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Imagining an Apple television

Marco Tabini | Jan. 4, 2013
Rumors that Apple is working on some sort of television set never seem to die down. Speculation on this subject has abounded for years--including the occasional article here at Macworld--fueled most recently by Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs and noncommittally confirmed by his successor in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams.

By contrast, the cables that connect my computers to their peripherals have become easier to manage over time. Manufacturers have worked hard to reduce clutter and introduce interfaces that make it easy for multiple device to communicate with each other. As far as I'm concerned, Apple has a clear winner here with the Thunderbolt interface, which has more than enough bandwidth to carry high-quality audio and video and power at the same time, drastically reducing the cabling requirements of your entire A/V setup.

Of course, simply introducing a TV set with a Thunderbolt port won't make every other magically compatible with it; however, its advantages could fuel consumer demand for broader support, leaving electronic manufacturers with little choice but to follow suite.

Besides, Thunderbolt is not a proprietary Apple interface: It was developed by Intel, a brand with which the electronics industry is already intimately acquainted because of the HDCP digital rights management technology that pervades today's high-definition content. Through a well-managed licensing program, Intel and Apple could allow others to adopt Thunderbolt as a standard without feeling that their products would be subjugated to the latter's whims.

User experience

One of Thunderbolt's primary advantages is the fact that it allows up to six devices to be daisy-chained to each other. In part, this means that you are much less likely to run out of ports on your TV set the way you are today: A TV set with two ports could service up to twelve peripherals--plenty to satisfy even an unusually complex setup like mine. It also means, however, that devices can all communicate with each other, and that opens up a whole new way of interacting with your A/V gear.

The five remotes that I would normally need to operate all my electronics contain a grand total of 217 buttons. I know, because I counted them specifically for this piece. If my son wants to play with the Xbox, for example, he needs to first turn on the TV, tune it to a particular input, then turn on the audio system, tune that to a particular input, and, finally, turn on the console.

To simplify this NASA-worthy sequence of events, I purchased a universal remote--in my case a Logitech Harmony 900--and programmed it so that a single button would take care of everything. Still, it's an additional $230 purchase just so that turning on my TV doesn't take longer than watching a show.

This entire user-experience paradigm, proof that dinosaurs once roamed the Earth, is a throwback to a time where "watching TV" actually meant dealing with the set itself to tune in to the proper channel. These days, however, we treat the tube more like a monitor, and the interaction happens with the devices that we attach to it, making the process considerably more complicated.


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