Apple TV Review
- Interface is easy to pick up
- Siri Remote works well
- Voice search and control brilliant
- No 4K support
- Sparse app store
- Parental controls need tightening
- Review Price: £129.00
- Voice recognition remote with touch pad
- HDMI 1.4
- 1080p Full-HD 60Hz
- Universal search
- Bluetooth 4.0
- AirPlay compatible
- 32 or 64GB versions
Living with the Apple TV – Long-term test
Considering it has been out for over a year now, the latest Apple TV hasn’t been quite the do-all addition to my television setup I had hoped.
In-fact, little has really changed with Apple’s streamer and the competition has not only got cheaper, but significantly more appealing with 4K content.
Related: What is 4K?
It’s the lack of apps, in the UK at least, that really disappoints with the Apple TV. Apple’s own TV app is nowhere to be seen in the UK, and big channels like ITV, 4 and 5 have decided against releasing dedicated apps. Even Now TV, Sky’s streaming solution, is hamstrung by its severely out-of-date app that is exactly the same as the one on the older Apple TV. There’s still no Amazon Prime Video either, though that’s probably to be expected.
Universal Search, another of the headline features, hasn’t been expanded in the UK and still only really works with iTunes Movies and Netflix.
Software aside, the Apple TV desperately needs a hardware refresh to enable some sort of 4K support.
While 4K support was slim when the Apple TV launched, it’s a lot better now and nearly all of its competitors have it. Roku, Nvidia, Amazon and Google all have 4K boxes, and even Sony and Microsoft have updated their home consoles. Considering its high-price, the Apple TV not having 4K will probably be a dealbreaker for some.
It’s not all bad though, and the Apple TV is still a pleasure to use. The Siri remote is one of the best around and if you don’t constantly use the motion functions, it will last a sizeable amount of time on a single-charge. The apps that are here are fast and responsive, while there’s been a steady stream of decent iOS game ported over.
Hopefully we’ll see an updated Apple TV soon, but really it’s the developers that need to get on board and build the apps. I know the situation is a lot brighter in the USA, where apps are more plentiful and full-on TV streaming packages are available, but everywhere else
You can read our original Apple TV review below. It’s worth bearing in mind that it was written at a time when competition wasn’t quite so tough.
What is the Apple TV?
I’ve never been that impressed by Apple TV. I found the 3rd generation one from 2012 too basic, and the Chromecast took its place as my streaming solution of choice in 2013.
It’s not that previous Apple TVs were bad – far from it – they just didn’t do very much.
The 4th gen Apple TV is a total reinvention of the little black box that makes your TV smarter, and Apple has got most things right. It has peered into a crystal ball and decided that the future of TV involves apps, lots of them.
2015’s Apple TV is speedy and powerful, the Siri remote is clever and innovative and the brand new tvOS comes with some brilliant features and nifty touches.
So what are the downsides? Well the Apple TV doesn’t support 4K. That’s not much of an issue at the moment considering how little 4K content is actually out there, but it means that it’s not future-proof.
Gaming doesn’t yet live up to my high hopes either. Apple TV is certainly not a replacement for a family-friendly Nintendo at the moment.
For many, though, both these points are minor. If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem then the new Apple TV will be a welcome addition to your home, especially if you’re not a streaming stick convert.
Apple TV – Setup
This year’s Apple TV is about twice as tall as the previous model (35mm tall, 98mm square) but still remains a compact black box designed to blend into the surroundings of your TV setup.
And blend it does. One tiny, white LED light lets you know it’s on and the matt black plastic is inconspicuous.
All connections are tidily hidden on the back. And while it doesn’t have as many connections as, for example, the Roku 2 or Amazon Fire TV, it has what most of us need.
The box connects to your TV via a HDMI 1.4 cable (not included). This allows signals to pass through to the TV so you can turn it on and off and adjust volume, but only if your TV supports the 1.4 standard.
Newer TVs should be ok, but the TV I’m using to test is a model from 2010 that doesn’t. Check with your TV manufacturer if this is a feature you’re keen on using.
Outside of this the Apple TV features an Ethernet port to connect directly to a router – if you don’t want to use the 802.11ac Wi-Fi – and a USB-C port, but that’s for Apple to use when servicing the Apple TV.
Connect everything together and the Apple TV is quick to get up and running, though I did notice a couple of oddities during the setup processs.
