Back when TVs were originally introduced things were pretty simple — you plug it in and start watching. But over the years it’s become an almost comical challenge to watch TV. The introduction of cable boxes, DVRs, and now streaming media (and their associated remotes) have all contributed to an experience that is broken and has been for a long time. The experience is ripe for simplification and I think Apple has the best shot at it. Remember the original iMac commercial (below)? Now imagine it as a commercial for the new Apple TV. There is no step 3.
If you want to get a sense of how complex it is to set up a fairly typical TV configuration, check out the play-by-play of my recent experience switching cable companies below. This was going to be my original post, but it’s about as tedious to read as it was to experience. Still, if you’re interested in how broken the TV experience is, read on…
The ordeal that is cable TV
Last week I got fed up with Comcast and decided to switch to another provider (Astound, if you’re curious). I was essentially getting the same services from the new provider as I got from Comcast, so this should have been a pretty straightforward process. The experience I will outline below is fairly typical and, in my mind, a fantastic example of why the world needs an honest to goodness TV from Apple.
“Hi, I’m on my way. I got a cable card for your Tivo. To be honest, I don’t now much about these, so I hope you can help me out.”
“I’ve set one up before when the last cable guy didn’t know how. I kinda remember the process.”
“Whew! That’s a relief! See you in a bit.”
I hop on the Web and search for Tivo + Cable Card on Astound. Lots of complaining about how hard it is to set up, how it never got set up, etc. Starting to look grim.
“Knock, knock! It’s the Cable Guy! Let’s set up your Internet first.”
Within 5 minutes, Internet is up and running. All I had to do was unplug and re-plug the power on my AirPort Extreme. Done (and it’s wicked fast!).
“I love this Apple stuff. Never have any problems. Now, here’s the cable card for your Tivo. Show me how this works.”
I plug in the cable card and see this:
“That’s funny. Maybe the card isn’t activated. Let me call the service desk.”
Several minutes later, they send a “signal” to the card. We check to see if we get channels. Success!
“I guess that’s it!”
“Yep, I guess so. Thanks!”
I say my goodbyes to the Cable Guy and he drives off. I start using the TV and realize that none of the channels match the guide. Some channels I’m supposed to receive aren’t there, the ones that are there have the wrong names, other channels just come up blank. I decide to call support to troubleshoot.
“I’m sending a signal to your cable card… Did that fix it?”
“No. No it did not.”
“Okay, I’ll send the tech back out to fix this.”
“Oh you mean the guy who doesn’t know anything about Tivo and cable cards? Good idea.”
I head to the Internet to find answers. After searching and clicking and digging for about 10 minutes I find what I’m looking for. Turns out I have to tell the Tivo which cable service I’m using. After giving Tivo the details, I’m presented with this:
It’s downloading program information for about 30 minutes using a 50mb Internet connection. It spends 90% of this time “preparing” — whatever that means.
Okay, now the lineup matches but I have dozens of non-HD channels, shopping channels, foreign language channels, public access channels and empty channels that I don’t want to see. Surely there must be a simple way to get rid of these?
Another search on the Tivo website tells me I can get rid of channels I don’t want, but there’s a catch. I have to remove them ONE-BY-ONE and I can’t see the channel content while removing channels, so I have to continually hop back and forth between watching TV and drilling into the menu to remove channels.
At this point, I’ve been setting up my TV service for about 4 hours and it’s still not right but it’s as close as I have the patience to endure. I’m done for now.
Now imagine your average consumer. They would almost certainly have given up as soon as they heard the words “cable card”. It shouldn’t be this hard. How should it work?
- Plug the TV into the wall
- Plug the coax cable into the back of the TV
- Plug the Ethernet cable into the back of the TV (or configure wireless)
- Turn on the TV and enjoy
I should not have to see standard definition channels when I get those same channels in HD. I should be able to remove channels while I’m watching them, and not have to drill into a menu. I should be able to favorite channels while I’m watching them. I should be able to configure all of my streaming services from a computer, smartphone or tablet so that I don’t have to use the stupid on-screen keyboard on the TV.