TIME Home entertainment

GOG.com Is Getting Into the DRM-Free Movie and TV Business

GOG.com, nee "Good Old Games," is throwing its hat in the DRM-free video ring, hoping to eventually persuade the big studios to liberate all movies and TV shows.

GOG.com–the encyclopedically stocked go-to site for older versions of PC games refurbished to play on existing Windows, Mac and Linux computers–is getting into the DRM-free movie business, or it’s trying to anyway. The company just announced that it’s going to pull the trigger on a slew of film and TV content that it’ll let buyers download or stream at leisure.

Movies and television shows would be completely new territory for GOG.com, media content and distribution mechanisms it’s had no experience with to date…save for one crucial component: the DRM-free part.

Today, say you want to watch movies at home, you have any number of options: stream from a service like Netflix or Hulu, buy and download from an e-tailer like iTunes or Amazon, or if you’re old-school (or like my wife’s parents who live at the ends of the earth in rural Iowa, stuck in an Internet black hole) you rent something on a physical disc from your local grocery store or Redbox vending machine.

But grabbing any of the above without digital rights management is essentially verboten. The content isn’t yours: It’s either borrowed or earmarked for use with a proprietary distribution mechanism. Short of poking around websites that catalog video in the public domain, attempting to decouple physical discs you’ve purchased and want to rip for backup or playback purposes from their copy protection bulwarks, or flat-out turning to piracy, DRM-free video isn’t an option in today’s world.

GOG.com’s position on DRM is, you could argue, its primary PR cachet. The site’s mantra is “you buy it, you own it,” period. No copy protection, no download or reinstallation or backup limits. Nada. That philosophy’s allowed the site to carve out significant space in the currently Steam-dominant downloadable PC gaming scene, and it’s apparently driving a sustainable business model.

In that light, wading into film and television with a DRM-free angle makes a certain amount of sense. It’s by no means clear the company’s going to succeed, of course. The deal starts with “over 200 partners in the gaming industry,” so publishers like EA, Square Enix and Ubisoft alongside various indie studios. That means documentaries, largely, at first, though much of it will start off unique to the site. GOG.com says the service will include world premieres like Gamer Age, The King of Arcades and Pixel Poetry, as well as award-winners off the festival circuit like Indie Game: The Movie.

But I’d wager most people see the phrase “movie and TV” used in a sentence with DRM and want to know when they’re going to be able to download a DRM-free copy of the first season of shows like Breaking Bad or True Detective. (That’s what I’d want to know, anyway.)

“Our initial idea was to start with the big guys, but the process is not easy,” says Guillaume Rambourg, GOG.com VP for North America. “In our first round of talks, the response was largely, ‘We love your ideas, but we do not want to be the first ones. We will gladly follow, but until somebody else does it first, we do not want to take the risk.’”

Rambourg claims most studio officials agree with GOG.com that DRM is “pointless,” but says they wind up punting to conservative legal departments, which of course have no intention of lowering their respective DRM drawbridges. GOG.com says it decided to regroup and prove the concept first, thus it’s launching its DRM-free film section “with documentaries catering directly to its existing community: gamers and geeks.”

GOG.com says these films, which can be streamed or fully downloaded as preferred, will include additional content, and that two of the launch titles–Art of Playing and TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard–will be available free of charge. Buy a video on GOG.com and you’ll get a file, says the company, which you can play whenever and wherever you want. New movies should arrive thereafter at a rate of at least once a week, and it sounds like the company’s starting with a flat price model: $5.99 a piece.

So no, not the place to go if you want to own shows like Treme or Fargo free and clear, but it’s a start, and who else is offering even that much? GOG.com says it’s “aiming high,” of course, and that its goal is to free “all movies and TV series from DRM.” It’s hard to imagine any of the major studios cozying up, but then the idea that you’d be able to buy hundreds of legacy PC games for peanuts, play them on modern machines and outright own them, DRM-free, after decades of code-wheels and pass-phrases and all sorts of other copy protection shenanigans, was just a pipe dream until GOG.com came along six years ago and proved it could be done.

