Apple released their 4th-generation Apple TV one week ago today. Although the roll-out was a little shaky (the original Apple TV I pre-ordered didn't arrive until 5 days after they were available in stores), the product itself is pretty solid. There are a lot of new feature that I love, and a few disappointments.
In order to help those who are still trying to decide whether to invest in a new Apple TV or not, I wanted to share my thoughts on their new set top box. The best way to convey my thoughts is by way of a list of "likes" and "dislikes".
I like the clean, refreshed interface (even down to the sound effects as you scroll around the different menu options and select an object). It feels fresh and clean. Apple has always paid great attention to detail, and it shows in their interface here. As you move your finger slightly around on the new Siri remote's touch pad while on a menu button, the button rocks subtly back and forth, with very realistic shading effects to match the movement. It feels very realistic.
All-new Siri Remote
Coming in at around the same size and weight of the previous-generation Apple TV (silver) remote, the all-new Siri remote packs a punch with a massive design overhaul and Siri integration. The remote features a touch-sensitive pad at the top that you use to navigate the interface (in a similar way that you would navigate around your laptop with its Trackpad), then click to select. The thing I love most about the new Siri remote is that it now controls the power and volume of the TV... completely automatically! There's no setup required (in most cases). It just works. I now have a single remote (the Siri remote) to control both Apple TV and the TV's power and volume.
Using the Siri remote to navigate the interface is great, but what's even better is swiping my thumb across the touch pad while watching video to scrub through that video. It's silky smooth and works great!
Unlike previous Apple TVs, the Siri remote controls the Apple TV using Bluetooth technology, not IR (infrared). This may not sound like a big deal, but what this means is that you can now completely hide the Apple TV behind the TV because line-of-sight is no longer required (although the TV still requires line-of-sight when controlling the volume with the Siri remote). I love the look of the Apple TV, but I love to hide things out of sight even more.
Early on in my testing, I noticed that my TVs calibration was a little off. I couldn't quite see the entire screen. I quickly determined that my TV was set to zoom in by about 5% (meaning I was missing about 5% of my screen). As a result, some of the outer edges of the interface and content was being cut off. Using the simple-to-use calibration tool (Settings > Audio & Video > Calibrate), I quickly fixed the issue and perfected my viewing experience.
AirPlay is AirPlay, so I won't go into the details here, but there is one subtle improvement that Apple made to this awesome technology. If someone hijacks the Apple TV (by way of AirPlaying from their iOS device or Mac) while a video is playing then that person disconnects, a magical thing happens... the video I was watching before resumes where it left off, automatically! Ok, I really don't mean to sound so dramatic about this, but with older models, the video didn't auto-resume, requiring me to navigate back to the video and press Play on the remote (first world problems, I know).
Gorgeous New Screensavers
Apple has clearly spent a lot of time creating beautiful moving screensavers for the Apple TV. These videos show landscapes of various places around the world (London, China, Hawaii, New York City, etc). These scenes include daytime and nighttime views of these locations. Apple plans to continue adding additional scenes to keep things looking fresh. It honestly makes me want to leave my TVs on all day, just to stare at these videos!
Apple TV App Store
Maybe the biggest improvement to the new Apple TV is the inclusion of the App Store (yay!!). This is HUGE people!! There are a number of pretty good apps (including games, of course) out there already, but this unlocks the potential of the Apple TV becoming a truly integral part of your daily life.
Unlike the previous Apple TVs, the software keyboard is a single line which displays the alphabet in a linear "A.. to ..Z" configuration. This makes it slow to enter email addresses, passwords and search criteria when you want to move quickly around the interface. A suggested improvement for Apple would be to bring back the standard QWERTY keyboard layout.
Lack of Apple Remote Support
A couple years ago, Apple released a really cool app called "Remote" that acted as a software version of the silver Apple TV remote. This was especially useful when you lost the silver remote or when you wanted to type something faster (because you could enter text on your iPhone or iPad and it would then transmit to the Apple TV). As of right now, the Remote app is not compatible with the 4th-generation Apple TV. I put this down as a major oversight on the part of Apple. I'm sure it will be corrected soon, but not soon enough.
Lack of 4K/5K Resolution
4K/5K content is becoming more and more popular, and more TVs are supporting these higher resolutions. The iPhone itself, in fact, now shoots and edits 4K video. Unfortunately, the Apple TV can't display the same quality of video because it doesn't support it. This is a hardware limitation, so we won't see a software update that will fix that. I believe they left this out in order to entice us for the next version Apple TV. It's a simple marketing strategy.
The 3rd-generation Apple TV can be bought for $69. The 4th-generation Apple TV starts at $149 for the 32 GB model, while the 64 GB model sells for $199. I'm not necessarily bothered by that price (although I would like to have seen $99 and $149, respectfully), but I am bothered by the cost of replacing the Siri remote. If you lose of otherwise damage your Siri remote, and you need to replace it, be prepared to shell out $79 each!! To put that into context, that's $10 more than a 3rd-generation, brand new Apple TV and silver remote. I know the 4th-generation Apple TV is a huge improvement in many ways, but I think Apple missed the mark on pricing (personal opinion).
This certainly isn't an all-inclusive list of my likes and dislikes about the new 4th-generation Apple TV, but it's enough to get you thinking.
Ok, now that you know my thoughts, I want to hear yours. Leave your comments below.