It all starts promisingly. Putting your iPhone close to the Apple TV sets it up with your home Wi-Fi settings so you don’t need to input them manually. Your Apple ID is also automatically populated, although for security reasons you’ll need to input the password manually.
Unfortunately that’s all that is transferred. The apps you have on your phone that have tvOS counterparts aren’t considered and even when you do add them you’ll still need to enter your login details most of the time.
To be fair to the Apple TV this isn’t so different to the experience you’ll have with any other streaming TV box on the market, it just feels that Apple could have made life a little easier for its customers.
Apple TV – Siri Remote
The Siri remote and the way it works with the new tvOS operating system is one of the new Apple TV’s key selling points.
It is slim, well-crafted, light, has just six visible buttons and a clickable touch pad at the top. The button layout lets you easily navigate menus and it’s easy as pie to recharge – a lightning cable can top up the battery when needed, which is approximately every six months according to Apple.
There’s more to it too. Apple has attempted to create something akin to Nintendo’s Wiimote on the controller. Though to take advantage of this safely you’ll gave to invest in a Remote Loop – a lanyard that keeps the remote from flying off your hand and costs a frankly ludicrous £11/$13.
Even then, while it comes with an accelerometer and gyroscope for motion gaming, it’s not perfect and the remote lacks a little precision that certain games require.
Skipping through menus is a lot quicker using a touch pad than a D-pad or analogue stick, although typing out an email address, for example, can still feel like a chore.
The Apple TV uses a A-Z virtual keyboard so you swipe from one letter to the next to type. Unfortunately you can skip from the end to the beginning, so if you type a Y and the next letter is an A you have to swipe all the way back to the beginning of the alphabet.
An IR blaster is built into the top edge so you can set up with your TV or sound system to control volume, however I could not get this to work with my Sony soundbar or LG TV.
The Siri remote has all the obvious buttons needed: volume, play/pause, home and menu; the latter also functions as a back button. The sixth button is dedicated to Siri, and she’s at her most useful on Apple TV.
Apple TV – Voice commands
Having a mic on a remote isn’t new, Roku has had one for a while but it only let you search for a movie, show, actor or director. The voice function on the Apple TV does that, plus a lot more.
Let’s start with search. Apple has enabled universal search on the Apple TV so you find content across apps. Calling it ‘universal’ is an overstatement, though.
At the moment search covers Netflix and the iTunes store – it’s up to app developers to add themselves to it. It’s still early days for this feature and I fully expect plenty of apps to join Apple’s party.
It’s smarter than simply finding titles you ask for.
If you don’t know what you want to watch you can ask Siri more general questions, like I did this Halloween. “What are the best scary movies on Netflix?” popped up a list of some great titles, like the odd indie-flick Spring, based on critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes.
Search is contextual to whatever it is you’re watching or the app you’re in. So ask “who’s in this?” while watching a movie and photos of the top billed cast appear at the bottom of the screen. Click one of the floating heads and your movie is paused and the screen taken over so you can see some of the other films that person has been in. Clever stuff and an easy way to get that itch in the back of your head scratched when you really can’t recall where you’ve seen an actor before.
There’s a bunch of clever voice commands that make the Apple TV a joy to use, too.
You can fast-forward or rewind by swiping the touch pad, of course, but you can also tell Siri to move you forward a set amount of time. Didn’t quite catch what an actor said? Tell Siri and you’ll immediately go back ten seconds so you can listen to it again, with subtitles.
My favourite command has to be “continue playing”. Say “continue playing Netflix”, for example, and you’ll carry on right where you left off without having to go near the home screen or app icon. Seamless stuff.
I was surprised how quickly I got used to talking to the Apple TV. Speaking to a machine can feel a little awkward when you’re in public, but in the comfort of your own home that self-consciousness evaporates. It helps that the noise cancelling mic on the Siri remote and voice recognition are so solid. You don’t even have to lift it to your mouth, it works from a distance of several feet.
Apple TV – tvOS
I’ve already covered a fair amount of tvOS with the Siri Remote, but it’s worth going a little deeper into Apple’s new operating system that’s been designed specifically with a big screen in mind.
If you’re an iPhone or iPad user then using the Apple TV will come easy. Actions like double pressing the Home button to get a list of open apps and swiping up to close them closely matches iOS’ user experience.
