I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. — Groucho Marx
We have been an Apple household exclusively for a long period of time. End-to-end Apple devices have served us well, despite the frequent transitions and the general growing pains that is and has been part of living in Apple’s ecosystem.
We recently bought a Vizio P-Series 4K UHD television. We didn’t think that buying a television would cause so much disruption in the ways we consumed our media, but before I get to that, a little background as to why we bought this particular television.
We abhor the so called Smart TV category, especially the kind that promotes 3D functionality. The 3D feature in television is a gimmick and the television manufacturers need to own up to it as such. Another thing that we really didn’t want was the ability to install apps. These so called features produce a shitty experience. Yes, even with a dongle like AppleTV (a bit more on this later) and Roku, it is a craptacular user experience; and also not how we use our television. This is where the Vizio television out paced every other manufacturer and stood on its own merits.
Our use case for a television is very simple and straight forward. Outside of ON/OFF, switching inputs, and perhaps volume, we do not want any interaction with the television. It is not my computer, nor my tablet, therefore, that interaction, even with dongles, is foreign at best on a television. Also ‘at a distant’ is built into the name of the thing!
None of the televisions came close to what we wanted. At the time we didn’t know much about Vizio as a company and their products. We had only heard anecdotal things about it. We were introduced to Vizio via The Wirecutter from one of their reviews with the whole ‘Vizio is recording your viewing history’ news that was going around at the time. That news did put us off, but after a bit of research, it turned out that all manufacturers are doing the same. Since the info is anonymously sent, at least as per Vizio, it was no longer a deal breaker for us.
All of that aside, the Vizio television offered the best overall quality and user experience. Which brings me to my earlier point about disrupting how we consumed our media.
Previously our media consuming habits included an AppleTV that streamed our entire collection of movies, TV shows and music using iTunes running on a Mac mini. A fair amount of the movies and all of our TV shows are tied to Apple iTunes because they are wrapped in Apple’s DRM. With an AppleTV and a Mac mini, we were living in Apple’s ecosystem, so the DRM was never a problem. During our moves, everything except the Mac mini went into storage. It was more useful to keep the Mac mini with us than an AppleTV. The Mac mini tied us over during our television research.
Recently the Mac mini broke down, it was a mid-2011 model and I couldn’t revive it. Looking to replace it with a new one from Apple, I was really disappointed, because Apple’s current offering have been crappy to say the least. It seems like Apple only wants to sell new wristbands rather than offer decent specs for their Macs (including the latest MacBook Pro line). Therefore, Apple made it really difficult for me to give them my hard earned cash; which brings me to my next point.
While we have cable and internet service via Comcast (story for another day), we have not hooked up our cable box. Our main sources of media are Netflix, HBO Go, and to a very small degree Amazon Prime. A fair amount of our media library is DRM encoded (read bought from iTunes); specifically all of Pixar/Disney movies that we watch over and over again, the rest of our media is DRM-free.
Given that, and that our Mac mini is now pushing daisies and we don’t have our AppleTV, what do we do now? We could watch everything on the our MacBook Pro, but that is a waste of a wonderful new television.
The disruption comes from our Vizio television. It came with a 6” Android tablet, running Android 5.1 (Lollipop), and has Google Cast built in. In a nutshell, the use case is that you use your device (or the tablet that came with the television, your choice) to browse/search for the media that you want to watch and then simply cast it to the television. This is by far the best concept for consuming media on a television. This makes it possible for the television user interface to be minimal and clean; which it is on our television. It also keeps the interactions where they belong, on your mobile device, where the user experience is optimized. It also does not hurt that the provided tablet is nice, sleek, and snappy.
This is where Apple, Roku, and Amazon lose out. Apple and Amazon do not support Google Cast for their respective platforms, and Roku at this point is just a third wheel.
The idea that your phone/tablet are the main device that you use to navigate/search/explore your media is refreshing. First, because the user experience is so much better on the device than it is on a television. Second, television is not meant for immersive interactivity! Why? Because you want to consume media on a television not fucking search/filter/navigate it! This whole concept of searching/navigating media on television stems from the early days of crappy cable boxes that vomited their ‘guides’ onto the television. Somehow that became the foundation for Apple, Amazon, Roku, and other wankers that offer similar products; but I digress… It is beyond my comprehension how the overwhelmingly majority of the manufacturers of television and those damn dongles (like AppleTV, Roku et al) have missed this point.
Therefore, we have decided to stop feeding platform lock-in (at least, for our media). All things considered, there are clear winners and losers, at least from our perspective:
Vizio for making a television that is in a class all by itself. A television that gets the user experience right and has on par or better picture quality than that of its expensive competitors.
Google for bringing Google Cast to the television without the baggage of a TV-OS. Also for providing its app on both iOS and Android to support Google Cast (Chrome on iOS being the exception).
Netflix, HBO Go, and all of the content providers that are supporting Google Cast across multiple platforms.
Disney for their Movies Anywhere service that lets us play our purchased Disney movies on both iOS and Android.
Apple because now they just want to make wristbands. Also because we can stream/cast our purchased movies from their platform to our television without requiring an AppleTV or physically connecting a Mac to the television.Roku because they are following Apple’s AppleTV lead.
Amazon because they are following Apple’s lead albeit without the vast ecosystem. However, for us, Amazon is not where we go to for our media consumption.