iWant: Offline Storage in Apple TV

A reader wrote me asking if there was any way to download videos from Netflix or Hulu, because his bandwidth is often too slow in the evening to watch movies streamed from those services. I have a similar problem; my bandwidth is so slow that, even if I get full speed, I can’t get HD content. (I get SD fairly well with Netflix.)

That got me to thinking: what if the Apple TV offered offline storage of videos? Not just the ones you get from the iTunes Store, but others as well, videos from streaming channels that you can access on the device?

There are two ways this could work. The first involves the Apple TV itself. The current model only has 8 GB flash storage, and it’s not known how much the software takes up. Since it’s fairly simple, it might take up, say, 500 MB, leaving more than 7 GB free. But this is only enough for two short movies in 1080; so if you were able to use this to store downloads, it wouldn’t go very far. Apple could add more storage to the device, either in all models, or offer several models with different storage, such as 32, 64 and 128 GB.

Another idea would be easier to implement. They could use your Mac or PC for offline storage. The streams could be sent from the Apple TV to your iTunes library, where you would then be able to access them from each Apple TV channel. If this were possible, you’d have potentially unlimited storage. You’d be able to set your Netflix movies to download during the day, when you’re not home, and view them, in HD, in the evening.

This could reduce the load on some of these providers, by shifting it to non-peak periods. I would think they would not allow you to download everything you want, though; that could just create bottlenecks during the day. But if Netflix allowed you to download, say, a half-dozen movies, or a dozen episodes of a TV series, you’d have more than enough for a day’s viewing. And they could even let you set up a queue, with the Apple TV downloading more episodes when you’ve finished watching the ones you already had.

This isn’t unheard of. The BBC’s iPlayer lets you download files to their desktop or mobile apps, which you can then watch for thirty days. I’m sure there are other services that offer similar possibilities.

Note that there are apps that can “record” streamed videos. But what they do is actually record your screen as you play the videos, so, while that can solve part of the problem, you won’t have the same quality as what you get when streaming. And they’re illegal.

It’s time for the streaming services to come up with solutions for offline viewing. The Apple TV could make this work.