TIME Gadgets

New $50 TiVo Box Targets Cord Cutters and Aereo Refugees

TiVo
TiVo's new Roamio OTA box costs $50 and pulls in free over-the-air broadcasts TiVo

The convenience of TiVo without the high monthly cost of a cable subscription

TiVo’s new Roamio OTA box will be available September 14 for $50. It’s being sold exclusively at Best Buy.

Like other TiVo boxes, this one sports an easy-to-use programming guide, you can set it to automatically record your favorite shows whenever they air and it hooks into online services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube. You’ll also need to pony up $15 per month to access program listings, which are refreshed via a connection from the box to your home network.

The difference here is that the Roamio OTA only works with an over-the-air antenna, pulling in your free local broadcast stations. Aside from the $15-per-month TiVo fee, there’s no need to subscribe to Comcast or FiOS, in other words. You can record up to four shows at once, and the hard drive can store up to 75 hours of high-definition video footage.

Obviously, the sticking point for most people is going to be the monthly charge. But f you’re big on being able to record broadcast shows — complete with all the multi-show recording and commercial-skipping goodness that entails — you’re looking at shelling out less than $200 per year for the privilege of doing so.

Roamio OTA comes at an opportune time, with online TV service Aereo being run out of town by the entertainment industry. I recently rounded up a few ways to roll your own Aereo-like service, but most options were cumbersome and expensive. This new TiVo box could be the ticket, though.

[Fast Company]

TIME TV

How to Roll Your Own Aereo (Spoiler: It’s Not Cheap)

Supreme Court Hears Case Pinning Startup Internet TV Company Aereo Against Major Broadcast Networks
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Over at Zatz Not Funny!, Dave Zatz addresses the Aereo-sized elephant in the room: How do you replace Aereo now that it’s gone?

The secret to Aereo’s short-lived success was that you didn’t need to buy hardware to use it. You “rented” an antenna stored at one of Aereo’s facilities somewhere, and the company retransmitted the signal over the Internet to you, either in real time or you could remotely record shows to be transmitted later. The most expensive Aereo plan topped out at $12 a month.

So the spoiler, in case you missed it in the headline: rolling your own Aereo-like setup won’t exactly be cheap. It’s okay. You can click away to something else now. I understand.

If you’re still here, we’ll assume that you want some sort of solution that’ll not only let you record TV, but let you stream live TV to yourself on an array of devices. If you just want to use cord-cutting services — you don’t care about live TV, in other words — check out this post for some services to try. We’re also assuming you get a strong over-the-air signal where you live. You can bet Aereo’s antennae were nicely positioned to catch strong signals; the signals to my place in Boston, for instance, are weaker than a toddler trying to lift a car.

Newer TiVo + Add-on Streaming Box

TiVo wants your business, to be sure, though Zatz figures “cord cutters will need to front about $300 in hardware and $15/month to approximate Aereo.” That’s for a base-model TiVo Roamio box ($200 MSRP) — the only version to sport over-the-air antenna connections — and monthly service. You’ll also need to add TiVo’s streaming box ($130 MSRP), which only streams over a Wi-Fi connection and doesn’t yet sport an Android app.

Older TiVo + Slingbox

If you really want to stream it all, your best bet, according to Zatz, is a used TiVo Premiere box with lifetime service attached to it. That means trying your luck on eBay, basically (they seem to be going for north of $200). That’ll let you use an over-the-air antenna to record shows on the major networks for later. Then, for transmitting live and recorded TV over the Internet to yourself, Zatz says the Slingbox is “still the best game in town.” That means another $180 to $300 in hardware costs, plus paying extra for the Slingplayer mobile apps.

