Review: Apple TV or Telstra TV?

Apple TV vs Telstra TV

This is more than a clash of content.

We live in an age where it’s hard to tell where there are more TV opportunities.

Not just on air – but also online. Some modern TVs have already jumped the gun and have special apps already built in. Stan, Netflix – you can have them in your living room.

But for the rest of us without Smart TVs, there are two new offerings available – both with their pros and cons.

Introducing the 4th-gen Apple TV and the Telstra TV

In this review, we’re not just going to examine what you can watch. We’re also going to examine how the controls you use impact the viewing experience itself.

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What qualifies Apple and Telstra to deliver streaming TV?

Apple is well known for its range of innovative consumer electronics. Most notably the iPad, iPhone, iPod – and if you go back far enough the iMac. They have been making digital media available online since they brought out the iPod back in 2001 while the Apple TV has enjoyed a popular following since the 1st gen model was introduced in 2007. So, chances are that they know a thing or two about streaming content online, and have put that knowledge to good use today with the 4th-gen model.

Telstra is one of the largest contenders in the Australian telco field. Since its renaming in 1995, they continue to maintain a strong presence across both the telecommunications and consumer media markets. For example, Telstra has been making Foxtel packages available for years. Not to mention the inception of the T-Box in 2010 – a set top box that included access to Bigpond Movies. This time, the company has opted to leverage an existing US product – known as the Roku 2 – and rebranded it as the Telstra TV so users can experience the same connectivity and ease of use enjoyed by their compatriots in the States.

Which one comes out ahead?

We’ve examined both the Apple TV (2015) and the Telstra TV offerings to see which one works best across a range of categories.

Here’s the breakdown

CostApple TV: $209Telstra TV: $109
ProcessorApple TV: Apple 8 dual-core 1.5GhzTelstra TV: Dual Arm A9 1Ghz
MemoryApple TV: 2GBTelstra TV: 512MB
StorageApple TV: 32GBTelstra TV: 256MB
HDMIApple TV: YesTelstra TV: Yes
USBApple TV: No (service and diagnostics only)Telstra TV: Yes
Memory Card SlotApple TV: NoTelstra TV: Yes
NetflixApple TV: YesTelstra TV: Yes
StanApple TV: YesTelstra TV: Yes
Foxtel NowApple TV: NoTelstra TV: Yes (HD)
iTunesApple TV: YesTelstra TV: No
App StoreApple TV: YesTelstra TV: No
ABC iViewApple TV: YesTelstra TV: Yes
Plus7Apple TV: YesTelstra TV: Yes
9NowApple TV: YesTelstra TV: Yes
TenPlayApple TV: YesTelstra TV: Yes
SBS OnDemandApple TV: YesTelstra TV: Yes
Local StreamingApple TV: AirPlay, local network (iTunes home sharing)Telstra TV: Memory card, local network

What’s in the box(es)?

Apple TV is a streaming and gaming top box from Apple. It offers a swipe-friendly remote, and voice recognition in the form of Siri. The 2015 model features an Apple 8 dual-core processor, 2GB of memory, and 32GB of NAND Flash storage. Only purchased content and games take up storage. In contrast, when streaming content, the unit downloads files as needed, then deletes them to free up space when finished. Connectivity includes Bluetooth, a HDMI port, remote control infrared receiver, built in WiFi, a 10/100 Ethernet port and a USB-C port (which is used mainly for service and diagnostics).

Telstra TV is a streaming platform that offers easy access to a huge range of content delivery options. Not to mention that it lets you access your own videos, music and photos right from your TV. Essentially, Telstra TV is a rebadged Roku 2 – a popular streaming device in the US and beyond that Telstra has licensed for use here in Australia. It’s powered by a Dual Arm A9 1Ghz Processor, has 512MB of DRAM, and 256MB Flash NAND storage. Connectivity-wise, it features an HDMI port, USB 2.0 port, a MicroSD Slot, and a Roku Standard infrared (IR) Remote. Oh, and WiFi.

Anything else?

Since this review was initially written, Apple has launched a revised version of the Apple TV that supports 4K video streaming. The 4th-generation Apple TV is still current, though it’s now only available with 32GB of storage. This review was last updated in October 2017.

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How much do they cost?

The 4th-generation Apple TV is available for $209 (the newer 4K model, not reviewed here, sells for $249 or 279). All of the content from iTunes still costs the same, and premium SVoD service charges remain unaffected.

Telstra TV is much cheaper, available for only $109. It’s FREE for customers signing up or upgrading to Telstra’s “Best Bundle Ever” or L internet bundles. As with the Apple TV, the subscription viewing services do not change when viewed via Telstra TV.

What’s available?

Apple TV vs Telstra TV Content

Both gadgets offer easy access to your favourite entertainment apps. Photo: Compare TV

On Apple TV, you get a huge range of content. While nothing comes pre-installed, you can access everything you need from iTunes and the App Store. This means that Netflix, Stan and more are all available directly. Plus YouTube and anything else the developers in the App store make available.