Even if you’re not an Apple user, though, it won’t take long to get used to tvOS. Icons are large and navigating is simple enough using the Siri remote’s touch pad.
What surprised me was the amount of settings Apple lets you tweak compared to previous versions of the Apple TV. There is some depth to tvOS.
The settings are comprehensive, from being able to alter your screensaver (some beauties are already included) to locking down app and movie purchases.
There’s a bunch of restrictions you can add too, mostly based on age appropriateness. This is great if you have young kids you don’t want accessing content that’s not right for them, but the process is convoluted and doesn’t cover all apps.
Adding an age filter to films, for example, doesn’t restrict 18 rated movies on Netflix, but it will require a PIN to watch the equivalent from your iTunes library.
It’s miles away from Amazon Fire TV’s family-friendly parental controls and really should be something Apple beefs up sooner rather than later if it wabts to appeal to the family market.
Elsewhere Apple TV does better.
You can tweak sound settings from Auto to Stereo or Dolby Surround and tick the option to reduce loud sounds. This muffles explosions in an action movie, for example, so you don’t accidentally wake the baby.
You can also change the resolution from 640 x 480 to Full-HD at 60Hz.
Connection settings can also be altered so you can change your IP address and DNS settings easily – an important feature if you want to access Netflix catalogues from other countries.
Aside from the Ethernet connection there’s dual-band Wi-Fi with MIMO that can be used to connect to the internet. It’s solid – the Apple TV works well in a room on a different level and 10 metres away from my Netgear Nighthawk X4S router. The rule of thumb in my experience is that if an iPhone 6S Plus can get a Wi-Fi connection so can the Apple TV.
iCloud brings all the content from your Apple devices together, so you can create your own slideshows and look at all your photos on a TV using the Photos app.
AirPlay is also supported so you can throw content or apps from your phone or tablet to the Apple TV.
This is important because the Apple TV is light on apps at the moment. That’s not unexpected considering this version of tvOS is so new, but it does mean that if you want to watch Amazon Video, for example, you’ll have to stream it to the big screen via your phone.
Apple TV – Performance and specs
The Apple TV is powered by the same A8 dual-core chip as last year’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, but it’s backed up with 2GB RAM as opposed to the 1GB you get on those phones.
It’s plenty fast and I’ve not experienced any stutters or delays opening or using apps. The one exception is the beautiful game Lumino City. It drops a few frames here and there. However other games and apps work perfectly.
The Apple TV comes in 32GB (£129/$149) and 64GB (£169/$199) storage configurations. Which you go for depends on how many apps you want to keep on it. If you are planning to use the Apple TV predominantly for streaming services 32GB should be ample, if you’re planning to install loads of apps and games then go for the 64GB option.
Apple TV – Apps
There’s a whiff of tumbleweed when it comes to the Apple TV app store. There’s a smattering of games, a few dozen video streaming apps, and a few other bits and bobs. This is a far cry from what I’ve come to expect from the iOS App Store.
This is to be expected, though. The all new tvOS has only just been released so it will take some time for developers to adapt their apps for the new platform. Others will wait and see how popular Apple TV becomes before jumping on the bandwagon.
Apple stringently vets third party apps before they are released. I know of a couple of apps that have been rejected because they haven’t worked perfectly.
Sure the app shortage is annoying right now, but it’s a good thing that Apple TV doesn’t just take the apps from the iPhone and blow them up to TV proportions in my mind. The Siri remote is a unique controller and requires apps that work with it, as opposed to a touchscreen. So it’s better Apple’s making developers tweak their apps to work as they should on tvOS.
The other plus point is that if you’ve paid for an app on your phone you can get its tvOS counterpart for free, and vice versa.
I’ve already mentioned that Netflix is available, but no other major streaming services are, unless you’re in the US where you can also get Hulu and HBO Now. There’s no Amazon Video or UK specific apps like iPlayer, 4OD and ITV Player at the moment.
Shopping and travel apps like Gilt and Airbnb look great on the big screen and you don’t need to spend ages logging in to every app with the remote. Instead some apps give you a short code you enter on a website using a phone or computer.
The Apple TV isn’t just about gaming and watching telly – it also works as a Homekit hub. Any Homekit compatible smarthome products should be supported by Apple TV. If Homekit becomes the dominant force in connecting your home together then Apple TV will be essential.
