Apple TV assessment (2015): An enormous leap ahead, until you need 4K

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

For years, Apple TV has been like a perpetually ignored baby, eclipsed by its overachieving siblings, the iPhone and iPad. Design-clever, it hasn’t modified in any respect since 2010, and it has been shackled with one of the archaic Apple interfaces round, which harkens again to the iPod days. All of the whereas Roku and even Amazon have stepped up their recreation significantly. Now, with the fourth-era Apple TV, the set-prime field that is been deemed merely as a “pastime” by its mother or father has lastly come into its personal. It has extra highly effective hardware, a considerably redesigned distant and an working system that is worthy of an Apple product in 2015. And eventually, there is a real app retailer, which turns Apple TV right into a professional platform for leisure and gaming in your front room. It is not fairly the “way forward for tv” that Apple is promising, nevertheless it’s getting there.

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Apple

Apple TV (2015)

Execs

  • New interface is refined and engaging
  • Siri distant is a a lot-wanted improve 
  • Voice search works nicely
  • Strong app and gaming help

Cons

  • No 4K help
  • On-display keyboard continues to be clumsy

Abstract

The brand new Apple TV gives probably the most refined streaming interface but, with a distant that is a step forward of the competitors. Its voice search truly works nicely, and even at this early stage, there are many worthwhile apps and video games. For those who want 4K although, look elsewhere.

Hardware

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Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

Because it’s in all probability going to be caught someplace beneath your TV, it is sensible why Apple did not change up the Apple TV’s design a lot. It is nonetheless product of black plastic, however it’s considerably taller than earlier than, virtually like two of the older Apple TVs stacked on prime of one another. On the again, there’s the compulsory HDMI port, together with Ethernet, USB-C and energy ports. Sadly, you are out of luck when you’re nonetheless counting on optical audio cables; the Apple TV depends totally on HDMI for audio now. That should not be an issue for most individuals, however when you’ve obtained a price range soundbar, or if you have not upgraded your property theater up to now decade, be prepared to select up an HDMI/optical cable splitter.

Apple’s A8 chip powers all the set-prime field goodness, and in accordance with developer paperwork, it is also operating 2GB of RAM. Meaning it ought to be an much more highly effective system than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which have half as a lot RAM. It is unclear how briskly the A8 chip is operating within the Apple TV, however it was clocked at 1.four GHz on the iPhone 6 and 1.5 GHz on the iPad Mini four. You’ve got received a selection between 32GB of storage for the $149 mannequin or 64GB for the $199 mannequin. Whereas its good to have a bigger storage choice, the 32GB mannequin must be high quality for most individuals, as you will be streaming most of your content material anyway.

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

Whereas the Apple TV seems to be a bit acquainted, the brand new Siri Distant is one other story solely. It is greater than earlier than, with a clean trackpad that sits atop a glass panel on the entrance. The again is a single piece of metallic. It seems to be just like the bastard lovechild of the iPhone four and the new MacBook — and that is a superb factor. It merely feels nice in your hand. And even when it is laying flat in your sofa or espresso desk, it merely appears engaging. The distant has a menu and play/pause button like earlier than, however now there’s additionally a house button, Siri voice search button, and quantity controls. It is also wi-fi, lastly, so you do not have to fret about pointing it on the Apple TV.

Principally, it is as if Apple jumped forward a number of generations from the final Apple TV distant, which was all about minimalism. That distant was initially designed to deal with media on older Macs, not a set-prime field sitting in your front room, so it by no means felt enough sufficient for the Apple TV. There’s now a microphone constructed-in for voice searches on the brand new distant, together with an accelerometer and gyroscope for Wii-like movement controls. You can even cease stocking up on watch batteries, because it fees over Apple’s Lightning cable. I have never used it lengthy sufficient to empty the battery to date, and that is after every week of watching a ton of Netflix and Hulu, in addition to enjoying all kinds of video games.

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

One good bonus: Now you can management your TV or audio receiver quantity from the Siri distant. In case your system helps it, the distant can truly flip the whole lot on and management quantity over HDMI. In any other case, you possibly can practice the Apple TV to acknowledge your TV or receiver distant’s IR enter, and it will duplicate it like a common distant. The one drawback with that choice is that you’re going to have to level the distant to the Apple TV to vary the quantity, which kind of defeats the aim of getting a wi-fi enter gadget.

