Apple have had a foot in the streaming TV waters since 2012 with their first generation Apple TV.
It was a way to sell content from iTunes and stream content from many other providers. The latest version of the Apple TV looks similar to the older version but changes the game significantly for Apple. Steven Ambrose streams and plays with the new Apple TV to see what the fuss is all about.
The original Apple TV was a $99 black box that allowed access to the Apple ITunes store and had a number of apps that allowed streaming of Netflix and other services. In typical Apple fashion it was a clean simple and wholly integrated experience which allowed those who lived in the apple ecosystem seamless access to all there iTunes music movies and more.
The competition from Roku sling box and many others in the USA, and globally, was significant and the Apple TV grew a small and seemingly insignificant niche in the Apple portfolio. The internet and specifically the massive growth of streaming video on demand from various sources, forced a complete rethink from Apple and the result is the brand new, if similar looking Apple TV.
The new Apple TV is a double thick version of the older Apple TV. Essentially a black puck like box with rounded edges and connections on the back. The similarities end there, the new Apple TV is a whole new game from hardware to software. The best description would be a tiny computer connected to your TV and the internet.
The new Apple TV runs on an Apple A8 processor, the same as in an iPhone 6, along with 2 Gig Ram. All the required connection are present, including an HDMI output., a USB C port, Ethernet port and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The HDMI port is version 1.4 which simply means that there will be no 4K content via this device. This may not be a huge deal as 4K streaming or downloaded content will still take many years to go mainstream. The Apple TV comes in two memory capacities that of 32 Gig and 64 Gig.
The other key hardware change is the new Apple remote complete with a touchpad on top. The remote charges via an included lightning cable. In actual use it took a while to get used to a trackpad to control the functionality of the Apple TV, and I found the remote to be a little sensitive and fiddly. It is a fairly minor matter but a standard remote would have been more usable in most cases, except for playing games. The worst part was entering text which was a laborious and tricky to manage matter. Overall once you get used to the remote it was intuitive and relatively simple to use.
This is where the games begin with the new Apple TV. Included as an operating system is essentially a version of iOS used in the iPhone and iPad, called TV OS on the Apple TV. This is the real game changer, making the Apple TV less of a streaming box and more of a mini computer. The Apple TV comes complete with its own app store, and although none are preinstalled it’s a cinch to download and install new apps.
The Apple TV is fully integrated into to the Apple Apps store, if an app is available for the Apple TV and you purchased it on the App store for your iPhone its then available for free for the Apple TV. The integration goes further, on setup the Apple TV asks if you have an iPhone and all you do is hold your iPhone near the Apple TV and it will pull all the information to the Apple TV and set up your account a without any input from you, apart from a password, and bam it’s all set up, connected, and ready to go.
There are limited apps for now, but Netflix and Hulu and all the regular streaming service are available. Show-Max, the South Africa streaming service, promise their app is imminent. With the recent launch of Netflix in South Africa this becomes particularly relevant. In essence set up is extremely simple even if you do it manually. You will need an iTunes account, and once you have the info enter it and connect to Wi-Fi and off you go.
The new Apple TV sets itself apart from any other streaming unit I have used. It is really fast and all the extra memory on board makes a real difference, with other streaming boxes, every time you leave an app, like Netflix, and then go back, it needs time to reload. Not the Apple TV, its multitasking keeps the app loaded in memory and switch out and back and it’s all there ready to go. Switching apps browsing YouTube or the iTunes store is fast and fluid.
The next standout attribute is the actual picture quality. Simply put, the Apple TV has the best picture, both on downloaded content from iTunes, and via Netflix, that I have seen on a streaming box. Pictures are sharper and colours more accurate.
Playing games or browsing apps via the Apple TV is also very fast and games play really well, even though I did not have the Apple gaming controller, which is available at an additional cost. There is already an extensive range of games in the App store, all of which work with the included remote. Software and hardware worked well together and all games played without a hitch. The remote also has a built in Gyroscope and accelerometer and acts a bit like a Wi remote. The optional Game controller would be better but the remote is not bad at all.
Siri is also included in the new Apple TV and has got significantly smarter. Press the button on the remote and say Hey Siri I feel like some science fiction like Star Wars tonight, and off Siri goes and comes back with a whole lot of really intelligent suggestions, pulled not only from iTunes and any other installed services. Netflix search ability is apparently coming soon.
Siri may be one the killer features of the Apple TV, and to a great degree I found it to be seriously useful. If you say ‘go back five minutes’ the video will do so. You can pause the video you can stop the video. You can even enable subtitles if you want to see what a character said. Siri also takes advantage of meta tags which can show you information about actors on screen, all without stopping the video.
The New Apple TV retails in South Africa for R2500 for the 32 Gig and R3500 for the 64 Gig version. For a streaming box this is expensive but when the additional functionality and the massive potential of the Apple TV, as more and more apps become available, is taken into account, it’s a fair price. If you then consider the actual quality of the picture, speed of operation and versatility of the Apple TV it has no real competitor in the South African market.
The apple TV is available wherever Apple products are sold country wide www.apple.com/za