The new Apple TV, which has been christened the Apple TV 4 by the public at large, is going to be huge. We got ours last week and took a look at its interface and some of the features that make it unique in order to produce one of the very first videos about the device on YouTube. To watch the video walkthrough click here.
We wanted to have a chance to dive in and really explore and here is what we found. The Apple TV 4 is a major upgrade from its third generation predecessor. From the integration of an app store, a new Interface, Siri integration, a new remote, gaming and even just fun extras, the new Apple TV feels like a premium product and stands out amongst a crowd that includes the new 4K capable Roku 4 and 4k capable Fire TV “2” with Alexa. See what we found out.
The App Store was probably the most talked about feature of the new device when details were first leaked. Gone are the days of Apple just adding things to the home screen of the device. Now users can find what they want by searching for specific apps, using search based on subject and function for instance (music), (sports), (podcasts). For some reason the Siri function does not allow you to
search the app store. Users instead must enter the info via Apple’s on screen keyboard. There are also prefab categories like “Featured”, where you will find major aps and popular games, things like Netflix or Watch ESPN. At this point there is a selection for sports, News and a few game subgenres. Users can search top charts to see what is most popular, there is a rudimentary categories (We expect this to evolve quickly) section featuring Games and Entertainment apps as well as a helpful section of purchased apps that combines the apps downloaded on the Apple TV with compatible apps that are on other IOS devices using the same Apple user name. This will prove more helpful as current IOS apps are ported for the Apple TV 4. While there is a lot to the app store it is missing something. A true category search. The IOS App Store on other Apple devices has an “All Categories” section where users can find apps based on type the current Apple TV app store only lists in broad strokes. The purchased apps section of the app store is broken down by category. We expect to see this change as the store continues to grow. The device already supports over 1200 apps (we counted).
One of Apple’s headlines on the new device is Siri. Siri essentially acts a search assistant. It can open installed apps, and the app store itself as well as search for content on the Apple TV with results from iTunes, Hulu, Netflix. It can also give you basic info like weather reports and such. Something that we were disappointed with though is that the system does not audibly respond to questions. Instead it provides a text response. There is a workaround in place for those who are sight impaired but it will read out everything on a screen as you browse. One issue I had consistently was asking for “Hulu”. Siri often responded with “Who Indeed?” There is no evidence that Siri was being evasive though as other apps I asked for opened with no problem. I was hoping for a more iPhone or iPad like experience. Like voice searched on other products like the Roku 3&4 as well as the Amazon Fire TV and Android TV platform, Siri does not allow you to search inside of apps. This means if you are using Netflix you can not ask Siri to search for a movie you want to watch. Searching in apps still requires use of an on screen keyboard.
The new Apple TV launched with over 1200 apps in its app store. Included are stalwarts like Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, PBS and YouTube. Like the previous model users can also access major sports apps like the NFL app, NBA League Pass. There are also a number of “TV Everywhere” apps like Watch
ESPN, The History Channel and more. That is a strong start and you can expect to see it grow quickly. There are well over a million apps in the IOS app store for mobile devices. Not all of them would make sense on a TV device of course (want to use your Apple TV as a leveler?) but a number will likely make the move. Of course like the previous model the company also includes its own on-demand video service and and music through iTunes. For those who want access to Spotify, Pandora or Amazon On Demand you will have to use AirPlay it is available as an option. It stands to be seen whether apps that compete directly with Apple’s will join the lineup. It should be noted though that IOS supports the apps for mobile devices so it is not exactly hostile to other products.
Using the included remote takes a little bit of getting used to but you will get used to it. Using the new remote is like bouncing around using a Mac trackpad. The force touch option prevents users from accidentally clicking on an app they do not intentioned to open or add. It also means you do not have to find the arrow or ok buttons. Don’t worry there are buttons too. Similar to the original remote the controller includes play/pause, a mic button to communicate with Siri, volume buttons, a button to return directly to the home page, and a menu button which serves as a back button. The minimal buttons actually serve multiple purposes. The Menu button will also return to the home page when held down. The dedicated home button will put the Apple TV to sleep when tapped once and when double tapped will open a screen of recent apps.
Picture Quality 1080p The picture quality is every bit as good as 1080p should be. There is no noticeable buffering. This should be expected considering the power of the A8 processor, which is one of the most powerful in the Apple line of products. There are some who complain that the set-top box does not offer 4k. I don’t see this as an issue at this point. quite simply there is so little 4k content available. There is none on broadcast TV, No 4k cable networks and very little 4k content on Netflix and Amazon or any other streaming TV package. At some point this will change and Apple will likely change with the times. Until then 1080p is the standard that the majority of Americans utilize.
