Spot of Bother - Struggling With The Mobile-To-TV Connection

by , Jan 18, 2012, 11:37 AM
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I admit to being spoiled. Even as I was struggling to time-shift the most recent episode ofDowntown-Abbey "Downton Abbey" for my wife and I on the home TV, I realized that my tech problems are the “spot of bother” sort reserved for the same upper echelons that occupy this PBS series. You see, it was the blasted Apple TV. It just wasn’t behaving right and proper, as I am sure all of you have experienced at one time or another. Pass the scones, please?

Mater and I had decided to slum it on Sunday evening and watch the low-born Ricky Gervais perform tepidly on the Golden Globes. Like choosing the wrong horse for the fox hunt, we regretted the decision. Gervais was a letdown, and I had to make good on my assurances to my pet that we would be able to catch up on watching the Sunday Episode 2 of Masterpiece’s hit series via my PBS app on Monday. The plan was to run the episode from the iOS app via AirPlay on the Apple TV. This is critical here at Smithton Downs, where we take our Anglophile Sundays very seriously. Shall I ring for the scones? They don’t seem to be coming. Is there a problem in the pantry?

Ordinarily reliable as Jeeves, AirPlay gets all wonky on us. For reasons that I am sure only those scruffy American techies in Cupertino understand. Every time either the iPad or iPhone goes to sleep, it cuts off the AirPlay flow. “Blast,” my wife complains. “What have you done?”

I assure her there is no need to resort to profanity. It sets a bad example for the help -- who appear to be sitting on those absent scones somewhere. But I can’t even get the iPad to let me multitask on another app while the show runs over AirPlay. No multitasking during prime time? Has the world gone to hell while I slept? Are we savages now?  

So I do what most right-thinking masters of his tech domain would do. I give the old Google TV a shot, hoping that the new 2.0 upgrade includes a PBS app. You see -- yes, I am spoiled now. The prospect of having apps on the TV breeds a certain expectation, still thwarted, that we should have easy interoperability of the app experience across platforms. Netflix can do this, why can’t everyone else? Ultimately, a world of apps everywhere, on phones, tablets, TVs and Web sites should allow the user to access the same experience regardless of the device. That was my naïve hope or expectation as I thrashed about the various connected TV gadgets for a solution.

Alas, no PBS app on Google TV. But I was able to navigate to the PBS.org site via the Google TV Chrome browser and try to run the episode there. The experience was just not tolerable: low-res video and what appeared to be lower frame rates. The Dowager Countess of Grantham, who this season appears to be reduced to occasional single-line witticisms, appeared to be a Maggie Smith stop-action animation.  

In the end we resorted to disabling the sleep function on the iPhone and letting it run via AirPlay without interruption. I was able to browse the iPad in the end. But, really -- is this the way we must live? An inconvenient workaround for a seamless, cross-platform app experience the technology promises but doesn’t yet deliver? How middle-class! It is best the scones never do arrive. It was enough to put me off my appetite. 

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