The new Apple TV: it ain’t perfect, but it’s getting better

My fourth generation Apple TV arrived Friday, so I’ve had three days to spend with it. It’s not perfect, but, overall, I’m impressed though there are some areas that need to be improved. 

If you’re not familiar with the new Apple TV (in which case you need to be spending more at Apple World Today) it’s more powerful than its predecessor (thanks to the Apple-designed A8 processor), comes with a Siri-powered remote control, and has its own app store — or at least a section of the Apple App Store.

The new Apple TV costs $149 for a 32GB version and $199 for a 64GB model. I sprang for the latter because, as with any electronic device, you can never have too much local storage. You’re probably thinking that the new set-top box follows Apple’s habit of making its products ever thinner. Wrong! With a bigger heatsink and power supply to support the new chip and storage, it’s bigger (measuring 1.4 inches tall, 3.9 inches wide, and 3.9 inches deep) and about 50 percent heavier (1.66 ounces) than the previous set-top box.

Setting things up

Setting up the Apple TV was surprising easy. Plug the gadget into your TV with an HDMI cable (not included), power it up, and you’re asked if you want to set it up with another Apple device instead of manually entering Apple ID and Wi-Fi passwords. Use your iPhone as I did (make sure Bluetooth is on), hold the smartphone close to the Apple TV, and prompts on the iPhone will ask you to enter your passwords. Everything is synced with the Apple TV and you’re good to go.

The Siri Remote

Perhaps the most impressive new feature of the Apple TV is the Siri Remote. It has a glass touch surface that supports touch and gestures. An internal accelerometer and gyroscope allow it to control games (think Nintendo Wii controllers). (I’ve just began testing Apple TV games. Come back tomorrow for my first impressions.)

The Siri Remote sports a front and rear mic.The one on the front is for speaking to Siri. The one on the back measures the ambient noise in a room and automatically lowers that volume so Siri can better hear what you are saying in the front mic. This happens automatically and works extremely well.

How effective is Siri? Much better than I expected with my Southern accent. Press and hold the Siri button on the remote and you can ask Siri to find TV shows and movies based on genre, actor/actress, director, episode, and more. The voice-activated personal assistant had no problem understanding my requests for “new John Travolta movies,” “good family movies,” and “Show me X-Files.” 

But that’s not all. Siri can control playback of your movies and TV shows, skipping forward, skipping backward, and playing/ pausing. It can also provide information, such as IMDb data, when asked who's starring in a movie or show. Not enough? Ask Siri "What did/she just say?” and the Apple TV rewinds 15 seconds and displays subtitles. How cool is that?

Alas, Siri can't interact with every Apple TV app. It’s limited to iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime. However, Apple plans to make a universal search API [application programming interface] available, so developers can enable other apps to take advantage of the Siri Remote.

I was incredibly impressed with Siri on the Apple TV — until I ran into a strange problem. It wouldn’t work with my music. I asked Siri to “Play Looking Up by Elton John” and was told “I couldn’t find it.” I asked it to “Find Elton John Songs” (of which I have a lot). I got the same “can’t find anything” answer.

In fact, this was the case with every song or album I wanted Siri to find even though I have iCloud Music Library enabled, Home Sharing enabled on my iMac, and my iMac and Apple TV synced. I’m not sure what the issue is. If you have a solution, send me a line at dennis.sellers@appleworld.today and I’ll share it with all our AWT readers.

Another nice new feature of the Siri Remote is that you can also use it to control the volume on your TV. I also appreciate the fact that the Siri Remote has a rechargeable battery that with a Lightning cable that allows you to connect it to a Mac for fast recharging. It works like the new Magic Trackpad 2, Magic Mouse 2, and Magic Keyboard for Macs.

When you first fire up the new set-top, the Apple TV interface looks barren. Standard apps, like Netflix, have to be downloaded from the tvOS App Store. That’s convenient because you can keep only the apps/channels you enjoy visible in the Apple TV interface. 

Gripes

My major gripe with the new Apple TV is is lack of 4K support. True, there’s not a lot of 4K content available now, but it’s coming — adding support would help “future proof” the Apple TV. According to Strategy Analytics, nearly 50 percent of U.S. homes will own a 4K TV by 2020. Apple should look to the future.

What’s more, I think Apple should Apple offer 4K content on the iTunes Store. This seems like a natural move. The iMac with 5K Retina practically screams for such content. The MacBook Pro line comes, with one exception, with Retina displays. iPhones and iPads have Retina displays. The 12-inch MacBook has a Retina display. 

The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus can film 4K video. iMovie for iOS and OS X devices lets you edit that video. And an Apple Thunderbolt 5K Retina Display is a near-certainty for release in the future.

So why no 4K support for the new gen Apple TV? Oh well, perhaps in the 2016 model.

A second gripe: the only AV connector on the Apple TV is HDMI, so there’s no optical out port for high-quality audio. The previous Apple TV had this, so removing it is a step backwards.

What’s more, some folks are going to be disappointed to find Apple's Remote app for iOS and watchOS are incompatible with the new Apple TV. All tvOS navigation and text entry must be handled with the Siri Remote and onscreen keyboard.

Despite these flaws, the latest Apple TV is the upgrade many of us have been waiting for, though if you don't own Macs, iPads, and iPhones, it may not be as appealing. For those of us who do, there are lots of little things to love. AirPlay remains the most convenient way to mirror your Mac or iOS device’s screen to your TV. And the Apple TV is still the only set-top box that can play content rented or purchased from the iTunes Store.

When Apple adds 4K support, irons out some glitches, and introduces its own TV streaming service, we’ll really be cooking.