apple TV should have better features. While the Mac App Store is a nice addition for the desktop computers, that’s not really a revolutionary step forward. An App Store for Apple TV, I think that’s more revolutionary. Such a creation would likely shake up the TV and gaming industry. Instead of paying $60 for a PS3 game, I’m imaging games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Brids on my TV.

What’s missing? Apple’s version of a Wiimote is the only missing hardware. That would raise the cost of an Apple TV to about $150. That’s still $75 cheaper than a Wii. Apple could enter the console wars – and dominate! What are they waiting for?

Also, if TV channels could release their own TV apps, that would side-step the cable companies. The fabled à-la-carte tv shopping could become a reality. Channels could be like apps. What if I could buy access to channels separately? What if cable channels released these apps for free, as a way to attract more viewers? Wouldn’t the increased competition ultimately lead to a cheaper cable bill?

I don’t know. So for now, a $30 cable and an iPhone is doing the job of an Apple TV.