Online Video Without Apple TV's Training Wheels

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Getting TV and movies over the Internet is said to be the next great thing. It's already good at our house. We've discovered free shows and entertainment that are available for downloading as part of our abandoning cable and its steep monthly fees. Now Apple has released a $300 device to make the process easy, but I don't think I'll be buying.

Apple TV is sort of the America Online of Internet video–designed to make things easy, which is laudable. But as AOL once did, Apple TV does so by restricting choice, in its case to the shows and movies available on iTunes. Apple TV basically turns your television into a giant iPod with its charming ease and frustrating restrictions, including the limited selection of videos for sale at the iTunes store.

It won't access, for example, new online programming from NBC Universal and News Corp., which have said they'll make shows and movies available through services like AOL. The shows will be free, supported by advertising.

We're already using the new AOL, which has opened its services to anyone on the Web, including its free in2TV service. It's proved a godsend when we want a quick video for our young boys, who enjoy lively episodes of The Jetsons, The Flintstones, or Batman. The video isn't high-def but looks plenty good to a 5-year-old on our 42-inch plasma screen. And there is no beating the price and convenience.

Yes, setting it up hasn't been a cakewalk. It's meant fiddling with a PC connected to our television. So Apple TV will appeal initially to many, much as the old AOL was the Internet on training wheels. But even quicker than the Web opened the Internet to the masses, online entertainment will get easy to use on TVs, and we'll all say, "Yabba dabba do!"