Digit Geek
Apple TV

APPLE TV

Apple’s bid to get a slice of your living room time. Does Apple understand television and entertainment well enough though? Let’s find out.

Apple might have lured the world with its iPhones, and MacBook, but the Cupertino-based giant has another box for you to dive into. It’s the Apple TV. The first Apple TV was launched with the moniker iTV in 2007. However, a few years later, in order to avoid a long drawn out legal battle with the already existing British broadcaster Independent Television (ITV), Apple decided to change the name of its device from iTV to Apple TV. The 2nd generation Apple TV came in 2010, 3rd generation in 2012, and the latest 4th generation in 2015. Apple TV is a digital media player which lets you access video content through various sources like Netflix, YouTube, iTunes, and Hulu. Distinct from its predecessors, the new Apple TV features an App store that allows users to download from over 6,000 apps. Also, the set top box provides content from over 1,300 video channels.

Unlike iPhones, Apple TV might take time to make inroads in India, as domestic competitors like Tata Sky, Dish TV etc. offer both domestic and international content relatively cheaper and without the need for internet connections.

Apple TV

Devices

Apple TV’s current device – Apple TV 4 is slightly cooler with its new features. In terms of performance and looks, the 4th generation picks up lead with better connectivity options – HDMI 1.4 port and USB-C port, as the third generation had the usual HDMI and Micro-USB. Looking at the remote, the 4th series has a black lustrous aluminium body and an advanced Glass Touch surface with the usual buttons as on 3rd generation. Apart from the Remote, the ability to execute Siri voice commands is a nice feature bundled with the device.

Apple’s 2nd Gen Apple TV is powered by an Apple A4 processor and the Apple TV 3rd Gen models are powered by an Apple A5 processor with 512MB Ram and 8GB flash storage, both with a single processor core.

On the other hand, the Apple TV 4th Gen model has a much faster dual core 20nm Apple A8 processor (APL1011), 2GB of RAM, and 32GB or 64GB of flash storage.

With new tvOS 9.0 Apple TV 4th Generation has a much larger feature set. We’ll be talking more about tvOS in the next edition of this two part FastTrack series.

If you chronologically chart the major capability upgrades so far, you’ll see that the 1st gen device brought in 24 fps h264, the 2nd generation’s claim to fame was 720p support, while Apple TV 3rd and 4th generation both support 1080p video. Rumour has it that the fifth generation Apple TV might include 4k capability along with tvOS 11.

Apple TV

The current generation has its software redefined and third party apps are released that extends its capabilities. The difference in software pushes back third and second generation series as the two will limit the life of the device in both technology and content.

Apple TV 4th Gen is fairly advanced compared to its predecessors, whether you look at its performance, functions or support. The only troubling factor is the price tag of $149 (32GB) and $199 (64GB) while the 3rd generation roughly falls down to around $69. You can also find 2nd generation costing around $22 on some sites, but who in their right mind would go for a two generations prior device.

Hardware

The name Apple TV might let people to believe that its an actual television and not an external streaming device that attaches to a TV. But this is what the Apple cart has to offer – something similar to a set-top box that helps you stream content on your HDTV. The Apple TV 4 is clearly more powerful compared to its first generation sibling. It sports an Apple A8 64-bit CPU, and comes with 2GB RAM and is fairly decent for gaming (more on that in Chapter 11).

On the back of the device you can find ports for built-in power supply, HDMI, USB-C type and 10/100 Ethernet.

Apple TV 4 has 802.11ac Wi-Fi for connecting to your wireless network. The new device does not support optical audio output, unlike its previous variants – a slight bummer.

The media streaming device also has an infrared (IR) receiver, and Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology. Apple TV has an in-built power supply, which negates the need for a separate bulky AC adaptor.

Coming to the size and weight of the Apple TV 4, the box weighs about 425 grams and has dimension of 98*98*35 mm. Quite compact indeed.

Apple TV
Apple TV back views

A key highlight of the new Apple TV is the Siri remote, which makes the device all the more appealing. The new remote sports a touchpad and six buttons; it also has a microphone, so you can command Siri to find a show for you or navigate through content, and access weather information. Though some of these services are region locked.

