Steve Jobs described Apple TV as a hobby. In October we were told all that was about to change with the fourth generation of Apple TV. When connecting my new 32Gb Apple TV five days ago I looked forward to finding out whether this was just an updated version of a heavily restricted streaming box or in fact (in Tim Cook’s words) the foundation of the future of TV?
Spec wise the new Apple TV promised to deliver all the features I had on my own wish list as a user of a 2nd Generation Apple TV. TVOS is a much needed upgrade to the previous fiddly UI. An App Store removes the shackles of restriction and allows for much more customisation. Not only can you download more TV apps but there is a selection of games, shopping, lifestyle, fitness apps to choose from too. Apple Music is now available on your TV, removing the need to airplay from iPhone, Macbook or iPad. An improved remote was badly needed. The dedicated home button means no more bashing the menu button when you want to switch apps. A trackpad on the remote means no more clickety, clickety, click, click, clicking to carry out the simplest of tasks. The addition of Siri could be the real game changer. Now we can simply tell our TV what we want to watch. How cool is that? Read on for an in depth review of new Apple TV’s real world performance.
Set Up: 3/5
In setting up I discovered some small print that meant my experience wasn’t quite as slick as I’d hoped for. You can use any iOS device to complete a quick set up. That is unless your iOS device is a 2nd gen iPad. Not to worry manual set up only took a few minutes even if it did include quite a bit of swiping back and forth along a horizontal alphabet. It’s a minor gripe but something I hope is improved in a software update soon.
On first impressions TVOS is much cleaner, less cluttered and more consistent with the look and feel of iOS 9. Unlike it’s predecessors you don’t have a whole load of pre-installed apps just the basic Movies, Music, Photos, Computer, Settings. After just a few quick flicks between apps it was clear that this is the kind of user experience you expect from Apple. It works smoothly with a relaxed zen like vibe as you navigate from app to app. Apple Music is the best example of this with a neat layout with artwork for albums nicely displayed against an opaque blurred background. There is something quite soothing about the look and feel of this especially when listening to Chill on Beats Radio.
App Store: 4/5
Next up it’s time to add some apps to the home screen. It’s very early days and the App Store is a little light on content. The apps on offer in this new app store however do point towards a future where your Apple TV will be more of an entertainment hub with games, shopping, lifestyle, fitness, weather, news apps in addition to TV and Movie apps. After installing Netflix, Sky News and YouTube there wasn’t much more on offer TV wise. I hoped there would be some player apps from UK & Ireland Terrestrial TV stations, but it looks like I’ll have to wait a while for those apps to be published. It would be great to see FilmOn available for download. Unfortunately due to licensing restrictions neither Now TV nor HBO Go are available here in Ireland. Bit of a bummer but not a major issue.
The improvements on the remote are instantly noticed. The trackpad provides much smoother navigation. Double clicking the menu button puts the TV into Screen Saver mode allowing you to use your TV as a photoframe to display your favourite memories in slideshow with a variety of options including the Ken Burns style which adds a sense of movement to still images.
Siri: 5/5 (If living in UK, US, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Spain or Japan) 3/5 (if living outside of these 8 countries)
One of the key selling points of Apple TV is Siri. The ability to search for content within all installed apps by talking into your remote is one exciting feature. Unfortunately Siri is not available in Ireland. I read lots of reviews but none mentioned the fact that Siri is only initially available in eight countries. Having checked with Apple Support there is no confirmed plan to roll out to other countries. So unless you live inUK, US, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Spain or Japan you’ll have to use one of the following options to activate Siri.
- In Settings change your Location to one of the 8 supported countries
- In Accounts, change your itunes location to one of the 8 supported countries.
It may be a hassle but it’s worth following these steps as Siri is pretty darn impressive. With commands like, ‘find’, ‘search’, ‘show me’, combined with genre, actor, director, year, Siri presents an impressive amount of viewing options available across all installed apps. Even more impressive is how you can ask Siri for information on a show’s crew or cast without interrupting playback. No more IMDB-ing that supporting actor you know you’ve seen in something else. Even more impressive is how you can ask Siri ‘What did he/she say?’ Siri rewinds by 15 seconds and temporarily subtitles what you are watching.
Siri doesn’t just compliment your movie or show viewing. You can also request updates on sporting events, current affairs, weather. Requested info gets displayed in a non intrusive info card which you can expand or dismiss with a swipe.
Unfortunately if like me you live outside of the main eight countries in which Siri is officially available then you may have to take the usual steps needed to register an iTunes account from one of those eight countries. Unless you’ve registered your Apple Music account in one of those same eight countries then you’ll have to sign back into iTunes in your own country every time you want to play music. Similarly I was prompted to sign into the correct iTunes when trying to download an app as well as rent a movie.
When logged into my iTunes account that’s registered in Ireland with the devices location set to UK, Siri sticks around despite a warning that it isn’t available in my country. Instead I get a less impressive version of Siri that loses the ability to search within apps. It can open an app or select what’s visible on screen within Netflix / Music for example but it wont search for a title or find info on a movie as it does when iTunes is set to the relevant country. However information on sport, weather etc is still available whenever requested. Hopefully Siri will be more widely available in the coming months so that we can enjoy the full experience without needing to switch accounts constantly.
It’s bit of a nerdy thing to review the HDMI input but hey it’s that kind of blog. Lets admit it, we can all get quite lazy after binging on a couple of episodes of our favourite show. Having to search under cushions for the other remote to switch off the TV can be a hassle, especially if your brain is suffering from severe dehydration thanks to over salting the popcorn. Apple TV’s new HDMI-CEC (consumer electronics control) support means that putting the Apple TV to sleep will also switch off your TV set. Similarly Apple TV’s remote adjusts the volume of the TV and not just whatever’s playing on the Apple TV itself.
Overall: 4/5 (With Fully Working Siri)
Despite the disappointment of realising Siri doesn’t work straight out of the box here in Ireland, I can’t help but be impressed by this latest Apple TV. All improvements are significant. It makes for a slick viewing experience that removes the hassle out of finding what you want. I’m not time rich so I don’t have the luxury of binge watching TV. Nor do I have time for ad breaks or patience for dealing with unnecessary delays caused by poor menu designs of cable TV providers. Thankfully the new Apple TV perfectly delivers for such requirements. It’s a no fuss streamlined way of watching or searching content. I can see it becoming more of a nerve centre for the home due to it’s multi-purpose potential use. It allows you to play games, pay bills, shop, work out, check the football scores, listen to music and watch a movie/show. If broadcasters, content creators and developers alike get behind this platform it very well could become the cornerstone for the future of TV that Tim Cook predicted. It is every bit as good as Apple promised and definitely worth the extra €100 or so over it’s predecessors.