I’m going to start this review by honestly saying that the 4th generation Apple TV is the best thing I have ever connected to my TV. It’s an excellent piece of hardware and if that’s all you had to hear before making your purchase than go right ahead… you will not be disappointed. For those that would like to know more about the device than I would encourage you to keep on reading. From the design of the hardware to the functionality of the software, Apple TV gets a lot of things right and to me it’s currently the best set top box out there.
Apple TV is very easy to setup right out of the box. If you own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch than all you have to do is set your device right on top of the Apple TV and it will automatically setup the iTunes Store, iCloud, Wifi, and much more without you really having to do anything. If you do not own another Apple device than you can use the Siri remote (which is included) to set up Apple TV. Siri Remote makes it very easy to use your voice in order to type in account information like usernames and passwords.
Once you reach the home screen of Apple TV you will be presented with a few icons, but the one you will want to concern yourself with the most is the App Store. For the first time ever, 3rd party developers have the option of developing applications for the biggest screen in your home. This is where you will get video apps, games, and more! Apple TVs in the past have included applications such as Netflix, NBC, YouTube, etc but now you have the choice of what you wish to have on your Apple TV. Apple TV comes in 2 configurations: 32GB & 64GB. In 2007 the Apple TV came with a hard disk and you managed what was on it. So if you had the 40GB model you could only view 40GB of content. There was no streaming (aside from YouTube which came later.) In 2010 when the 2nd generation Apple TV came out Steve Jobs said “we found out people don’t want to manage their storage on the tv” so when Apple announced there was storage choices again I was a little concerned. That being said the storage only goes to apps not media. Things were carefully thought out on the 4th generation Apple TV.
Let’s talk about the design of the hardware. The Apple TV 4th Generation looks exactly like the 2nd/3rd only it’s taller and looses the optical audio port. Optical audio used to be the only way to transmit digital audio out of sound devices and now its technically baked into HDMI, I really miss not having to have a converter box to get that port back. My surround sound system does not have an HDMI port (because it’s old) so I have to settle on optical audio for Dolby 5.1 surround sound.
The interface of the software as dramatically changed. The system sounds and system keyboard is completely different, and the home screen is white instead of black (but can go back to black with dark mode.) For the first time the Apple TV (tvOS) seems like a platform instead of a stand alone appliance which is a something that I love.
Let’s talk about games on Apple TV. Benchmarks have been done and the Apple TV can process graphics about as well as an Xbox 360 which is incredible considering the Apple TV is so small and does not have a fan. Games look beautiful on the Apple TV. A good friend of mine and I play Riptide Renegade all the time and that’s a full console title. I love playing Modern Combat (first person shooter), Minecraft (you outta know what that is) Asphalt (racing), Hit Tennis (Wii Style Tennis), AG Drive (future racing), and my favourite, Provenance. Since Apple TV now runs 3rd party applications, you can install an emulator which can play old Nintendo and Sega titles right on your Apple TV (with a bluetooth MFI controller.) There is a new emulator called Delta coming out soon for Apple TV which will let you play PS1 and PSP games. This excites me incredibly because I grew up with the PS1 and PSP and would love to play those titles again. I’m most excited for getting Grand Theft Auto on Apple TV but unfortunately that is just not a reality yet. I’m still hoping one day because GTA III, GTA Vice City, GTA San Andreas, and GTA Liberty City Stories is already on iOS and macOS, and since tvOS app development is very similar to iOS app development, I can’t see it being very difficult to bring the game over.
Now for the TV experience, the thing I’m sure you all want to know about. If you have a cable subscription than you can just sign in once on Apple TV (pending tv provider integration.) So TV network apps like NBC, CW, CBS, etc will automatically give you access to all sorts of content. If you do not have cable than I would say getting Hulu is your best bet as it gives you most of the tv content at a flat rate per month. Most of these TV apps integrate into Apple’s new TV app which tells you what new episodes of shows you need to watch and shows you may like. I have found some bugs with the TV app but that is for another article. Siri makes it very easy to find new shows and movies. “Siri I want to watch a comedy from the 90s staring Ed O’Neil”. If that wasn’t enough for you than Apple TV has full Spotlight so you can search with text. – You can even connect a bluetooth keyboard to Apple TV if you prefer typing on a real keyboard.
A few years back I ripped all of my DVDs into digital format (legal) and I host them on a Plex server. This makes viewing my physical media collection really easy as everything is just a button away. I would love to see Plex work with Siri/Spotlight search but knowing how the framework works, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. If you are a fan of Kodi you can rest assured knowing that Kodi works on Apple TV just fine! I recently installed it because theres a cool plugin that changes your Philips Hue lights to what ever color you are watching so it makes your TV viewing experience even better! If you are a fan of VLC you can also rest assured knowing that you can stream media off your computer on your local network and I believe you can even save movies to the Apple TV. I know that’s going back to managing tv storage but it helps if you go over to a friends house and want to watch a movie on their TV.
The last feature I wanted to talk about is Siri. I touched on Siri earlier in this article but I wanted to mention how powerful she is if you utilize HomeKit. Thankfully in tvOS 10 Apple allowed users to control their smart home with their voice on Apple TV. I love this because when I’m about to watch a movie I just ask Siri to set the movie scene from my TV remote and everything just sets itself to how I like it for watching a movie. If you also have an Apple TV 4th generation, you can use it to access your HomeKit devices outside your local network. This is extremely handy if you need to lock the door away from home or turn off your lights. If you want to know more about HomeKit, I encourage you to visit observingcomputing.com to check out some articles I wrote on the state of the smart home.