Tablo TV

Zatz also calls Tablo TV “One part Slingbox, one part DVR. Like rolling your own Aereo with a better UI and higher video quality, without those pesky regional restrictions.” The hardware runs between $219 and $289, with lifetime service running another $150 (you can pay $5 a month or $50 a year, too). You also need to supply your own hard drive, which could run a hundred bucks or more if you want to be able to store a lot of video.

No You Don’t Replace Aereo, Silly Rabbit [Zatz Not Funny!]

 

TIME FindTheBest

5 Ways to Cut Cable but Keep All Your Shows

+ READ ARTICLE

Trying to cut cable is like trying to quit smoking. You’ve been meaning to do it for years. You know exactly how much money you could save. You’re even getting disapproving looks from that 23-year-old neighbor…you know, the one who thinks it’s a disgusting habit that belongs in a previous century. But you still can’t deny how relaxing it is after a long, stressful day at work.

It’s time to get your cable nicotine patch. At FindTheBest, we’ve assembled five Quitting Cable Packages designed to wean you off the tube and into a happier, more affordable lifestyle.

Note: We’ll assume, conservatively, that basic cable costs about $60 per month (including fees), or $720 per year.

The Ultimate Couch Potato

Cost for all three: $291 per year

You save: $429 per year

So you still want to watch all the latest content, but you can’t stand the thought of staring at one more cable bill. Consider The Ultimate Couch Potato package, a pricey-but-comprehensive lineup that will fill nearly all of your movie, TV, and B-quality documentary needs.

The package starts with Netflix and Hulu Plus, an affordable tandem with the complementary strengths of selection (Netflix) and new releases (Hulu). Add in Amazon’s growing Instant Video content library, and you’ll be able to watch almost any popular show, as long as it’s not a brand new series on HBO. (Amazon Prime does give you access to older HBO shows, like The Wire and The Sopranos.)

Common objection: Amazon and Netflix seem to offer a lot of the same content: Is it really worth paying for both?

Answer: As a cable subscriber, you’re paying for 85 separate channels, 70 of which are garbage. If you’re paying for garbage 70 times over, you might as well pay for great content twice over.

The Cheapskate

Cost for all six: $0 per year

You Save: $720 per year

Let’s flip this around. Suppose you don’t care what you watch, as long as the TV stays on and the bills go away. Consider this Cheapskate collection of free (and legal!) services.

The headliner here is Hulu. A basic Hulu account gets you temporary access to a hodgepodge of popular TV series—like The Daily Show and The Bachelorette—as well as a whole mess of shows no one’s ever heard of. Grab a beer, flip open your laptop, and enjoy free access to the latest episode of Paranormal Home Inspectors.

Meanwhile, you might try clicking your way over to SnagFilms, Crackle, or PopcornFlix. They might sound like viruses waiting to happen, but in fact, they’re all legitimate online streaming sites with a handful of bizarre, low-budget films filled with bad acting and unintentional comedy.

Common objection: After watching 20 minutes of Hulu, I’ve seen the same Xbox commercial 17 times in a row. This is obnoxious.

Answer: You’re right. We’ve got nothing.

The Sports Fan

Cost: Ranges from about $35 to $175 per year, per sport

You Save: Anywhere from $680 (one sport) to about $205 (if you buy all of the above)

It’s the trump card in any cable company’s argument: sports. You’ll wait 24 hours to watch the latest episode of Mad Men. With sports, even a five-minute delay is unacceptable.

Fortunately, services like MLB.TV Premium, NHL Game Center LIVE, and NBA League Pass have begun to solve this problem. Provided you have a strong Internet signal and a streaming device (like a Roku or Apple TV), you can watch live games on your TV at about a third the cost of cable.

Unfortunately, restrictions and limitations abound. Most services will “black out” local teams so that customers won’t cancel their cable subscription, while the playoffs often require an additional fee. And then there’s the NFL. Sure, you can pay to stream preseason games or rewatch yesterday’s match, but to get live, regular-season action, you’re stuck with DIRECTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket or the local cable offerings.