And what’s more: the games. It seems obvious that developers are set to port the vast library of digital distractions from iPhone and iPad to the new TV offering. Currently you can download and play a range of challenging games including Minecraft and Guitar Hero Five. Plus, if you have purchased a gaming app on iTunes for iPhone or iPad, Apple will let you access the port when it becomes available – for free. And as with the previous iterations of Apple TV, if you can Airplay content, you can get it on your big screen from any compatible device.

On Telstra TV, you get almost the same deal. Foxtel Play, Stan, and Netflix all come pre-loaded, along with all the free-to-air apps and subscription documentary service DocPlay. You also get access to content from the Wall Street Journal, GoPro, Vimeo, CrunchyRoll, Dropbox, YouTube – and Roku’s own Media Player. They’re all baked into the box, so you can start watching stuff as soon as you get connected.

Happily, Telstra TV also lets you stream content from BigPond Movies right in your living room – a precious feat for anyone without the much-loved T-Box. And speaking of precious, you can call up your own treasured videos, photos and music by simply casting from a compatible Android or Windows smartphone or tablet thanks to Miracast. And if your own files aren’t on your mobile devices? Dig them up from your home network via WiFi or Ethernet networking, or plug n play the old fashioned way via USB or microSD.

Pros and cons?

The touchpad feature makes navigation smooth and intuitive, and removes a lot of the pain associated with entering text on a TV. It’s not as fast as having an actual keyboard, but it’s streets ahead of most other controllers.
The Siri button on the remote makes hunting for content easy by removing the need to type at all. Searching for content is simple, as Siri brings in viewing options from everywhere. You might not know what to ask, but you’ll be surprised by what Siri can answer!
Drag and drop and gorgeous to boot! Just what you expect from a new iOS.
All your favourite mobile content on the big screen! At the pace set by the app developers of course, but more content is expected as time goes by.
Want to share a video or photo with the masses? Cast it from your apple device!
Everything loaded fast and buffer-free. This may differ depending on the connection, but the apps launch quickly and shows a promising start.
Apple is well known for developing a design language and user ecosystem that stands alone. While it’s fairly intuitive to use, the benefits only really exist if you have invested in other Apple products and services.
Don’t get me wrong – the games are definitely not gimmicky. They play well, are distracting and quite enjoyable. But they feel like a casual option. Sure, the highly polished remote remote features an accelerometer and touch pads. You can connect your iPhone or iPod Touch to use as controllers as well. And the device even supports third-party gamepads. But it still lacks the feel of a device that’s designed first and foremost for games. Maybe that will change overtime as more games are released that tap into the unique opportunities inherent in the remote control?
If you have music, videos or photos on anything that doesn’t fit with AirPlay, there’s just no easy way to get it to play on your big screen. See the first point – if you’re not in, you’re out.
You just need to connect the power, the internet and the TV to start accessing most content. Enter your Telstra customer information, and you’re done. This makes it great for first timers or those of us who aren’t great with technology.
The interface is streamlined and intuitive, making navigating to new content a joy.
Say goodbye to button-mashing! Telstra TV’s remote keeps things simple.
With the exception of paid content providers, you can be up and searching for something to watch in a matter of minutes.
Telstra TV offers a centralised way to catching up on all your favourite free-to-air offerings.
During the setup process, you have to put in your Telstra account login details. However, You can easily get a Telstra account set up, if you don’t have one, by picking up a $2 prepaid Telstra Mobile SIM card.
Full HD streaming content can take time to get started, with a pixely quality that can be distracting. This clears up fast, and during testing I experienced no additional buffering. Of course, this could be the result of the connection used.
As it stands, there is currently no way to add apps to Telstra TV. You have what’s baked in. This is set to change later on, but for now, you gets what you gets.
One of the strengths of the new Apple TV (and the Roku 3 in the US) is universal search. You want to see movies with Bruce Willis? Enter his name, and the box brings up a list of movies from all the sources it can find. Telstra TV does not currently have this capacity, but it is planned for a later release. But for now, it’s manual search only.

Who should get what?

It really depends on you, the viewer. Both Apple TV and Telstra TV offer solid choices for Australian viewers. If I received either as a gift, I would definitely not be offended (*Hint hint*).

For me, the Apple TV suits users who are already Apple fans. They are at least slightly invested in the Apple ecosystem. These customers will have movies, music and more from iTunes and the App Store. And they want to extend their enjoyment of their content to the big screen. However, the price points make Apple TV less of a casual purchase and more of a considered decision. While it might not be the only gaming device in their living room, it will probably become the mainstay for streaming.

On the other hand, the Telstra TV has three obvious use cases. The first is for the casual watcher who already has Telstra broadband. At only $109, Telstra TV can be picked up on an impulse. Maybe you already have a Stan or Netflix subscription – this box makes it easy to get it on the big screen with a minimum of fuss. The second case is for the new users. I can easily see me picking up a set for my parents and helping them get set up with online streaming in the lounge room for the first time. They love Australian content, and don’t always get to watch what they want, when they want it. This little box changes that. The third is for people switching  broadband providers, or upgrading a Telstra broadband package. It comes free with the “Best Bundle Ever” and L bundles – making it a no-brainer to get streaming content.

The question is, which one are you?


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