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First Look: Apple TV

When I got my first Apple TV it changed my viewing experience. I could rent movies directly through it (using iTunes); get instant access to international sport (via the MLB TV app) and watch Netflix. I could stream Spotify through it and cast anything from my iPad to it. This meant some nights my partner and I just sat and shared YouTube videos.

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Could this get any better? Yes. The new Apple TV has been a long time in the making. The basics are the same but it’s been refined and reworked. For example, you now have an App Store, just like on an iPhone or iPad. So you can choose the apps on your system, rather than a pre-loaded list (the old Apple TV did this, and there were a lot of apps I never opened).

Where the previous system’s apps were all entertainment-based, on the new Apple TV you can download games, lifestyle, health, food and travel apps. You can also run news and sports apps. Some of these are just ported straight across from the iPad versions, but some are customised for Apple TV.

For example, AirBnB’s accommodation app is simplified for Apple TV. On the TV you can only search and view properties, leaving all the booking, payment, and contact options to your phone, tablet or computer. Anyone who has tried entering text using a TV remote control will know this makes sense.

The remote

Apple has made vast improvements to the remote. It’s in two sections with the front half being a trackpad, similar to what you get in a MacBook. The other major change is a volume control and a microphone.

The microphone is used as a speech-to-text input, which makes life so much easier, and for controlling Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. Unfortunately, Siri functionality is only available for US users or New Zealand users with a US iTunes account. Set-up has also been streamlined. Beyond being able to use your voice to enter your credentials (be careful about who is listening if you say your password out loud), if you have an iPhone you can hold it up to the Apple TV and all of your info will be automatically pulled across. Improvements like this make the new Apple TV feel more useful than the old system.

Aerial screensavers

One of the small changes is the “Aerial” screensaver. Apple shot various 4K (Ultra-HD), slow-motion aerial videos at various sites around the world (though mostly San Francisco) and these are available as your Apple TV’s screensaver. They are big files, so you can choose how often you download new ones. You get six or seven and they are shown at random, but the system considers the time of day and shows you an appropriate video. So, for example, during the day you’ll take a sunny flyover the Golden Gate Bridge and at night you’ll enjoy the lights of the New York skyline. On a big-screen TV, these screensavers are jaw-dropping. I’ve spoken to many other Apple TV users and we all agree you can spend hours just watching these screensavers.

Apple TV can also control your television. The Apple TV’s connection to your TV gives it the power to change the volume, as well as turning it on and off. So a single button press of the remote wakes up Apple TV and your TV simultaneously.

But, all the old Airplay problems still exist. Unseen gremlins interrupt streaming for no apparent reason and a restart will fix it, sometimes. It’s a real annoyance when it happens in the middle of a video or song.

I ran the Apple TV through a Samsung 4K TV and the quality of the apps and video were amazing. The only quality issues I had were due to poor internet speeds from my ISP. A notable downside is the Apple TV can’t deliver 4K images (the previously mentioned aerial screensaver videos are shot in 4K but delivered in 1080p), this doesn’t bode well for future-proofing.

Overall, the Apple TV is a great device. It’s built like a smart TV system but it’s miles better than any I have used. The niggles are easy to put up with even if they may cause intense annoyance at the time.

Gaming

As an added bonus for gamers, you can buy an extra gaming controller. I tried the Nimbus Wireless Controller (which also works with iPads or iPhones). It looks and feels almost exactly like an Xbox One controller and works the same as well. You can play games using the remote, as it contains a gyroscope to pick up motion, as well as the touchpad. However, for more complicated games this doesn’t work so well and you need the full controller.

All the games I played on the Apple TV looked fantastic and a subset of them were as good as what I’d expect from a full game console, such as the game Breakneck by Wellington developer PikPok.

$299 (32GB), $399 (64GB)

First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

by Hadyn Green

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