The 4th generation Apple TV is now available after years of rumors, speculation, and hope. We have long been asking for an Apple TV App Store that allows third party developers to bring their great creations to the TV beyond the limited AirPlay functionality. Apple has finally answered, and the result is a feature rich set top box that has the same footprint as the previous generation, but is now twice as tall. There’s also a brand new remote control that includes a touch panel, and six buttons. The new Apple TV comes down to the App Store, Siri integration with universal search, the new interface, and on-board storage.
The Apple TV App Store is quite simply the biggest addition because while there are some interesting launch day titles, the best is yet to come. There are two main categories with games and video apps with a wide variety for both. When you open the box, you can download Transistor, Lumino City, Octodad, Alto’s Adventure, Geometry Wars 3, Badland, Oceanhorn, Rayman Adventures, and so much more to play. You can also install Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, Watch ABC, Fox Now, CBS All Access, NBC, WatchESPN, and more to watch. The best part is that you get to pick which apps to install with a surprising number of choices at launch that will only continue to grow.
Today, we have games that offer great detail and design that also use the new Apple TV remote quite intuitively. Sitting back, and snowboarding down the beautifully crafted hills of Alto’s Adventure, now up on the TV is an immersive and outstanding experience. Diving into the beautifully crafted puzzle world of Lumina City, and the action packed challenge of Geometry Wars 3 just feel great on the TV. Going forward, more developers will pick up an Apple TV, and that could lead to Apple TV specific games. There’s also the potential for full console experiences to come to the Apple TV, and there are so many possibilities. All of the video apps cover most major services with numerous stand alone options that can be fully appreciated n the Apple TV without any log in. There are also apps like Air Video and Plex to let you stream any video file beyond the mp4 support of iTunes, and now you don’t need to rely on AirPlay.
The native apps run just as smooth as on the latest iOS devices, but now on your big screen. There’s quick load times, and no lag with some deluxe graphics offerings already. Time will tell what the Apple TV is truly capable of, but the App Store is off to a great start. Since launch day last Friday, Apple has also added top charts and category listings to the Apple TV to make it a bit easier to find apps. The problem of finding apps is now just the same as it is on the iOS App Store with a major emphasis on what’s new and already popular elsewhere.
Search with Siri:
One of the most used buttons while reviewing the Apple TV has been the microphone button to activate Siri. You simply tap and hold and speak, to search a wide range of items on the new Apple TV. The system does a great job of recognizing what you say in quick order, and you don’t have to hold the remote up to your mouth. The great recognition allows you to get lost in searching the new universal search system that supplies results from Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime at launch. There are plans for future integration, but even now that gives you a lot to search through and watch. The universal search integration is very smooth, so you can say “play season 2 of Blacklist”, and the Apple TV shows the Blacklist page with the first option Netflix, and second option iTunes. The first option is Netflix, because I’m subscribed to it, and the search always puts what you have access to up first.
There are many potential search scenarios, and it can actually be fun to drill down through results, as Siri is context sensitive and continue the dialogue. There are some Siri limitations, as it doesn’t speak back to you, and only presents the text on screen. Also, there are a few searches that Siri confuses as Music titles, and at launch Siri on the Apple TV doesn’t support music at all. There’s also no easy way to find the various things you can ask, so while you can search sports scores, weather info, movie casts, and more, you have to know that going in. When you do perform a search like “play episode six of Homeland”, and the Apple TV just starts playing that episode without any menu interruptions, you often forget about the limitations. You can also say “skip ahead 2 minutes”, “turn on closed captioning”, “boost dialogue”, or “what did he just say” to control playback with your voice.
If you have used a previous Apple TV, you may be used to tapping a whole bunch to move through various menus. Siri cuts out a whole lot of tapping, so you can get right to what you want. It’s also easy to be comfortable with Siri in the comfort of your living room as compared to talking to your phone out in public. The new remote is improved over the previous version, and yet that microphone button lessens the reliance on any remote.
At first glance, the new Apple TV interface largely resembles the old version, just with a light theme compared to dark. There’s a lot more going on though, beginning with the ability to double tap the home button to bring up multi-tasking. On the old Apple TV, if you wanted to switch from watching Netflix to watching a baseball game on MLB At Bat, you had to press so many buttons to leave the menus of one, and then go through the menus of the other. Now, you just double tap the home button to switch, and that goes for playing the all new native games discussed above. The new remote also makes the interface more convenient as you swipe your finger to quickly cover ground across various icons, rather than tapping a button each time to move a space. The one area Apple didn’t improve the interface is when entering passwords, as there’s the same tedious tapping on each letter/character. We’re also still waiting on the Remote iOS app update to be able to control the new Apple TV.
One neat minor feature of the remote, is that it can automatically connect to your home theater system. That way the volume controls on the Apple remote work for your TV/home theater system, and when you put the Apple TV to sleep, your TV will turn off. The remote is on the small side, and it feels like the menu/home/play buttons could be merged that were context sensitive based on what you were doing. With that said, it feels good in hand, and works well to move through apps and play games. Speaking of which, the new Apple TV also quickly connects to the MFi Bluetooth enabled controllers that have been around for a couple of years now. There’s a new Steel Series model that Apple is highlighting, but any MFi controller effortlessly connected with the new Apple TV to give you physical controls for games. All games need to work with the standard remote, but the third party controller really works well for specific games, like Octodad for example.
The only choice when buying the Apple TV is 32GB or 64GB. It turns out that it’s not much of a choice based on the intelligent use of storage of the Apple TV. I have downloaded most of the big major new games, and storage is no problem what so ever. If you go to Settings, General, Usage, you can see that each of these big games takes up less than 200MB, as per the requirement by Apple. To achieve this, developers have to jump through hoops, but users don’t need to do anything at all except enjoy the benefits. All of the games I have played work with iCloud to allow me to continue my progress from my iPhone or iPad right on the Apple TV. For Lumina City as an example, the game does a small initial download, and then downloads whatever current level you are on whether starting at level one, or continuing from iCloud. In my case, the game just downloaded the Sky Garden level I was on to minimize the storage as the levels I completed aren’t needed any more, and the future levels aren’t needed yet.
Not only does the Apple TV intelligently store apps, it also downloads apps really quickly. Since a full 1GB game doesn’t need to be downloaded before you start playing, you can get into new games with that initial 200MB. There may be some post downloads required after start-up, but it’s all very quick to get you playing. One of the benefits of iOS gaming versus console gaming is that you can get playing on iOS, while waiting for new big console games to download. The Apple TV maintains that iOS idea to get you playing with minimal waiting, regardless of which game you’re playing.
The 4th generation Apple TV delivers an all in one entertainment package that is a joy to interact with, watch, and play on, making it a must have.