In this Apple TV 4 Review we take a looking at the latest iteration of Apple’s only TV products. It has been years now since the original was launched and Apple TV has not changed much. It has been overshadowed by its two more powerful cousins, iPad and iPhone and consumers seem to prefer to watch TV on these devices as they have more options available to them. In terms of design it has not seen any change since 2010. As a result it’s very much feels like a device that Apple has forgotten about.
The Problem with the Apple TV
The Apple TV hasn’t had any real groundbreaking changes made to it since 2010, when Apple relaunched their TV product. This hockey puck sized device seemed to be ground breaking when it was announced by the late Steve Jobs. As expected a string of copycat devices emerged and unusually for Apple, they have been left way behind since.
Further it also has been burdened with interfaces which are quite archaic. During this period Roku, Amazon and Google have all launched their equivalents and for difference reasons are having reasonable success. The fourth generation Apple TV which was considered as a set top box with nothing much to offer, has now something new to show. It comes with a better hardware and the remote also has gone through redesigning. The operating system is also worthy of the name Apple. They also now have an app store which is genuine and which helps turn Apple into the right platform for gaming and entertainment in the living room. Though it may not be the future television it might be moving towards it.
- Processor: A8
- RAM: 2GB
- Storage: 32GB or 64GB
- Software: tvOS
- Siri Remote
The hardware is quite small and it can be hidden under the TV. Therefore it is not surprising that Apple TV did not make changes to design too much. It still is made from the same old black plastic, but it looks taller. It resembles like two Apple TVs stacked one over the other. It comes with a HDMI port on the back which is compulsory. It also features USB-C, Ethernet and other power ports. It however does not have optical audio cables and you will be disappointed if you are looking for it. As of now Apple TV is fully dependent on HDMI as far as audio is concerned. It should not be an issue for many people. However, if there is a budget soundbar, or if the home theatre has not been upgraded you may have to choose a good optical cable splitter.
The functions of set top are powered by the A8 Chip of Apple and as per the documents of the developer, it runs on 2GB RAM. This should certainly make it more powerful than the iPhone 6 and 6 plus, which has 1GB Ram. It is not very clear as to the speed of the A8 chip which is being used in the Apple TV, but when it was used in iPhone 6 and 1.5 GHz when it was on the iPad Mini4. Furthermore customers can choose between 32GB of storage when they buy the one with a price tag of £129 model. On the other hand if they pay £169 they will get 64GB RAM. While the larger storage space is welcome, the 32 GB model should be enough for most users. This is because the content will be streamed in most cases.
While the Apple TV is not very unfamiliar in looks, as far as the Siri Remote is concerned it is another story completely. Compared to earlier versions it is much bigger. It also comes with a trackpad which is smooth. This sits on top of a glass panel and is located in the front. The back is of a single metal. It looks like the illegitimate child of iPhone 4 and also the new MacBook and that is great. It feels great in the hand and even when just lying around it looks quite attractive. It comes with a remote which has a number of menu options including play/pause button and the new addition is the home button. Additionally it has volume controls and Siri voice search button. It is wireless and therefore it need not be pointed to the Apple TV.
Basically, it looks as if Apple suddenly jumped a few generations ahead as far as the last remote or Apple TV is concerned. The remote originally was made to take care of media on the previous Mac versions and it was more than a set top box in the living room. Therefore it might not have looked enough for Apple TV. It now comes with a built in microphone for voice searches and also comes with an accelerometer along with gyroscope for control of Wii-like motions. The watch batteries can also be stocked up because it gets it charging from Apple’s lightning cables. The battery lasts and it is difficult to complete drain out the battery in spite of regular use, even after watching Hulu and Netfix for a one whole week or after playing a number of games.
The audio receiver volume or TV now can be controlled using the Siri remote. Should your system be compatible, the remote can be used to turn everything on and HDMI volume control is also possible. Alternately, the Apple TV can be trained so that it can recognize your TV or the receiver remote IR input. It will certainly replicate like a universal remote. The only issue is that you may have to point the remote to the Apple TV and change the volume which could defeat the main reason of having such a wireless input device.
It comes with tvOS which is and iOS that brings a totally new interface to the Apple TV. It has done away with the simple looking black background and other such application interfaces. In plate of it, tvOS is offering bright colors and the best of apps. It is about changing with time. Whereas Amazon and Roku have been coming out with media platforms which are robust, supported with attractive apps, Apple TV user have had no option but to use an old interface which has not changed much after the second-gen version which came five years ago. Hence Apple is trying to catch up with tvOS and it has some areas which puts it ahead of competition.