Common objection: I’d watch more basketball/baseball, but they only ever show [terrible local team X] on cable.

Answer: Great! You’re the perfect sort of person (and perhaps the only sort of person) that will benefit from an online NBA/MLB service. You’ll get access to all those good teams you never get to see, and who cares if [terrible local team X] is blacked out. Cut the cord today!

The Modern Moviephile

Cost: About $50 for 12 movies per year, $150 for 36 movies per year

You Save: $570 – $670 per year

You’ve tried Netflix, but you’re tired of waiting a full year just to see Brad Pitt’s gorgeous hair mop from World War Z. The answer: online rentals. Each of the above services offer cheap rates (usually, $3-$5) for popular films mere months after their release. It’s just like those $19 in-room movies at the hotel, only not exorbitantly expensive. Meanwhile, SundanceNow offers a similar service for a whole catalog of indie films.

Common objection: Isn’t this a lot more expensive than Netflix or Hulu?

Answer: It depends on how much you watch. If you’re selective enough to pick a dozen movies per year, there’s no better option for watching recent releases in seconds.

The Time Traveler

Cost: $96 per year for Redbox, varies for Blockbuster (per rental)

You Save: $624 per year if you just get Redbox Instant

Maybe you’re nostalgic for the early 2000s—the days of video rentals and iPods, boxy TVs and DVD players, Blockbuster Videos and grocery store Redbox machines.

As it turns out, these brands are soldiering on (yes, even Blockbuster) in the form of online streaming services. If you’re the sort that likes to go down with the ship, or the type that dreams of reliving the Alamo, consider signing on for one of these last-gasp services. Who knows? Subscription rates might drop through the floor as these old vets cling to life.

Common objection: Blockbuster? Wasn’t this the company that put my favorite video shop out of the business, then promptly raised prices?

Answer: You’re right: Stick with Netflix.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

18 Streaming TV Boxes Ranked from Worst to First

Quick: which type of device is currently dominating Amazon’s Best Sellers list, holding the top two overall spots (as of this writing)?

A) Smartphones

B) Tablets

C) Headphones

D) Laptops

E) Streaming Media Players

Answer: E. And it’s not close. Between the Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Roku 3, and Apple TV, streaming media players are lighting up online retail. As customers continue to cut cable, the streaming box (or stick) is the hottest new device, a product that is somehow both affordable (usually, sub-$100) and magical (can beam just about any media from one screen to the next).

But which streaming device should you pick? Clearly, a lot comes down to content. If you’re a Yupp TV fanatic, you’ll pick the Sony NSZ-GS8, ASUS Cube, or VIZIO Co-Star LT. Decision made. Suppose, however, you’d simply like a nice blend of Netflix and Hulu, plus the ability to use your friend’s roommate’s password to access HBO Go? Good luck choosing: You’ve still got a dozen different boxes, sticks, and hockey-puck-shaped streamers that meet your needs.

Since we have no way of know whether you’re a Mad Men junkie or Game of Thrones fan—and since all the top boxes seem to be getting all the same services anyway—let’s put the actual content aside.

Instead, we set out to rank the 18 most recent streaming media players based on specs, features, usability and expert reviews. We considered every major streamer released or updated since January 2013, looking at the following factors:

- Specs and features: This primarily includes output resolutions and audio support, but also factors in wireless connectivity and features (like voice control, screencasting, and DVR functionality).

- Expert reviews: What do the likes of PC Mag, CNET, TechHive, TechRadar, LAPTOP Mag, Home Theater Review, and Wired think? We aggregated review scores to get the best big picture perspective.

