(These are some thoughts on how the ATV could grow beyond the streambox it is now.)

A lot of writers have thought on how the Apple TV set top box might become, variously, a full sibling in the iOS family, or a gamebox, or even a $99 PC. Many Apple-watching pundits have predicted these things as being right around the corner, for some years. But the ATV remains a streambox and nothing more.

Most of the speculation circles around how to control the thing, and the predominant wisdom runs that an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad would be the logical choice to serve as controller. But with AirPlay, if you have these devices, you can stream through the ATV to your HDTV set now … so why would you need or want to have the ATV be the workhorse and relegate your other iOS device (with likely more computing power onboard) as mere controller? Or, looking at it the other way, spending $99 on the ATV and then $230, $300, $500 or more on a ‘controller’ does not make a lot of sense financially.

So this is my idea: take the Apple trackpad, pair it through Bluetooth to the ATV and use it as controller.

This would mean changing things a little bit:

  • this trackpad would need to include an onboard gyroscope and accelerometer

  • the variant of iOS on the ATV would have to be modified to include an onscreen cursor (more than one, actually)

You would control the trackpad with thumbs, moving the thing, tilting it. The onscreen cursor(s) show where your touches would affect the graphics onscreen. Tapping the trackpad would constitute a screen tap in iOS.

Adding the gyroscope and accelerometer to the trackpad adds to its cost. I could see that these could add usefulness to the trackpad with a Mac, though. Adding the cursors etc. to the ATV flavor of iOS would be harder to do. Maybe it would be too much.

I still like the idea though.

Another thought: iOS v7 added support for external game controllers, and though the market is not great, and maybe the support Apple has offered so far is not very good, these things could be used with the ATV. I would imagine that going this route would not be feasible yet – it would need an iOS upgrade (v8 maybe) along with a decent list of games that support the controllers on iPads and iPhones, before bringing it along to the ATV.

Another problem for this whole concept is its complexity. Touching an iOS device is so simple and natural; that is the whole genius of doing without a stylus on a pentop computer. But the idea is getting complicated, even cumbersome, with all the special gestures now. Adding the game controller also Balkanizes the platform further (along with needing 1080p resolution support for the games).

03/10/14; 11:08:26 AM

Netflix wanted to start streaming movies and TV shows. According to Robert X Cringely, this was always Reed Hasting’s plan. So, the company started designing a set top box. But this was dropped on fears that a very jealous Apple would ban all Netflix apps from iOS if Netflix sold a box competing with the Apple TV. The box went on to be sold off and developed into the very popular Roku box.

So Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and others, are software only. This means that there is no local storage and the quality of the stream you see depends on how good your connection is, right now, to the internet. UHD 2160p is promised to be coming from Netflix, but how many people in the territories Netflix serves have the bandwidth (to say nothing of usage caps in monthly service) to support 2160p videos?

There is a better way and it involves a box and distributed TV.

This is how I imagine the box:

  • it has storage (or a connection a la USB to outboard storage)

  • it has a CPU, likely either an ARM or Intel Atom SoC

  • it runs a minimal OS, maybe embedded

  • on this OS it runs a sharing or peer to peer software

How would it work? Much like Netflix now

  • Online (and possibly through the box itself) you create and order a list of movies and TV episodes you want to watch

  • the top of your list is downloaded to your box

    • downloading takes place all the time, whenever you are connected, in the background

    • the files are encoded at h.265 or HEVC at very high bitrates, BluRay quality

  • when a movie is complete on your box, you can watch it

  • after you have watched a movie or TV episode, you can keep it on the box or delete it

    • delete a movie and it frees space to begin downloading the next item on your list

But how is this better than now?

  • The quality is higher

  • the video is not dependent on internet connection or quality once it has downloaded

More, the box OS and sharing software connects to all the other boxes in your network

  • that is, other subscribers who are also on your ISP

And the videos you have get passed along, all within your ISP’s network, to other subscribers who have those videos on their lists

Because the files are passed around in the background and at all times, the connections of the ISP are never choking on a big portion for this one application.

  • Currently in the US, Netflix takes up about 1/3 of all bandwidth in the evening “let’s watch something” hours

I imagine that ISPs would still want to block this or hold it up for ransom, so they would have to be made partners in the business.

Indeed, I have long believed that book publishers should offer all their books like subscription libraries and deal directly with readers; likewise movie distributors, producers, TV networks et al. should be doing this – big ISPs too. Get the ISP onboard with a taste of sugar (percentage of revenues) and they will devote more bandwidth to it.

The Netflix Box is another instance of decentralization. Decentralization is necessary for individual freedom. If the Netflix Box is combined with the Blogging Box, and if every user (client) is also a publisher (server) we will all be better off for it.

03/10/14; 07:24:30 AM

Last built: Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 9:41 AM

By SWP Pond, Monday, March 10, 2014 at 7:24 AM.