When the new Apple TV is set one can understand how the integration is easy and seamless across all the devices as on date. All that the customers need is to have the iOS placed near it and the best of Apple ID credentials and WiFi credentials will be there for all to see. It takes only a few second for the whole thing to happen with an iPhone 6S. It is arguably the easiest set top setup that many have seen. This is mostly because the customers are not required to type the login details using a directional pad. Without an iOS device it would be difficult using Siri Remote and it certainly is a frustrating experience
There is no Place Like Home
Once the set up is complete you will have a home which is familiar looking. It has apps for iTunes movie, music and TV shows and also photos. Navigating through the interface is also quite easy because of Siri Remote touchpad. It also has improved visual functions all through. Customers in particular have been singing praises about the different directions in which the icons bend and offer the best of 3D effects. It also has a new button which brings you to the home screen without the need for holding the menu button. Some basic changes made with regard to multitasking. When home button is double clicked it opens all the recent apps and it is easy to move between them.
The On Screen Options
Same on the lines with voice search which is new for Apple TV, customers will also have to learn about the onscreen keyboard perhaps. But there is no good news here and it is perhaps worse than what it was before. Everything is now presented in a single line instead of moving through several rows of letter. This will allow you to move back and forth using the trackboard options. The problem is not with small movements but when it comes to sweeping new movements. This certainly is highly frustrating whenever fine selections are required. These include side by side letter choices. It is also not possible to connect a Bluetooth keyboard which was possible with the old version. The Apple Remote also does not support it.
App Store and Apps
You will also notice something fresh as far as home screen is concerned. It comes with an app store. The previous Apple TV versions used a collection of third party apps, but they were difficult to make and it was not worth visiting them. However, the new applications could be downloaded to the home screen. You would have to run through the manual task of hiding the ones which were not needed.
Since third party apps cannot be installed by default, you need to get a new app store which is familiar and you should get it fast too. If you have seen just on app from Apple you may have seen them all totally. This one has many features and also new apps on the main page plus a number of top charts which was expected. Even though these are early days it has a few worth mentioning apps. Apart from essentials like Hulu and Netfix, you also have Plex, QVC shopping apps and Gilt and dozens of new games.
However there are quality issues in the apps available thus far. For example apps like Hulu and Netfix are just updates of earlier versions. The others are not good and seem out of place when they are adapted to television. The Periscope App does not allow the user to log to the Periscope account. But there are a few apps that showcase the potential for Apple TV to become a new and exciting platform for your home.
The QVC App
The QVC app comes with live video and content that is browsable. This can be bought from Apple TV. The Gilt’s app is quite attractive and is a good entry for online store. They might look a bit superfluous as of now, but it certainly will help when we shop online using big sized screens. Shopping online with the help of the biggest screen is certainly a great experience.
Applications are easy to install and fast too. Apple give a limit of 200 MB file size limit on apps, you need have to deal with the problem of lengthy downloads. Once the apps are downloaded one after another, they will appear on the home screen and you may have to move it manually in and out of visibility. It would have been better if folders were available to organize them better using Siri or some other tvOS
This is because Siri serves as a support for voice search. Once the microphone is tapped the remove starts working and the Siri interface is ready to use. You need only to give in the right search command and Siri will do the rest. Also knowing that you are searching on something using Apple TV it has the best voice search options as far as things like TV show titles, movies and other things are concerned and it also includes directors and actors. The voice search results are error free except for some rare situations. Siri also has the capability of fetching basic information such as weather but it still has a long way to go.
How Good is Siri Search?
At the end of the day it certainly does a great job and is easy to find content across various types of services. When customers look for The Good Wife they get information about various other seasons on Hulu. There also is an obligatory link for purchasing it which can be used. It helps a lot in voice search to the extent that one starts using them to find things which they already know where they are on Netfix. This is because Apple TV can take you to the link to third parties straight away. It does not need moving around menus and spending time on search queries.
It also has deep voice features which is impressive. When customers played Homeland-first episode it opened immediately the act show time and the pilot started playing. It also happened with HBON and other such programs. The search can also be used for launching specific apps. It will help to keep the home screen neat. However there are rooms for improving things. For example favorite iTune libraries can’t be searched easily. This problem might be solved once it is opened up for bigger apps like YouTube and others. When compared to voice search like Roku 4 and Fire TV, Apple TV is better and faster.