Here’s what we found:

The Rejects

18. Sony NSZ-GS8

17. TiVo Roamio

16. ASUS Cube

Like a rejected TV script, these media players simply don’t have the mass appeal or originality to become a true success. With limited inter-device streaming (the NSZ-GS8), clunky user experience (the ASUS Cube), and lackluster file-format support (the TiVo Roamio), they’re all stuck in pre-production. You can feel bad for them, but let them die their natural death. It’s better this way.

The Cancellations

15. Roku LT (2013)

14. TiVo Roamio Pro

13. TiVo Roamio Plus

Give these players credit for trying: Each brings something unique to the market. The Roku LT offers a low-priced, lower-resolution alternative to its cousins (the more popular Rokus 1, 2, and 3), while the TiVo Roamio Pro and Plus provide a strong feature set and all the familiar benefits of pause-and-rewind TV. Unfortunately, each ends up feeling a little like a lesser version of a more popular show, like Last Resort was to Lost or like Low Winter Sun was to every detective show ever made.

The One and Dones

12. Philips HMP2000

11. Samsung Smart Media Player

10. VIZIO Co-Star LT

Each of these players gets a lot right, with reasonably simple set-up, moderate feature sets, and decent compatibility. Still, clicking the Co-Stars’ retro-style remote or navigating the Smart Media Player’s menus has a subtle, dated feel—the kind of feeling you get when watching Seinfeld, licking an envelope or signing a check. These players had their day, but the world is moving on. Oh well. We’ll always have that one season.

Renewed for a Season

9. Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2

8. PLAiR 2

Unique, intriguing, and capable, both the Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2 and PLAiR 2 offer something special. The MX2 features full Android-based web browsing, something none of the top-selling players allow. Meanwhile, the PLAiR 2 is among the cheapest streamers you can buy (as low as $25), a good Chromecast alternative for Google haters and capitalization ignorers across America. Still, neither device is as polished or as reliable as any of the products below. Keep these options in mind, but don’t be surprised if they fade off in another year, like a once-renewed, forever-forgotten sitcom.

Network TV

7. Roku 1

6. Roku 2

Solid, predictable, and popular, the Roku 1 and 2 are a great choice for anyone who can’t afford the more full-featured Roku 3. Each offers top output resolutions, compatibility across dozens of file formats, and low prices to match (approximately $45 for the Roku 1 and $65 for the Roku 2). Like CSI and Law & Order, expect the two entry-level Rokus to stick around for several more years.

Cable TV

5. Google Chromecast

4. Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI Version)

Compared to the bulky shells of their competitors, Google’s Chromecast and Roku’s Streaming Stick feel like the future: lighter, more efficient, and best of all, under $50. Experts say Roku’s Streaming Stick is roughly comparable to the Roku 2 in features and capabilities, while Google’s Chromecast oozes the company’s commitment to simplicity and user-friendliness. If you’re always using a tablet, laptop, or phone anyway, consider saving the extra cash and grabbing one of these.

Emmy Winners

3. Apple TV

2. Amazon Fire TV

It’s one thing to make a popular TV show. It’s quite another to bring home the hardware year after year. Whenever they present their new streaming media players, Apple and Amazon don’t walk on stage: they swagger. Where their competitors make simple streaming gadgets, the two tech giants create whole entertainment ecosystems, complete with industry-leading features and seamless operation. Even if you can’t stand one (or both) of these companies, it’s hard to argue that their offerings are simply bigger and better than most. If you already own three Apple products, or if you’re a long-time Amazon Prime subscriber, look no further than the company’s corresponding streamer.

The All-Time Classic

1. Roku 3

Sometimes focus is more important than money and talent. The Roku 3 is the best product of the bunch, with the snappiest operation, top-tier video and audio support, and extra features that make each part of the experience just a little better (for example: the headphone jack on the remote allows for convenient, private listening). Better yet, a Roku 3 won’t lock you into the Apple or Amazon ecosystem. Yes, you can guarantee some success if you hire all the best actors and spend the most money. But Roku understands that the best shows aren’t always about star power and special effects, but rather about tight execution and smart, ensemble casting. For the best overall streaming experience, get the Roku 3.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME streaming video

Pay for Movies Based on Screen Size? Head of Dreamworks Says It’ll Happen

In the distant future, movie tickets might cost more, but smartphone rentals could cost less.

If Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has his way, the price to watch a movie will eventually depend on the size of the screen.

You’d pay a premium to see a movie in theaters, of course, but maybe you’ll save a little by watching it on your phone instead of the television. In other words, as Katzenberg said at a conference in Los Angeles this week, you’ll “pay by the inch you watch.”

Katzenberg has banged this drum before. At another conference last year, he also talked about charging less for movies on small-screen devices, partly to appeal to overseas markets. But this time, he seems to have fleshed out the vision. As Variety reports, Katzenberg imagines that movies would only be exclusive to theaters for 17 days, during which nearly all movies make nearly all their money. After that, you’d be able to watch the movie at home, whether it’s on a phone, tablet or TV.

“A movie screen will be $15. A 75-inch TV will be $4. A smartphone will be $1.99. That enterprise that will exist throughout the world, when that happens, and it will happen, it will reinvent the enterprise of movies,” Katzenberg said.

The proposal sounds good in theory–who wouldn’t want a shorter wait to watch a new movie at home?–but it’s unclear how Katzenberg would get movie theater operators on board. In the past, theater operators have strongly resisted any tampering with release windows. Outside of a few high-priced experiments and minor timing tweaks, studios have been unable to speed the release of their movies on home video.

Other logistical issues would also have to be hashed out, such as getting the Apples and Googles to fit this system into their platforms, and getting all the movie studios to agree on pricing for each screen size. And right now, it all seems pretty theoretical.

Perhaps that’s why Katzenberg said this week that this scenario will take 10 years to play out. If it’s even possible, it’s definitely not going to happen anytime soon.

TIME Home entertainment

How to Hide Your Home Theater

While TVs continue to get thinner and more beautiful and soundbars are making surround sound more discreet, the components we connect to them—our Blu-ray players, cable boxes, game consoles—have largely remained dull black or silver boxes. And there are still all those ugly wires to manage.

There’s an easy solution, and it doesn’t involve hiring a home theater installer, drilling into your walls or any other costly, messy steps. With a wireless HDMI kit, you can get your gear out of sight by moving it into a nearby closet or cabinet and using the HDMI kit to transmit audio and video to your TV.

Wireless HDMI kits have two boxes: one that you plug your components into and one that you attach to the back of your TV. They can transmit a Full HD 1080p signal up to 100 feet, and installing one is easy for even the most tech-challenged.

Or, if you’re simply looking for a way to operate your components while they’re behind the closed doors of your media cabinet, an inexpensive IR blaster will relay your remote’s commands while your gear stays out of sight.

Sewell

IR Blaster Only

Just looking for a way to operate your components while they’re behind closed doors? You can get an external remote sensor like the Sewell InjectIR. It plugs into the HDMI cable on your TV and sends commands from your remote back to your components.

Price: $54.95 on SewellDirect.com, $44.95 on Amazon.com

Belkin

Multiple Components

If you use HDMI cables to connect all of your components, the Belkin ScreenCast AV4 is for you. It has four HDMI inputs, wireless 1080p streaming and an IR blaster. It’s small and attractive, and can even be mounted behind your TV.

Price: $249.99 on Belkin.com, $226.13 on Amazon

IOGEAR

Legacy HD Components

The IOGEAR Wireless 5×2 Matrix video has five inputs—one component (red, green, blue and stereo audio) and four HDMI-—making it the best option for streaming content from old DVD players and other older HD components you may own. You can hook up components via an HDMI cable to a TV in one room and stream to a wireless HDMI receiver in another room.

