Apple TV 4 Reviewed

The Apple TV 4 has recently hit the shelves and I admit that I've been fairly excited to see what the new version will bring us. Gone are the days where the Apple TV was really just a way to show iTunes content on your tv and it's now a fully-fledged entertainment system for watching movies, tv shows, listening to your music collection and running apps and games.

Unpacking the box there are no major surprises - The Apple TV itself is about the same width and depth as the previous model but almost a third thicker. On the back of the unit is the power connector which fortunately is exactly the same as the previous model. In my case that saved me from having to remove the tv from the wall to install the new version. A HDMI 1.4 port is now the only direct method of outputting audio and video - at up to 1080p with support for Dolby Digital 7.1. An ethernet port is available as is a new USB C port that apparently is just for maintenance purposes.

 Also in the box is the new remote control with Siri support and a touchpad. It has a lightning connector on the bottom for recharging, plus another lightnings cable for your collection. Some basic instructions, warranty and typical Apple stickers are also present.

 In the image below included my iPhone 6 to show the scale of the accessories.



I connected the unit up and launched into setup. Two options are available to get things rolling - either a manual setup or an option that allows you to transfer your iOS device's wifi and Apple ID settings over. I chose a manual setup and entered in wi-fi settings and Apple ID manually. The touch panel on the remote is quite responsive and easy to use - but I was still frustrated at my self-inflicted three attempts at entering Apple ID and password and not having my new account set up properly.

This version of the remote is a pleasant glossy black and feels like a significant upgrade over the old remote - especially with the directional buttons being replaced by the touchpad. If you use a universal remote apparently the major control codes are the same for navigation.

The addition of a 'home' button on the remote is great too. The 'menu' button still supports the "long press" to go to home but this seems more natural to me. A double click on the home button allows switching between apps. Inside, the remote contains an accelerometer which provides motion information to apps and games - much like the Nintendo Wii. There's an optional accessory that allows you to attach the remote to your wrist so you don't accidentally toss it into your new 70" LCD panel. Unlike the Wii remote however this Apple version communicates via Bluetooth and not an optical receiver. Simpler but no doubt somewhat less effective.

The remote also controls your TV over HDMI - powering off the set or controlling the volume with no setup required.

The new user interface is quite pleasant and I had no issues downloading the Netflix and Youtube apps from the brand new Apple TV app store. Navigation overall is much faster and the overall UI has been refreshed in line with OSX and iOS.

The new Siri features seem to work well. Via microphones in the remote Siri understands a variety of phrases such as "Show me movies with Pauly Shore in them". Siri can now narrow down results even further by asking for things such as "only show me the funny ones" which may or may not return anything in this case :)

Siri knows a few other tricks too - for example you can ask, "what did he say?" during playback of any content and Siri will rewind by 15 seconds and display subtitles if available. Calendar and weather info and other Siri favourites are also present.

Another new feature of the Apple TV 4 is the Universal Search. If you search for a particular tv show or movie the results from all your subscribed services will show formatted nicely in one pane. For example, "Orange is the New Black" returns Season 1-2 on iTunes, Seasons 1-3 on Netflix and some additional series metadata and synopses. Apple say that we're limited to results from iTunes and Netflix in Australia right now (Stan is noticeably missing), but presumably this will be supported by other services in the future.

The new Apple TV has 2GB of memory and the impressive new dual core A8 processor. It comes is a 32GB and 64GB version. If watching tv and movies are mainly your thing then the 32GB model is probably just fine. If you're into a lot of apps or games then you probably already know the 64GB version is for you. Apps are limited to 200MB each, although once the app (or game) is running more data can be downloaded. Apple have some rather tight tolerances on the storage so games are forced to be efficient with their storage by dynamically downloading new content and removing unneeded files once they're done with.

If you're a Netflix subscriber or otherwise have a lot of iTunes content the Apple TV 4 is a worthwhile investment. Couple that with it being a casual gaming platform and it's a fairly compelling deal. It's so simple to use that anyone's mum or dad could operate it - and the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF) is extremely high.

A few other notes:

  • Gamers! Third party game pads are available and look and work much like an xbox controller. Lots of games support the controllers already, and so do many iOS and OSX games (the feature was added in iOS 7)
  • Netflix subscribers - did you know you can use iTunes credit to pay for your Netflix subscription?
  • Crossy Road on the Apple TV is massively fun