Apple TV and Others Have an Identity Crisis

Consumers can't understand newfangled links between PCs and TVs.

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Apple TV
Apple TV

Apple TV isn't alone in struggling to find a market. The computerlike box is designed to link the living room TV to PCs and even the Internet. It's a field where many have gone and many have failed. A big part of the problem is home networking, particularly wireless. It's too hard to get machines talking together.

But just as difficult is the message. Consumers don't understand what these boxes do. For that matter, there are many kinds with different functions. Some, for example, like the Apple TV, have hard drives that hold entertainment locally. Others operate without a hard drive, streaming songs and videos from a PC.

And nobody can even agree on what to call them. A popular choice is "digital media adapter," says Joyce Putscher, an analyst who tracks home networking for In-Stat. "Digital media" refers to the files, and "adapter" suggests the translation between the digital world of PCs and the analog world of a TV's pictures and sound.

Maybe. Still seems too techie a term for me. But perhaps it isn't as bad as calling a consumer product a "home server."