Price: $399.95 on IOGEAR.com, $288.99 on Amazon

ActionTec

One Source, Multiple TVs

If you have one component you connect with an HDMI cable and want to stream it to more than one TV (so you can use one cable box for both the living room and bedroom), the ActionTec My Wireless TV is the most economical choice.

Price: $229.99 for a pair, $125.62 per additional receiver on Amazon

This article was written by Suzanne Kantra and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME apps

Popcorn Time Is So Good at Movie Piracy, It’s Scary

One thing that iTunes, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have proven is that content makers can fight piracy by providing a better, easier service to paying customers. But what happens when piracy fights back with something just as convenient?

A new app called Popcorn Time raises that very question. Available for Windows, Mac and Linux, Popcorn Time lets you stream the latest movies — including American Hustle, Gravity and Frozen – with just a couple clicks. The software uses BitTorrent to find and download movies, but eliminates the usual hassle of wading through sketchy torrent sites and waiting for the file to finish downloading. (Clarification: Popcorn Time does not use BitTorrent to find files, but finds its movies through YTS, a website that indexes movie torrent files.)

Basically, it’s the version of Netflix that you’ve always wanted — and maybe have been willing to pay extra for — but that Hollywood may never allow. It’s also a flagrant enabler of copyright violation, at least in the United States.

Popcorn Time

Popcorn Time’s creators are quick to acknowledge the legal dangers. A disclaimer, warning that it may be illegal in your country to download copyrighted material, appears on the Popcorn Time website and again in the app itself. Movie studios have been known to monitor torrent traffic and sue individual file sharers, so Popcorn Time isn’t necessarily safe unless you’re using a virtual private network to mask your whereabouts.

But the creators aren’t particularly worried about the movie industry hounding them. “We don’t expect legal issues,” a developer named Sebastian told TorrentFreak. “We don’t host anything, and none of the developers makes any money. There are no ads, no premium accounts, and no subscription fees or anything like that. It’s an experiment to learn and share.”

I have a feeling Hollywood will try its best to attack Popcorn Time, but as a free, open-source project, it’s going to be tough to take down. The developers have shown that movie piracy can be intuitive and user-friendly. If movie studios can’t break down the release windows and old business models that prevent new movies from being available on-demand, they should be very afraid of apps like Popcorn Time.

TIME Big Picture

Predicting the Future of Apple TV

apple-tv
Apple TV set-top box Apple

Apple says it has a lot of exiting new products coming to market in 2014. I would not be surprised if Steve Jobs' vision of Apple TV is actually one of them.

At Apple’s recent shareholder meeting, CEO Tim Cook told his audience that Apple TV brought in $1 billion in revenue in the last fiscal year and said that Apple TV is now more than a hobby. That means Apple sold about 10 million Apple TV boxes during this time.

I was at the D5 conference when Steve Jobs told about 350 top industry execs that Apple TV was a “hobby” and that Apple would see where it went. While I believe Jobs was not sure where Apple TV was headed when he launched it, this product has clearly caught the attention of millions of users. It’s now a real product that has a lot of potential for Apple. In fact, I believe it sits at the center of Apple’s push into the living room.

The best way to think about the future of Apple TV is as a platform for Apple to deliver new content, apps and services aimed at the living room. To Apple, the TV is just another screen to be used to access these services and apps. In his biography of Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson quotes Jobs:

“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

Since this news was revealed in the book, many people have been in a tizzy over what Apple has planned for Apple TV. Although Jobs does mention an integrated TV set, I think Apple’s real focus is on creating a powerful box that sits outside the TV and works with hundreds of millions of existing TVs. I believe this type of device is at the heart of Apple’s TV business model.

With this in mind, here are the things Apple has to have in place before it launches any new Apple TV:

As Job’s pointed out in his comments to Isaacson, he was planning to reinvent the user interface for Apple TV and make it really simple to navigate DVDs, cable channels and any type of content that can be shown on a large screen like a television. People sit 6-10 feat away from their TV sets, so a touch-based user interface won’t work. I suspect that the iPhone and iPad will play a big role in whatever new TV product Apple creates, but Apple is probably also working on voice commands and gestures as part of this new user interface. This is where we will see a real breakthrough when it comes to navigating content on a big screen.

