For several years, Apple TV has been lagging behind the competition. Now, with the introduction of its fourth-generation streaming device, Apple has burst on the scene with several innovative new features.
Apple TV Hardware
The look of the Apple TV hasn’t changed much. Like its previous version and its competitors (Roku 4 and Amazon Fire TV), it is an almost square black box measuring 3.9 x 3.9 x 1.9 inches. It’s smaller than both the Fire TV (4.5 x 4.5 x 0.7 inches) and the Roku 4 (6.5 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches), but slightly taller than both of those devices.
The back of the new Apple TV has Ethernet, HDMI, digital audio and lightning ports. The device comes with a lightning cable which is used for recharging the remote. This is highly preferable to the watch-type batteries in the previous version. There is a USB-C port, but no microSD slot. It is available in two models: 32GB of storage for 149 or 64GB for 199.
The new Apple TV runs on a new operating system that Apple calls tvOS. This brings a redesign to the interface making it much more colorful and visually appealing. tvOS also makes the setup extremely easy. Just place your iPhone or iPad near the Apple TV and it grabs all the settings that it needs including Wi-Fi. Of course, you can also do the setup manually.
While this new Apple TV supports resolutions up to 1080p, it does not support 4K like the new Amazon Fire. Although this is not necessarily a deal-breaker right now, such support would go a long way toward future-proofing this device.
Apple has integrated five major services into this new device: iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Showtime. There are also apps for many other services like Pandora and MLB. There is no support for Amazon but if you have a mobile iOS device you can play Amazon content on your portable device and throw it to the big screen using Apple AirPlay.
The Apple TV remote is where the update is most noticeable. It is 4.9-inch long, 1.5 inches wide and 0.3 inches thick. The front of the remote is black and the back is silver. The top of the remote has a duller finish and acts as a useful trackpad. It has two round buttons with white markings: the Menu button and Home button. The lower portion of the device has a volume rocker, a microphone button that can be used to summon Siri and a standard play/pause button.
The new Apple TV’s remote has several new features. First, it is wireless so you don’t have to worry about pointing it at the Apple TV. It also supports CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) which is an HDMI feature that allows it to control other CEC-enabled devices that are connected through HDMI. So you can use the remote to control the volume and turn on and off other (CEC-enabled) devices that are connected by HDMI like the TV and sound bars. The remote control also has an accelerometer and gyroscope allowing it to substitute as a game controller.
The Apple TV remote works in a manner that is very similar to Apple’s mobile devices. For instance, press the Menu key twice to go to the Home screen. Press and hold the Home button to put the Apple TV to sleep. When in the Home screen, press the Menu button twice to bring up the new screensavers. These are called Aerial and they are a collection of stunning aerial views of cityscapes and landscapes.
Performance is snappy and some icons have a slight 3-D effect making the new Apple TV a joy to use. The only drawback is that the remote is not as good as you might think for text entry. While moving your finger across the trackpad is not quite as time-consuming as tapping to choose each letter, it is more imprecise making it just as aggravating. And while the Apple TV supports Bluetooth headphones, it does not support Bluetooth keyboards.
Siri on Apple TV
The addition of Siri brings Apple TV more on a par with Roku and Amazon Fire, which both have their own voice-assistants. Unfortunately, Siri on Apple TV is not as intuitive or content-rich as she is on Apple’s mobile devices and she doesn’t compare to Alexa on the Amazon Fire. Sire doesn’t even have a voice. She just lists results on the screen.
I did find two places where Siri exceled. Siri can search multiple content apps and put all the results on a single page. This is extremely useful when you don’t know if the movie you want is on Hulu or Netflix. Also when watching a movie, if you didn’t quite hear the conversation you can press the microphone button and ask Siri to repeat the audio. She will comply by going back several seconds and adding a caption. It’s really cool, but you pretty much must have the remote in your hand to make it work.
The New App Store
The thing that really differentiates the Apple TV from the other streaming devices is the use of Apps. Judging from the popularity of Apps in Apple’s mobile devices and the number of App developers who support Apple devices, Apps will definitely be the future of TV. This is sure to bring a wonderful new degree of interactivity that TV has never seen before. Right now the Apple TV App Store is still a little sparse and the store itself needs better organization. In spite of this, there is no doubt that TV Apps are going to be huge and they are going to change how we use our TVs.
For example, the QVC app brings TV interactivity to the front and center. You can watch the actual QVC channel while ordering items and perusing off-air items right on the screen. The Coursera online classes bring learning for adults into the TV room. The Madefire comic-book reader effectively adds motion, music, and sound effects to comic books.
Crossy Road, Jetpack Joyride, and several other games make the move to the TV seamlessly. You can play a game like Crossy Road against others in the same room by using an iPhone or iPad as the second remote. Sports packages are sure to have a ton of statistics and interactivity.
There is plenty of potential in these apps and this makes the Apple TV a budding device. It is a little pricey and not yet perfect, but certainly worth a look.