Software program

Say hiya to tvOS, an iOS offshoot that lastly brings apps and a dramatically redesigned interface to the Apple TV. Gone are the simplistic black background and app interfaces. As an alternative, tvOS is all about brilliant colours and visually wealthy apps. Frankly, it is about time. Whereas Roku and Amazon have been build up strong media platforms with loads of engaging apps, Apple TV customers have been caught with an arcane interface that hasn’t modified a lot because the second-gen model debuted 5 years in the past. Apple’s undoubtedly enjoying catch-up with tvOS, however there are additionally some elements that put it forward of the competitors.

Merely establishing the brand new Apple TV exhibits off the seamless integration the corporate can obtain throughout its units in the present day. You simply want to put an iOS gadget close to it to shoot over your WiFi and Apple ID credentials. That took just some seconds with my iPhone 6S. It is undoubtedly the simplest set-prime setup I’ve seen up to now, primarily since you’re not simply caught typing in login credentials letter-by-letter with a directional pad. If you do not have an iOS gadget, you will be caught doing simply that with the Siri Distant, a considerably irritating course of (extra on that under).

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

When you’re all arrange, there is a acquainted wanting residence display, with apps for iTunes films, TV exhibits and music, in addition to pictures. This time round although, navigating the interface is way extra fluid, because of the Siri Distant’s touchpad. There are additionally visible thrives sprinkled all through; I notably appreciated how app icons type of bend in several instructions with 3D results as you hover over them. And it is good to lastly have a button that brings you proper again to the house display (beforehand, that concerned holding down the menu button). There’s additionally some rudimentary multitasking: Double-clicking the house button opens up all your current apps, and it is fairly straightforward to hop between them.

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

As a lot as voice search is an enormous a part of the brand new Apple TV, you will should cope with the on-display keyboard from time to time. And, sadly, it is even worse than earlier than. As an alternative of heaving a number of rows of letters so that you can hunt and peck, now they’re all introduced on a single line in an effort to swipe forwards and backwards on the trackpad to pick them. The large drawback? Whereas the trackpad is nice for giant sweeping actions, it is fairly irritating for effective choices, like selecting letters aspect by aspect. At this level, you can also’t join a Bluetooth keyboard like with the previous Apple TV, and Apple’s Distant app nonetheless does not help it both.

App retailer and apps

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

You will discover one thing new on the house display: an app retailer. Lastly! The earlier Apple TV slowly constructed up an honest assortment of third-get together apps, however they weren’t straightforward to make, and there was no app retailer of any type to go to. As an alternative new purposes simply obtained downloaded to your Apple TV residence display, and you would be left with checking out the mess by manually hiding those you did not want (which turned out to be most of them).

Provided that there are not any third-get together apps put in by default, you will should get conversant in the app retailer actual fast. And when you’ve seen one app retailer from Apple, you’ve got seen all of them, actually. This one options common and upcoming apps on the primary web page, in addition to prime charts, simply as you’d anticipate. Even at this early stage, there are many noteworthy apps on the market. On prime of the necessities like Netflix and Hulu, there are newcomers like Plex, purchasing apps from QVC and Gilt, and in addition tons and plenty of video games.

There are big high quality gaps between the obtainable apps to date. Some, like Netflix and Hulu, are merely simply engaging updates to their older apps. Others simply appear bizarre when tailored to tv, just like the Periscope app which does not even allow you to log into your Periscope account. (And boy, seeing most of that novice content material on an enormous display is not very entertaining.) However there are additionally a handful of apps that present the potential for the Apple TV to be a brand new and thrilling platform in your front room.

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

The QVC app combines reside video with browsable content material which you can purchase proper from the Apple TV. And Gilt’s app is principally a pretty catalog for its on-line retailer. They could really feel a tad superfluous proper now, however do not forget how a lot the supply of apps on smartphones and tablets modified the best way we store. With the ability to browse purchasing websites on the most important display in your room might definitely be tempting to many shoppers.

Apps usually downloaded and put in fairly shortly, and provided that Apple is imposing a 200MB file measurement restrict on apps, you should not need to cope with many prolonged downloads. When you begin piling them on, they will all present up on your property display, and ultimately you will have one thing that resembles the earlier Apple TV. It would be good to get folders or some method to manage them ultimately, although.

