Paul pointed us to Cringley's latest mac mini predictions.
I'd be happy to rent movies on demand via a Mac Mini. This is what I've been on about with the silliness around Netflix physically mailing digital content.
My two cents:
I think the proposition that online downloaded HD movies could take off is possible. But I also agree with J that this Mac machine is missing the MAIN component to do this, optical digital output. But this is practically the only obstacle to being a media player component. With this functionality is could be the online equivalent of a DVD player and a CD player - but not a TIVO box. Since TIVO is already seeing the writing on the wall as it starts getting competition from the cable companies, it doesn't really make sense for Apple to try and enter that market now. It would be an interesting approach, however, not to even try and compete with a Media Center or TIVO solution however. An online movie service modeled like ITunes would be just the ticket.
One thing that is very interesting to consider... The movie industry is very scared of DIVX, bit-torrent and one piracy in general. They are not hit has hard as the music industry yet, but they are beginning to respond in the same way. They, however, are on the edge of a new generation of a new era – HD. This gives them the ability to obsolete the 'cracked' DVD format by offering something better. The music industry doesn't really have the same ability. The Movie giants are currently engaged in a format war, but I suspect there is another internal conflict brewing – copy protection / control in general. I actually think that the idea of delivering movies directly to the consumer and bypassing the disc altogether would appeal to them. They could put stronger DRM on it for one, and tie it to users to avoid 'sharing'. They could also bypass the distribution channel. At a minimum they could bypass the format war, or at least get a head start on it.
Now for the reality… and I think Cringley missed this. Users just don't have the bandwidth to make this practical today or in even in the next few years. I've downloaded movies from Movielink etc, and you really need significant bandwidth to make this work. And these movies are sub-DVD quality; typically only around 500Mb. HD movies on the other hand are going to be Gigabytes! This is whole reason for the new format – they won't fit on the 8G DVDs we currently have! How long would a user really be willing to wait to watch the movie they just bought? Also I personally doubt that the mini is the box to be targeted at this, although it is close (audio, hard drive size mostly). Also if someone told me they found a secret IR transceiver on the front for a remote control I might re-consider.
I think that the Mac Mini isn't there yet for doing movie downloads. It's a prototype, with enough disk space for your average music lover, but not enough for storing movies.
But, I expect the feature set to iterate quickly on this thing as people buy it. I think it will be an organic transition from mini-desktop to media center. This makes more sense than the current Microsoft approach to Windows Media Center which is to build this super fancy hub that no one except hard core people have a use for. "You can display pictures on your TV! And play MP3s!" Meh. My PC does those things better than my TV.
I think the 3rd party add-on market is going to have a field day with the Mac Mini. The uses for this thing will be market and user driven. Podcasting wasn't designed by Apple, bloggers got into it.
If they did decide to do movie downloads, I imaging that (as Cringely mentioned), the first set of movies available will be all the Pixar films. Now that would be cool, and the demand would be insane.
I have to get to bed early tonight, so that I can get to the Apple store before it opens (9am, one hour earlier than usual) and line up for the kool-aid!
I don't think Apple will do a media center box, at least not one that resembles today's media center pc. I expect Apple's solution will include a digital hub (i.e., the pc) for storage and general purpose computing. But it won't be in your living room. Content will be streamed to your TV from the local digtal media storage or directly from iFlix. Yes, streaming to media extenders is exactly what Microsoft is selling today, but Apple will have a solution that blows away the current concept. Like a wireless wall wart with video and audio out. Think Airport Express (http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/) for video.
One comment to John, don't look for IR on an Apple system. Think bluetooth or wifi. IR is so last millenium.
Yeah, IR is the new beige.
You guys are so funny, I think apple would do a wired remote (with stylish white wires though) before they would do a bluetooth or wifi remote. At any rate a lot of this theory does not make sense. I guess we will see. I suspect we will at least know how Sony is tied into this by the time the next drop of OS X rolls out. To be honest I'm actually more surprised that Microsoft doesn't have a big imovie style store in the works. Not that I would know. But MS at least already has all the pieces in place; media center PC, Xbox Extender, and a portable media player. All that is missing is a big movie on demand store to keep it all fed. In this regard Apple would be way behind.
"Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." The network isn't going to be there for a while for DVD quality movie downloads. It takes about 24 hours completely hammering your connection for a popular 700mb file to come down over bittorrent. DVD and HD DVD at their larger size will take much longer, and anything but new releases will not take advantage of the "torrent" nature of why bittorrent scales. Bandwidth costs will be much more than bulk-letter rate for companies to send out DVDs. I actually think delivery through the mail was and is a great idea for movies. BTW, nothing has come of the Netflix and TiVo partnership, and they're best positioned to implement this.
On demand and mail could be combined, however. You could order DVDs that were actually encrypted and burned on the fly to a DVD and mailed to you to keep for $5 or whatever. This would be a feasible way for movie companies to DRM every DVD release, similar to how iTunes are locked to a user. Disc format is much better than having to spin up a terabyte of storage for the HD-DVDs I've downloaded. This also solves the small storage problem of the mac mini.