When there is a need for video streaming there is not much of difference between the old and new versions of Apple TV. Videos start working much faster and using Siri remote makes rewinding and fast forwarding easier. It also provides image preview when navigating on time line. This helps to find out specific areas easily. This is because of extra disc space available in Apple TV. It certainly helps in increased video caching then before.
If you had some old media app on the previous version of Apple TV it is likely that the new one also have it. It also has Plex which is suitable software for streaming personal media. It also does have trouble in recognising apps already available in it. there is no doubt that app like Plex is very suitable when it comes to programs available in Roku and Fire TV.
It is proven that Apple TV has one of the best gaming machine. It is totally free from error as far as use of gaming consoles are concerned. It also offers the best of gaming experience for those with casual approach and same is the case for those with robust requirement. Some of the games like Rayman Adventures and Crossy Road are nothing but ports of iPhone.
All the games on Apple TV work only with Siri Remote but it also is possible to have customized MFI controller or Made for iPhone controller which can be paired over Bluetooth. It will be extremely useful for advanced games. The normal approach is suitable for ordinary games. Some games like Transistor could be a bit tough to play. However once we are able to connect the device with a SteelSeries Nimbus controller it made things easy. These controllers are available for a price of around £50. Hence it will not pinch the pocket for most customers.
The Future Of Apple Games
As far as the future is concerned it depends as to how developers in Apple TV are able to make best use of Siri Remote. There are many examples for this and Beat Sports is perfect one. It has the efficiency of Wii Sports. It also has superb music and also some great games which kids can easily learn. On the whole whether it is listening to music playing games or watching cartoons it is addictive and interesting.
It should be borne in mind that Roku and Amazon are the two main competitors for Apple and it is fighting for dominance over them. This is because Roku and Amazon offer similar app-driven set top boxes. However many TVs today come in with apps which are in-built which also should be taken into account. This might make the very concept of set-top boxes look redundant. However one big advantage with set top boxes is that you save on the cost factor because Roku and Amazon are able to offer the same at price ranges of $100 to $130.
If you have spent money on Amazon’s eco system you can look at the option of Fire TV which is priced at around $100. It also has 4K feature and has a better interface than Roku. It also offers a wider game selection and a game pad accessory is also available for complex games. But at the end of the day Amazon’s set top box becomes more an advertisement device for various Amazon content library and other products. Amazon is also planning to integrate Fire TV with its store front. If this happens it is possible we can see many new shopping apps coming up on Apple TV also.
Lack Of 4K On Apple TV
It is also pertinent to mention here that Apple TV does not have 4K and it will be a big problem for many customers. Those who are looking for some quality 4K content, Apple TV will be disappointment. It continues to trust on the proven 1080p video. While it is sensible to a limited extent 4K is something which will come within the next few years and Apple TV is not prepared for it.
It is still not very clear if Apple has been able to overhaul AirPlay for Apple TV and iOS 9. But based on tests on streaming on some videos and music there are reasons to believe that it performs well. One of the main reasons why Mac and iOS 9 users prefer Apple TV is because it is compatible with AirPlay. On the other hand it is not exactly reliable. If Apple is able to take care of it, it will go a long way in making this set top box one of the best.
When Amazon and Roku offer 4K things become even tougher for Apple. However, there are customers who still prefer watching TV on 1080p plasma instead of cheap 4K LCD. Picture quality is much better and there will not be too much to differentiate between 4K and 1080p. If you have still not bought 4K TV it is better to wait because newer technologies like High Dynamic Range (HDR) could be on the way.
There are reasons to believe that older and cheaper versions are not always bad when you don’t need all the new features. You can save money by using older version of Apple TV for around £69. But as far as hardware is concerned, it is better to steer clear of the older Apple TVs. This is because no software updates will be possible. Apple now has tvOS and the older devices will not run the software.
Is the wait for Apple TV worth it? After having a play with it and seeing how much effort Apple have put in to the device to refresh it then the answer is yes. This is because it has better remote, refined interface and the best voice search technology. It certainly puts it much above other set top boxes. Though it is in its early days and although it has lot of potential it needs developers to get on board to make the apps for it.
Apple TV is not a simple media box any longer. Gone are the days when Apple users would prefer to watch movies on their iPads than on their TV because of the lack of features in the previous generation Apple TVs.
Massive improvement on previous versions of the Apple TV. The lack of 4K support means that this doesn't score higher.