Siri and voice search

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

Siri’s additionally an enormous a part of tvOS, although primarily it simply serves because the conduit for voice search. Tapping the microphone button on the distant opens up the usual Siri interface, you simply have to dictate a search command into the distant and let Siri do its magic. Given that you simply’re looking on one thing referred to as the Apple TV, the voice search is greatest fitted to issues like film and television present titles, actors and administrators. The voice search outcomes have been usually fairly correct, until I looked for a very tough identify or film title. Siri also can fetch primary info just like the climate, however proper now it is nowhere close to as strong as on iOS correct.

The perfect half concerning the Apple TV’s Siri search? It does a terrific job of discovering content material throughout a number of providers. Once I looked for The Good Spouse, for instance, I obtained outcomes pointing to a number of seasons on Hulu, together with the compulsory hyperlink to purchase it on iTunes as properly. It is gotten to the purpose the place I am utilizing voice search to seek out issues even once I know the place to seek out them on Netflix, as a result of the Apple TV can truly hyperlink you straight into third-get together apps. No extra hopping round menus and typing in search queries like a chump! (Until you are in search of overseas titles or issues which might be simply arduous to parse together with your voice.

I used to be additionally stunned at how deep the voice function might go. Once I requested it to play the primary episode of Homeland, it opened the Showtime app (which I subscribe to) and instantly began enjoying the pilot. And the identical factor occurred with HBO Now once I requested for the primary episode of The Sopranos. You may as well use voice search to launch particular apps, which might be useful as your property display will get messy. Stil, there is definitely room for Siri search to get higher. It could actually’t search your shared iTunes libraries, and thus far it solely works with a couple of apps (the biggies talked about above). As soon as it opens up extra extensively, particularly for issues like YouTube and sports activities apps, it’s going to be a recreation changer. In comparison with the Hearth TV and Roku four’s voice search, Apple TV works a bit quicker, and it additionally did a greater job of discovering content material throughout a number of providers.

As a media system

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

In relation to streaming video, the brand new Apple TV is not a lot totally different than the previous one. Movies appear to start out up a bit quicker, and the Siri distant makes quick-forwarding an rewinding a lot simpler than earlier than. There’s truly a small picture preview of the place you are navigating to on the video timeline, which helps you pinpoint particular spots simply. You possibly can in all probability thank the additional disk area within the Apple TV for that, because it permits for rather more video caching than earlier than.

When you had a favourite media app on the previous Apple TV, likelihood is it is already obtainable on the brand new one. However the mere existence of an app retailer means extra providers might make their approach over. I used to be stunned to see that Plex, which builds software program for streaming your private media, managed to make their app out there already. It had no hassle recognizing my present Plex shares. It positive was bizarre with the ability to play my very own media information proper off of the Apple TV. Apps like Plex have been additionally one of many largest benefits that Roku and the Hearth TV had, which suggests each Roku and Amazon want to start out taking a look at different methods to distinguish themselves.

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

Sadly, should you’re looking forward to some 4K content material, the Apple TV will not be of a lot use to you. In contrast to its essential rivals this yr, Apple is sticking with tried-and-true 1080p video. That is sensible to a sure extent — most individuals do not have 4K TVs but, so why construct for that? Apple is all about optimizing its product margins each time potential, and it is no stranger to ready a bit earlier than adopting new know-how (do not forget that Apple did not ship LTE till the iPhone 5). However should you’ve already obtained a 4K TV, I will not blame you for feeling bummed. (Though it is value checking to see if any constructed-in apps in your TV additionally supply 4K content material.) By subsequent yr, Apple undoubtedly will not be capable of ignore 4K anymore.

On one other word, it is unclear if Apple managed to overtake AirPlay for the Apple TV and iOS 9 (as 9to5Mac reported), however based mostly on my checks streaming Spotify tracks, native music and video, it appeared to carry out higher than earlier than. AirPlay has all the time been one of many largest causes for iOS and Mac customers to go together with the Apple TV, nevertheless it’s additionally an ordinary that is notoriously unreliable. If Apple has managed to repair that, it will make its shiny new set-prime field all of the extra tempting to followers.

As a gaming system

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

Colour me stunned: The Apple TV manages to be a reasonably strong gaming machine! You’d by no means mistake it for a devoted gaming console, to make certain, nevertheless it gives up some respectable informal gaming experiences, in addition to some barely extra strong choices. A number of the video games, like Rayman Adventures and Crossy Street, are principally simply iPhone ports. However there are additionally some new titles like Beat Sports activities from Harmonix which have been constructed particularly for the Siri Distant’s movement management capabilities.