As for mac mini - it's a stepping stone. I don't think it was designed for any one thing at this point. The hot device this year is networked media players, so this sort of plays in that space. I agree that it's more likely apple will let peripheral makers add on to this thing, and then take the best ideas for an upgrade next year. I could also see an add-on box from Apple (or Sony) that adds optical out, remote control, HD and other media features. Once you have one of these things, and they come out with a $400 add on for media capabilities, they'll be back to their old profit margins again. They'll either have people upgrading to media version or upgrading to a G5 desktop.
In regard to torrent and bandwidth. I don't see the torrent model working for a commercial 'on-demand' service. It seems the right distributed model, but it depends on machines etc outside of the companies control. Also like you noted it is still too slow. Mostly I think due to the limited upstream bandwidth of most users. I think the answer for commercial is just brute force, tons of servers and tons of bandwidth.
I have downloaded a couple of movies from Movielink, and they seem to be able to keep up with my 3mb dl speed. So the comcast speed increase will help out here. MovieLink is now offering what they call (EQ) movies. These are twice as big as their normal movies, and are encoded VBR with 1.3mb average. These movies are far from HD though. They are still less than DVD quality and I've seen many a Divx that looked better. But it is a good start. There are a few other services doing this as well.
One this I agree with Cringley on is that downloading a movie needs to be at least as fast as getting in the car and driving to the rental store in order to be successful.
This may well be Apples plan but the bandwidth does not exist (at least for for the average consumer). I'm not sure I would use it either way. As for remote control I would go with bluetooth. You don't want your neigbor changing the channel after all. I think the Imac Mini was designed with a few uses in mind. A cheap second commputer for J (and others I supose) and as a component for... this has all the ports it needs to hook up a tv and radio receiver. The DVI connector will work great with the new TV's. Thats probably where I would put it if I got one.
New week, new article:
He just won’t let this go. He has a counter for every flaw in his original theory. Now he is saying, hey maybe the firewire port will be the digital audio out, and hey just maybe this thing can do 720p decoding just like it’s big brother the G5. Oh and with good enough DRM you will just burn your downloaded movies to DVD to keep from filling up the ‘mini’ hard drive. And the final stretch; maybe the reason Comcast is increasing its bandwidth is so Apple can stream movies to the mini faster. That is a lot of ‘maybes’. Yes all this is plausible, but it seems just a little far fetched to me. There are some interesting tidbits to gather from all this Mac Mini hype and speculation however: 1. Small form factor computers can be cool. People are already inventing all kinds of things to do with them. With any luck the PC will wake up and bring some similar products to market soon (imitation is fine with me). I know many manufacturers have already tried this but maybe Apple will make the idea ‘popular.’ 2. The fact that so many people are coming to the same conclusions on how you could use a product ‘like’ the mini (but not exactly the min) to sell, distribute, and play movies is an indication on some level of what consumers really ‘want’. The fact that so many have been able to articulate a business model that actually seems possible is impressive. I doubt that this is Apples true secret plan, but they would be dumb not to wake up and start paying attention to this idea. If they don’t someone else will.
I really like the idea of a mini computer. The Mac mini is smaller than it looks in pictures, when you see it in person it is shockingly small.
I hope this starts a trend of small PCs and Macs. While I'd love a G5, I'm not going to buy a tower, and I really don't need expansion. A Mini-G5 would be perfect for me.
This is why I love consoles: small, and they just work. When you build a computer out of components like I do, there are no end of problems and no one to help fix them. It would be cool if Alienware made a mini-gamer machine. Doesn't need to be the most bleeding of edges, but good enough to play D3 / HL2, and be assembled / tested so that I don't have to worry about driver problems, heat, etc.
I will be very happy when wires and bulky PCs are gone from my life.
We've been talking about this for some time now. I also would like a small form factor machine. Without a new 'killer' app most people just don't need the CPU power they have today. I'm not suggesting that computers don't continue to get faster mind you. It's just that today I only stretch my machine with two tasks; 1. Video encoding (Divx or DVD authoring), and 2. High end gaming. Most people don't do video encoding. And as you mentioned console gaming is just so 'hot' right now. Lets face it the only PC game I put any time into last year was Half-life 2. All other gaming was done on Xbox Live.
It's also not fair to think they if you get Small form factor you don't get expansion. With firewire and USB 2.0, you can add nearly anything you want to the system without opening the box (except graphics and RAM). You pay in wires however.
Speaking of wires, A nice SFF machine with Bluetooth and WIFI G starts to come close to eliminating the wires. All you need to connect is power and the monitor.
I'd move gaming completely to the console, but RPG style games like neverwinter nights and warcraft just don't work very well there. And of course, the limitations on screen resolution are a little annoying.
The funny thing is that gaming drives so much now (projector, 12ms lcd, geforce6800gt), but I never play games! I only am on Xbox because someone was kind enough to send me one, and we have an organized net night! The mac mini will hopefully product a PC based clone, based on the nano-itx form factor.
Regardless of what the mini is for... the convergence device is already happening. This year the big consumer gadget for TV is the wireless media player that plays all manner of music and movies on your television via wifi, like the D-Link DSM-320. These are already at $150 and will only drop from there. In many ways, consumer electronic companies are still in the best position to throw a tuner and HDD in one of these boxes.
The idea of building small form factor home servers has an appeal for some as well. Furrygoat built one a while back with an Asus Pundit as the base. You can build this today for around 316.00. You could build something cheaper if you don't mind using the 1Ghz Via processor.