The next thing Apple will have to have in place is a solid software developers kit (SDK) so that people can write apps specifically for Apple TV. When Apple introduced the iPad, the company immediately released an SDK so that developers could write apps specifically for the iPad. Even though it uses the same operating system found on the iPhone, the way people interact with a tablet with a bigger screen is somewhat different than on the iPhone. So Apple had to create an SDK that took into account richer touch features as well as hooks for supporting more powerful processors, larger batteries and many other technologies not found in the smaller iPhone.

It’s the same thing with Apple TV. While we expect whatever Apple does with Apple TV to also use iOS, the interface for the TV will be completely different than what’s on the iPhone and iPad, and software developers would need to write apps specifically for interacting with a larger screen that uses different forms of input.

Apple would also need to have even better content deals in order to expand the reach of Apple TV. Rumors have been circulating that Apple was interested in some type of deal with Time Warner Cable to acquire more content, although since Comcast is trying to buy Time Warner Cable, it is unclear whether a deal between Time Warner Cable and Apple would even be a possibility now. Regardless, Apple needs a lot of new content as well as dedicated first- and third-party apps to differentiate its TV platform from products offered by Roku, Google, Amazon or many other large companies who want access to a family’s living room.

When Apple rolls out a new product — especially one that impacts an existing category of products but in new ways — it has to prime and develop the channels before launch so that when it debuts, people can have a place to buy them. Apple has quite an edge on its competitors in this area since it owns over 2000 of its own stores, but it would also have to have in place distribution deals with big players like Walmart, Costco, Target and others to get this product to market quickly. Apple needs to start building up a strong users base that would take advantage of the apps, content and services to be delivered to the living room.

The last thing that needs to be in place is a roadmap for how any Apple TV device could become the center of a home automation strategy in the future. Apple TV could be tied closely to iPhones and iPads as part of a digital home ecosystem. Apple clearly wants to become more pervasive in the home, and while a TV box helps accomplish that goal, making an Apple TV device double as a hub for home automation would give Apple a powerful stronghold. Once people buy into Apple apps and services for the home, they’re not likely to walk away just because a competitor has something cheaper. Tying Apple TV and a home automation service to Apple’s iCloud offering would be a powerful combination for Apple’s customers.

So, what is the future of Apple TV? Well, if we follow the guidelines mentioned above, we can expect that it will use iOS and have a new interface fine tuned for interacting with the TV from 6-10 feet away. To Apple, the TV is just a new big screen to which the company can deliver new apps and services. Apple will give developers a powerful SDK that is designed for writing apps for a TV, unleashing new types of creativity for use on a larger screens.

We can also expect to have a lot of other content and possible communication deals — perhaps deals in which Apple becomes the actual front-end interfaces for some cable companies in the way it has recently partnered with car companies to deliver a connected platform for automobiles.

I also believe that Apple’s interest in home automation will be part of the new Apple TV. We can expect some creative things from Apple in this area as well. And of course, we should expect that as soon as the product is available, people will be able to buy it from Apple and thousands of other retail stores.

As stated earlier in this column, I firmly believe that Apple’s new TV product, whatever it will be, will sit in some type of box outside the TV set itself so that it can be used on hundreds of millions of existing TVs. Although Apple could create an actual TV set with all of this technology inside, I don’t think it would do this other than to have a showcase product of some type. Apple would want to bring any new Apple TV box to hundreds of millions of homes, and while some might buy an upscale TV made by Apple, that’s not where Apple’s real money will be made.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said on multiple occasions in the past six months that Apple has a lot of exiting new products coming to market in 2014. I would not be surprised if Steve Jobs’ vision of Apple TV is actually one of them.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

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