Tech tools: testing the new Apple TV

Apple TV is no longer just about TV

Product name: Apple TV

Price: €179.0

Where to buy: apple.com

Website:

Thu, Nov 19, 2015, 13:00

   

Is a TV revolution on the cards? Apple made big promises when it unveiled its plans for the new Apple TV back in September. At that stage, it was being billed as the future of TV.

While the new version makes a few strides, it’s also a little bit of a throwback to the early days of Apple TV. The device brings back the on-board storage that the second and third generation ditched, with the choice between 32GB and 64GB.

The new Apple TV comes with tvOS, which allows developers to build apps ranging from the standard entertainment channels that you might be already familiar with, to games. Apple TV is no longer just about TV. The remote also looks different. There’s a microphone button for Siri, and the wheel has been replaced with a flat touch pad. And it’s black. It’s also chargeable, with a lightning port that doubles as a place to attach the loop to ensure you don’t lose it.

Setting it up has been made easier. While it was never a very onerous task, the fact you had to enter your wifi password with the remote control was a slow, plodding process. This time out, all I had to do was hold my existing iOS device near the Apple TV and it grabbed the settings from there. The caveat: you need the latest update on your iPhone or iPad for this to work, and it won’t work with an iPad 2.

Also, you still have to put in your iCloud ID and tap out your password on the remote control’s touchpad. Adding a touchpad does not make this process any less painful; it’s just a different sort of pain. What’s puzzling is that the Apple TV no longer supports the Remote app that allowed you to use your iPhone instead. Perhaps that will be remedied at a later date.

The remote is also used for Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled digital assistant. But here’s where there’s a slight hiccup: officially, Siri isn’t available to Apple TV users in Ireland.

When you push the button, nothing happens and the settings show that Siri is set to off. But it’s not quite the closed door you’d imagine. Siri isn’t set up to recognise the Irish accent on the iPhone either, but that doesn’t stop people from using it. The hardware is basically the same as what is shipped to the UK and other Siri supported countries – it’s just a matter of tweaking a few settings to get it to work. Change your region to one where Siri is supported and suddenly you can switch it on.

More importantly, it recognised my words accurately on several tests, opening apps, pulling up films by particular actors and generally doing what it was supposed to. It’s a nice addition, and it beats scrolling through pages of movies, or tapping out the titles using the remote. Two thumbs up there.

That convenience isn’t extended to content stored on PCs connected to the Apple TV though. You’ll still have to cue that up manually. It’s a novelty being able to add your own choices to Apple TV’s line-up. The tvOS app store is nowhere near as well developed as the iOS version, but there are some useful things lurking. Apple TV continues to do what it has always done well. You can stream your content from your home Mac or connect your iPad or iPhone wirelessly to the box and bring your content to a larger screen.

It also supports HDMI CEC, which means it will bring your TV out of standby when it’s switched on.

Interestingly, it doesn’t support 4K TV yet; the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, on the other hand, can shoot in 4K.

 

The good

The support for HDMI CEC means you’ll have fewer remotes to handle, which is always a bonus. With a bit of tweaking, Siri works well, making it easier to find content and without having to resort to tapping on the remote. It also supports connections from Bluetooth headphones so you can take your viewing private.

The not so good

Did I mention entering passwords on Apple TV is tedious? It is. A keyboard redesign or even bringing back the Remote app support would go a long way to solving this.

The rest

Apple TV costs a little more now; at €179 for the 32gb version, it’s less pocket-friendly than its predecessor.

The verdict

It’s not quite the future you may have been hoping for, but hold tight; it’s early days yet and Apple is just getting started with this generation of Apple TV.