The remote sports a classic Apple design, which is minimal at its core. It has a glass touch surface with navigation circle at the top, a Menu button, search button, home button, a Play/Pause button and volume up/down button which controls your TV’s volume too, so you don’t need two separate remotes. The remote has a lightning connector for charging, rechargeable battery which lets you use it for months on a single charge, where conventional daily usage is a given.

The built-in accelerometer, gyroscope and touch surface on the Siri remote give developers the leverage to come up with exciting new games and apps unavailable on TV before. It also makes the user experience quite personalized with its precise tracking of touch movements, and at the same time giving users the traditional option of using buttons.

Apple TV

Features

The 4th generation Apple TV which was introduced almost a couple of years ago, comes with a brand new operating system, called the tvOS. Incompatible with earlier generations of Apple TV, the new OS contains an app store which allows third party developers to release their applications on the new Apple TV App Store, enabling them to reach customers directly.

Apple’s new product has a sorted way to go about. You just need to connect it with your HDTV and a Wi-Fi network, and you are good to go. It also supports Airplay, a hassle free feature that lets you stream media through your iPhone, iPad and Mac.

The Apple TV has a number of features that you may use to customize your TV experience. Some of these include voice over, zoom, bold text, increase contrast, etc.

As mentioned earlier, you can access photos on Apple TV, and it supports JPEG, GIF and TIFF formats.

One of the most interesting features of the latest Apple TV is Siri voice control. Siri can perform functions of a remote like play, pause, and even entertain search requests for particular shows. It can also fast forward, rewind a particular show by 15 seconds.

The tvOS is very similar to iOS 9 and allows users to modify the Apple TV in different ways by pairing a third-party universal remote, and controlling games by pairing an MFi Gamepad, and also pairing a Bluetooth keyboard to enhance user experience.

Apple has optimised its software to make it accessible to those who are visually impaired. Apple TV’s screen reader VoiceOver is available in over 30 languages; it enables visually impaired users to know what is on the TV display and respond according to on-screen prompts.

Closed captioning is also available for those with hearing impairment. It is supported on Apple TV irrespective of the new operating system.

Audio formats of MP3, protected AAC files, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 are also supported on the new Apple TV.

Apple TV
Apple TV applications

Accessories

In the box you get Apple TV, Siri remote, a power cord, Lightning to USB cable, and of course, documentation. The HDMI cable is sold separately and is a must to run this Apple device.

Since the 4th generation Apple TV has lent emphasis on graphics and software to enhance gaming experience, a SteelSeries Nimbus wireless gaming controller will up the game with its ergonomic design and more than 40 hours of game play with a quick charge enabled through a Lightning cable.

There are mounting bases for both the Apple TV and the Siri remote, which give that extra amount of protection to your precious devices. The Innovelis TotalMount Pro mounting system for Apple TV attaches directly to the back of your TV. It also comes with a charging remote holder which you can attach to the back or side of your television.

There is also a remote loop for your Siri remote, which has a band-like loop that goes around your wrist and has an extended end attached to the remote.

Another accessory, which will enhance your Apple TV experience and the hole in your pocket, is the Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphone, whose built-in mic and on-ear controls will make taking calls, activating Siri an easy job.

Apple TV
Apple TV

Quirks

One of the major drawbacks of Apple TV 4 is the lack of support for 4K content, which technically sets it behind its competitors Chromecast Ultra and Roku Ultra. However until 4K content is abundant perhaps this is just an on-paper drawback.

Secondly, while Apple has added music controls to Siri, they are limited; the on-screen keyboard has done away with the grid-system and takes forever to type in passwords or searches.

On the hardware end, the cables compatible with the device do not come with it on purchase, and you have to shell out some extra cash to have the device set up, and running.

While Apple has tried to tone down the ports on the device, the absence of digital audio output is a major turn-off for music lovers.

A very obvious hiccup, is the price tag at which the device is available. Though if you are heavily entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, the price tag might be worth it.


This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of Fast Track on Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Kanishk Karan