Still the Apple TV set rumor trundles on

Blog | Jan. 5, 2012

Macrumors mentioned Reports of 50″ Apple Television in Jonathan Ive’s Lab and by now I’m worried that, like shoehorning Superman into Dark Knight Rises, something dumb is going to happen because enough insane fans demanded it.

So far, the evidence we have of Apple building a TV are rumors of a 32″ TV, the aforementioned Brit who has a 50″ TV at work, and hundreds of Apple bloggers who need a persistent rumor to talk about.

While I maintain that Apple doesn’t need to make a TV to succeed in the home entertainment space anymore than Microsoft needs to make an Xbox TV, holy shit does the home entertainment user interface need an overhaul. After my epic journey choosing the right home theater receiver, I tried setting it up as simply as possible, so it wasn’t a mumbo-jumbo of “Select input 1 on the receiver remote, switch the TV remote to AUX 2, and hit power to watch TV. To turn it off, press Off (not Power) on the TV remote, and the third red button under the back cover of the receiver remote.” — except that’s the exact solution I came up with.

Heywood Floyd had an easier time using the toilet. If ever there was a case that called for Apple-like simplicity, home theaters are it.

But here’s the situation we’re stuck in. Just as commodity PC and cellphone manufacturers choose to compete on specs, so do home electronics retailers. Samsung, Sony, LG, et al aren’t copying Apple’s simplicity of design — emulating a UI that got by with one mouse button for 15 years — they’re chasing features. Is the next TV internet-ready? Does it have WiFi? Support for Netflix, Facebook, Spotify? It’s a league of followers. Apple made a smart device with apps, therefore apps are the new thing. Nevermind the one most important thing Apple brings to consumer electronics is also the thing no one is crowing about copying: simplicity.

I want a TV that is easy to setup and use, that’s it. Just how Apple got by with a one-button mouse, home theaters should be managed by one remote; an easy way to manage my inputs so they just work. I want my TV picture to look like it’s supposed to, I want my movies to look and sound the way they do in the theater. I don’t want to have to scratch my head over whether it’s supposed to be Dolby Pro Logic II or THX, or whether I’ve set my TV to 60Hz or 24. That is the one huge target that every manufacturer seems to miss. But enjoy your web-connected TV apps, when you use them.

At the end of this, I have to wonder why current manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with Apple’s magical new TV, and also wonder why it always has to be Apple to come in and reinvigorate some ossified industry? You guys have been making flat panel TVs for twenty years, can’t you make one that’s simple to use?

The tipping point for me was when I recently helped two of my older friends setup their TV. As far as they knew, their picture just looked “funny”. Diving in, I was baffled by the array of options, their seemingly scattered placement over the controls, and the mix of settings for deep-level experts and casual viewers both. So I messed with the picture settings, the refresh rate and so forth, until I solved it. Everything looked fakey because the TV was playing it back at 60Hz, when it was a 24fps film. Turning that off got it back to normal. Since it was a Sony BluRay player connected to a Sony TV, why not have the BD player tell the TV to play back at the same refresh rate as the source video? Why are other refresh rates even an option?

Same goes for the picture color settings: there’s the TV setting, the movie look, the high-contrast look (if you want everything you watch to look like Saw), and settings for tinting the picture cooler or warmer to varying degrees. This is a TV, not a Hipstamatic. So after 15 minutes of trying to get the Mos Eisley Cantina to look right, I’m wondering why we need all these settings? Though he seems to always change his mind about what’s in the frame, surely at some point George Lucas had decided that he wanted the cantina walls to be a certain shade of rose, or cream, or tan. Why does the TV give me the option to watch with my own color settings? Amongst the variety of color settings, I see several wrong options for recreating the picture as it was intended. This is a case where more choice is a bad thing.

All I needed was a choice of what my ambient light is: 5600K? 3200K? Even color temperature numbers don’t mean anything to consumers. Why not the sun and lightbulb icons like on my camera, or automatically detect the color temperature of ambient light with a sensor? Oh right, that would cost extra.

Other settings are a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Frame blending, interpolation and juddering, specifically. While a de-juddering menu is meant to remove the “triple puck effect” of fast-moving objects appearing before and after their actual position, de-juddering creates a problem when you have repeated shapes moving past, like a fence or flight of stairs, which the TV incorrectly perceives as juddering. Turn de-juddering on and the steps become a static halo, turn de-juddering off and you have the triple-puck effect.

Why do we have juddering in the first place? If you’re watching a 60Hz signal on a 120Hz TV, the set should have two chances to draw the video per frame. There is no reason for fore-and-after images of a moving object if the screen is really being redrawn twice per frame. My guess is the screen isn’t refreshing the entire picture per frame. Hard to believe, a little white lie from the same people who brought us dynamic contrast ratio.

I mean, if you can’t do something, just say you can’t do it. Don’t try to patch it over with stupid features used to fake a good picture when you can’t provide the one you promised in the first place. Maybe that’s the nut Jobs “finally cracked” about the home entertainment industry.

Who watches the television?


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