Live TV options on Apple TV not ready for prime time

With the latest update, Apple started promoting what it calls “Live Tune-in”, the ability to ask Siri to watch the live broadcast of a specified channel, like CBS, Disney XD, or ESPN. A terrific goal, one that would allow Apple to keep a viewer in the Apple TV ecosystem without having to switch inputs to their cable box to watch live TV.

The current setup is a far cry from being able to watch your local stations on your Apple TV. But it is a step, albeit tiny, in the right direction.

When I fired up my Apple TV and told Siri:

Watch CBS.

I got a prompt to install the CBS app. CBS All Access is not quite the same as my local channel, it’s more of an on-demand solution, and costs $5.99 a month. If you are interested in the details, here’s a solid article.

I don’t subscribe to CBS access, so I moved on, told Siri:

Watch ESPN.

This time, I got a prompt to visit with an access code to enable ESPN. I do pay for ESPN via my cable bundle. I followed the link, selected my cable provider and entered the access code. I was then taken to another screen where I had to login to my cable provider account. Success, they recognized my account!

I headed back to my Apple TV, again told Siri:

Watch ESPN.

This time, the Watch ESPN app fired up and, lo and behold, Sports Center appeared. Live. So that’s good. But.

The video quality was like a bad hotel feed. Lots of blotchiness, as if the signal was being constantly reencoded and decoded, leaving some bits on the floor in the process. It also seemed to be just a bit zoomed in, clipping the edges. This is the sort of experience you used to get when HD first emerged from the caves and you had to do a lot of fiddling with your TV to find the signal that looked the best. Nowhere near the quality of the signal I get on my direct cable feed.

Is this fixable? Certainly. We’re in the early adopter days, all this is still being worked out.

To be clear, I absolutely love my Apple TV. I own three of them and take one with me when I travel. A terrific solution. It’s just that live TV is not there yet. Lots of problems to solve, including pricing/validation issues. For example, if I pay my cable company for CBS, do I have to pay CBS again to watch it on Apple TV?

We’re in an awkward adolescent stage. I look forward to the future when TV is all grown up.

Update: Reader Jack Brewster pointed out this Glenn Fleishman Macworld article on a way to grab over-the-air local channel signals and feed them to your Apple TV. Worth a read.