Apple TV – Gaming
Gaming is the other big focus for the Apple TV and it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Adventure games that have a sedate pace or simple controls look stunning and work well on the big screen. Lumino City and Alto’s Adventure are great examples of Apple TV gaming done right.
Apple’s showcase, Beat Sports, is one of the pricier tvOS apps and aims to do for the Apple TV what Wii Sports did for the Wii. It won’t. The gaudy colours and cartoonish graphics will appeal to kids, but the repetitive, and sometimes tricky gameplay, wears thin quickly.
Galaxy of Fire Manticore Rising seems more promising, and I’m a fan of the series on iPhone and Android.
By twist and moving the remote you can control your spaceship. The touch pad lets you boost, slow down, avoid incoming missiles and fire special weapons. While it looks great on a TV, deep space dogfights lack finesse and I found myself giving up after dying multiple times on just the third mission.
Third party iOS controllers can be connected to Apple TV for some multiplayer action, and Crossy Road is a hoot when played with company. Games like Manticore Rising might also work better with a controller.
Apple TV app – not in the UK
At the iPhone launch event in September 2016, Apple announced a brand new TV app. Thanks to the recent tvOS 10.1 and iOS 10.2 updates the TV app is finally here, for US customers at least.
Getting everything set up with the TV app is actually quite confusing. For the best experience on Apple TV, you really need the single sign-in feature, which enables you to input your cable provider’s login details just once, rather than within each individual app. A Comcast subscriber, for instance, has to sign into every one individually, which is far less convenient.
Sadly Netflix and Amazon are nowhere to be seen. You can’t connect HBO Go or Watch ESPN apps to the TV app either. This means you’ll still be doing loads of browsing within other apps.
You can currently sign in to 26 TV on demand apps via your cable provider and access them within the TV app. If you have a standalone subscription membership to premium cord-cutting apps like HBO Now, Starz, Cinemax and Showtime you can also connect those apps to the TV apps. Hulu, a popular TV on demand platform in the US, is also compatible.
A Watch Now This section displays the movies and TV shows you’re currently watching, while also cueing up the next available episode from the on-demand app in question, which is a great little feature.
You’ll also see anything you’ve added to an Up Next list, as well as recommendations from apps you’ve linked to the TV app. Current iTunes rentals also appear here, as well as show and movie recommendations from different services under various categories.
The Library section features every video you’ve purchased from iTunes and it’s all available to stream from iCloud. The Store section features new releases from iTunes, links to the TV and Movie stores and a path to download apps to the pair subscription services like HBO Now, Showtime, Hulu, etc.
At the foot of the app is a list of on-demand apps you can download to access content by signing into your cable provider (ABC, AMC, TNT, etc.)
A handy Search section offers universal search capacity for all of the apps you have linked and those you haven’t. For example, a search for House of Cards allows you to open it in Netflix.
One of the best features is the ability to hit pause on the Apple TV and continue viewing on your bedside iPad.
The Apple TV app has its flaws but it does have some handy features. A pity, then, that it’s US-only for now.
Why buy the Apple TV?
The Apple TV ecosystem has grown steadily – there are now plenty of tvOS apps and games to choose from. This is another great bit of kit from Apple that comes with touches of brilliance.
It is more expensive than some competitors like the Roku 3 or Amazon Fire TV, but it’s worth it for the voice controls and remote alone. Once more app developers hook into the universal search, what is already a very good feature will become excellent.
If you’ve got an older Apple TV and like it then don’t hesitate, this is a monumental upgrade. It’s fast, slick, polished and offers so much more.
I prefer it to a Chromecast, too. Not having to tinker with my smartphone to get it working is something I like. It also means anyone in the house can use it.
If all you care about is Netflix and Amazon Video then the Roku 2 is a cheaper, albeit less refined, alternative.
If you’ve already got a smart TV then there’s not much point in getting any of the above for watching streaming services. Most new TVs have slick systems that work as well as most streaming boxes so there’s no need to splash out extra unless you love the idea of gaming or you like sharing your iPhone or iPad screen.
The app store currently lacks content and its gaming credentials are a little suspect, but the new Apple TV is a brilliant way of interacting with your TV and will keep you glued to a big screen instead of a small one.