AppleTV part 2: fairly usable?

This year’s Macworld keynote left me giddy with excitement about Apple’s new offerings. But I’m not talking about the MacBook Air … I’m talking about the AppleTV.

Yes yes, I know – the AppleTV has been around for quite awhile now, I’ve already posted about it once, and anyway all Apple really gave us was a (free!) software update and more storage space. But that’s the brilliant part! The AppleTV was meant to be simple … to do one thing (give me access to iTunes via my TV) and to do it easily and well. All that was really missing was enough storage space so that I could be lazy and sync my entire iTunes collection to my AppleTV, instead of going through and choosing 40GB of my most favoritest media.

For educational / informational / instructional technologists, who often need to provide students and faculty access to a vast array of digital materials on a daily basis, this isn’t a matter of laziness. Our language a/v files don’t take up a ton of space on our CMS because we’re lazy or disorganized. It’s because each textbook has its own ancilliary materials, and then there’s the student video projects going back ten semesters, and SCOLA videos, and high-res photos from a Russian Culture course, and hundreds of podcasts, and, and, and – you get the idea. It’s not like we can shove this stuff in storage; believe it or not, it gets USED. And it can’t be gone for more than a week before someone’s darkening my doorway asking where did that Russian student video about a squirrel from 2001 go … ? Besides, disk space is CHEAP. Why should I have to pick and choose?

So, at first glance, the AppleTV seems like a shoo-in. But I do have some concerns:

  • Network access:
    The AppleTV has a built-in wireless card, and we have full wireless coverage in our lab, but it can be flaky (as with any wireless network) depending on line-of-sight, number of concurrent users, and even that day’s foliage density. (I wish I were kidding.) It also has a built-in ethernet port, but then I’m slave to the location of live ethernet ports relative to the location of the TV or projector.
  • Security:
    I’m not too concerned about software security; the AppleTV’s parental controls should be enough to prevent students from downloading first-run movies on the College’s dime. I’m more concerned about hardware security. I don’t see a spot for a laptop-esque lockdown cable, and how in the world am I going to keep track of that tiny Apple Remote, especially in an A/V equipped classroom?
  • Portability:
    Our faculty -love- being able to run up to our lab five minutes before class, grab a movie from our collection, and show a clip of it to their students. Although having an AppleTV with said film accessible in the classroom would save them a trip to our center, I wonder if the faculty would have full access to DVD menus (including chapter selection, language & subtitle selection, etc).
  • Copyright & Fair Use:
    This is my biggest concern. It’s clear that making a copy of something for archival purposes is permissible under copyright law. But as I understand it, it’s not permissible to change the format of something (converting a video from PAL to NTSC, for example). So, if I were to rip a DVD to a Quicktime file, put the DVD in storage, and “check out” the .mov out to students via an AppleTV – am I breaking copyright? What happens if I sync multiple AppleTVs with one iTunes library? Now I’ve got multiple digital copies of a movie floating around, and only one license to cover them all. Can I tell iTunes to only allow one AppleTV access to a file at a time?

Anybody else – concerns, questions, comments?

Ryan has been proudly maintaining and contributing to Language Lab Unleashed since 2005, and is the current President of SWALLT. Since the summer of 2013 he's been causing trouble with his all-star colleagues in the UMW DTLT; when not wrangling websites Ryan can be found doing strange things with heavy objects.

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  1. itsalljustaride · March 9, 2008 Reply

    Might also check out the Mvix MX-780HD. Same deal as Apple TV, but has true 1080p capability, is open source (runs a small linux kernel) and uses regular 3.5″ drives (easy replacement).

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