All the video games on Apple TV are required to work with the Siri Distant, however you may as well pair a “Made for iPhone” (MFI) controller with it over Bluetooth for extra superior video games. The traditional distant is ok for informal video games, particularly one thing like Crossy Street, which simply requires you to swipe in a number of instructions. Transistor was a bit robust to play with the Siri Distant alone, however as soon as I related a SteelSeries Nimbus controller, it felt no totally different than enjoying it on my pc with an Xbox One controller. Further controllers sometimes retail for round $50, so they will not be the type of factor most shoppers would bounce to.

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

In relation to video games, Apple TV’s actual future is determined by how nicely builders reap the benefits of the Siri Distant. Beat Sports activities is presently the prime instance of what is attainable. It options the quirk of Wii Sports activities, some infuriatingly catchy music and genuinely enjoyable gameplay that youngsters can study simply. For probably the most half, it has you swing the distant or swipe the trackpad to the tune of cartoonish characters enjoying sports activities. It is easy, but shortly addictive.

The competitors

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

It must be fairly clear who Apple is preventing towards for dominance in your front room: It is primarily Roku and Amazon, which supply equally highly effective, app-enabled set-prime packing containers. However loads of TVs lately additionally include constructed-in apps, which for some individuals makes the entire concept of getting a separate field in your TV pointless. If you’d like a streaming field in your older TV, although, and are principally involved with cross-platform help, you are in all probability higher off with the Roku four ($one hundred thirty) or the marginally older Roku three ($one hundred), which regardless of their humdrum interfaces, supply strong voice search and all kinds of media apps.

Should you’re closely invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, the $one hundred 4K Hearth TV is value a glance too. It presents a barely higher interface than Roku, together with a much bigger number of video games and a gamepad accent for extra complicated titles. Nonetheless, it ought to be no shock that Amazon’s TV field finally ends up primarily serving as an awesome commercial for Amazon’s content material library and Prime. (Sure, you might simply say the identical for iTunes and the Apple TV.) Heck, Amazon is even reportedly testing out its storefront on the Hearth TV, which is sensible since we’re already seeing buying apps pop up on the Apple TV as nicely.

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

And once more, the shortage of 4K on the brand new Apple TV will probably be an on the spot deal breaker for some, particularly when you possibly can simply get it from Amazon and Roku. Personally, although, I might nonetheless relatively watch TV on a strong 1080p plasma, somewhat than the plethora of low cost 4K LCDs on the market. Image high quality usually seems higher, and significantly, you doubtless will not have the ability to see a lot of a decision bump out of your sofa with 4K. If you have not invested in a 4K set but, it is in all probability value ready till subsequent yr when the TVs get cheaper, look higher and help different new applied sciences, like excessive dynamic vary (HDR). That may truly make a noticeable change in how your content material seems, in comparison with the pretty negligible decision bump with 4K.

Sometimes I might additionally advocate contemplating older, cheaper variations of the gear I am reviewing for those who do not want all the new options — and you may certainly save quite a bit by choosing up the older Apple TV for $sixty nine. However on this case, I might recommend staying away from the previous Apple TV hardware. It possible will not see any software program updates, now that Apple has tvOS and an entire new system to concentrate on. And in the event you’ve gone this lengthy with out snapping up the final Apple TV, I assume you’ve got acquired another technique for watching streaming video.

Wrap-up

Apple TV review (2015): A huge leap forward, unless you want 4K

So was the look forward to a brand new Apple TV value it? After spending every week devouring content material and making it the centerpiece of my front room, I might say sure. Its refined interface and distant, together with the most effective voice search implementation I’ve seen, places it a step above different set-prime packing containers. And even at this early stage, the app retailer clearly has loads of potential. The Apple TV is not only a media field; it is a conduit for bringing the apps we have grown to like on our cellular units to our TVs.

The one drawback with the Apple TV is that there is no 4K help simply but. This shall be a non-challenge for a lot of shoppers, however if you wish to be on the bleeding fringe of high quality, the place each single pixel issues greater than the totality of your media expertise, you then’ll simply need to look elsewhere.

Images by Nathan Ingraham