The new Apple TV supports games and many are fully playable using the Apple TV controller. The games appear to be ports of IOS games which are also available on mobile devices. Some of these games look and perform great. The best ones are those that fully utilize the remote’s accelerometer in the same way it would a tablet. This lends itself to racing games, flying games and such. The Apple TV also supports third party controllers. This will be helpful for more complicated games. At
the moment a number of popular games have not made their way to the TV. I think games like Farmville or Candy Crush would be popular on Apple TV. We tried a number of games. There are some very sharp looking titles as well as a great deal of very basic tablet games (Atari level). There are of course games that take full advantage of the new controller. Beach Buggy Racing, which fully uses the graphics capabilities and controller is a Mario Cart styled game that allows the remote to control action via steering by tilting. This kind of control mimics how the game is played on a tablet. I was honestly surprised at how much I liked it on the big screen where little features like water on windshield really stood out. My wife is now addicted. I think that games are going to be a major force for Apple TV because I think that the new remote is going to bring social gaming to the big screen. Including a remote that can be utilized as a game controller along with a variety of games is a good start that should make it a compelling choice when put head to head with the Fire TV which for the most part requires a gamepad in order to easily navigate the majority of its games. Does it support game pads? Yes users can add third party remotes for games if they choose to. This would be helpful for more complicated game play especially as the catalogue grows.
Menus and Interface
Interface is one of the places where the New Apple TV stands out not just from its predecessor but from the competition. The home page is bright and colorful and starts off with minimal icons as users can craft their experience by adding apps from the App Store. Once there are apps in place users are able to select and move apps by choosing an app and pressing and holding down the touch pad. This will cause the selected app to shake like they do on IOS devices. Users can then move the icon or remove the app from the system.
There are a few basic menu styles on the New Apple TV. One is the menu interface in apps. This is typically a grey/silver background featuring black writing. Usually used for lists like Music selections or for functions and settings. When searching for features like iTunes for Movies and TV shows users are given bright artwork with description of the programming ratings etc. Other menus are specific to apps. In the vast majority of apps navigating to the top of the screen will reveal a context menu broken down specific to an app.
Use Your TV Remote or old Apple TV remote
This is a major innovation on Apple’s part. While the Apple TV does in fact ship with a unique remote with force touch technology and a microphone for Siri for daily use it may be more convenient to not have to keep up with multiple remotes. Users can easily map a standard TV remote control or even a universal remote in order to control the Apple TV 4. And the kicker is that this function is incredibly simple to use. just open it remotes and devices section and choose learn remote and the device will let yo assign all of the major control features to another. The original remote will continue to fully function too of course. We tried to use other system remotes like the Roku 4 and nexus player but the system would not map them. Multiple TV remotes though did. The the 3rd generation remote is also fully capable of navigating the interface without any mapping. See a video demo of this feature here.
Every set-top box worth its snuff has some sort of screensaver. But the reason we point out the Apple TV 4’s screen savers as a feature is that the pictures are not static. Not only are they high definition images that look great on a big HDTV, there are numerous pictures that are actually video clips. Cities filmed at night with flashing lights and traffic zooming by and such. It gives the user the effect of a helicopter ride through the great locales of the world. This may sound like a throw away feature but it is so different at this point that I think it bears mentioning.
Yes the Apple TV is primarily a video delivery device but audio streaming has become a favorite of many streamers. The previous Apple TV had a few native audio options that I really enjoy and their absence on this device is troubling at least to me. Maybe the majority of Apple TV users never even noticed the features.
Podcasts is missing
One of my favorite features of the previous Apple TV was the option to listen to or watch podcasts via the iTunes Podcast app. At the moment this is not a feature on the device. Asking Siri for podcasts will instead return a number of apps that feature podcasts but not the extensive searchable app that I grew to love.
Another feature on the previous Apple TV was the music selection (not apple Music) It allowed users to search through a gigantic selection of streaming music stations. In its place is a much smaller prefab selection of genres. This is far more paired down music selection. The searchable function of Apple Music is paired down from what was offered on iTunes radio and its previous incarnation.
There are numerous other branding features on the device that stood out. One example is that hovering over apps and simply sliding your finger on them allows the apps to wiggle and provides a 3d like effect. What really stands out about this feature is this functionality is not just present on the home page but within apps as well. Video selections in Hulu and Netflix do the same thing. That is just fun branding. The almost completely uniform top menu options are a very nice touch that helps learning new apps to be more intuitive and allows each app to function similarly. This is not the case with other players. The device is speedy and stable and provides a robust and growing selection of apps. We very much wish Pandora and other music apps were already included and hope to see them come along in the future. Other video rental options would be a step in the right direction also. Overall though I would have to say that the new Apple TV may have set a new standard for set top streaming. We will keep an eye.