Now in its fifth generation, the Apple TV might not be the future of television that Apple promised, but it does put competing media streaming devices on notice.
Updated April 30th, 2020.
With the release of the fourth generation Apple TV (now sold as the Apple TV HD), Apple’s mission to control the centre of your living room experience was no longer a hobby project. The redesigned Apple TV, with its revamped hardware and a brand new software experience to go along with it, was more of a reboot than an annual refresh. You could still use the Apple TV to AirPlay content from your iDevices and purchase movies and TV shows from iTunes to play on your television, but now with a built-in App store, Siri Remote, and beefier horsepower onboard, you could do much, much more than was possible with earlier models.
What Hardware does Apple TV offer?
Let’s start with the hardware. The Apple TV HD retains the same hockey-puck-like design and 3.9” by 3.9” footprint of its predecessor, so it should have no problem blending in with your existing home theatre setup. The newer Apple TV 4K maintains those dimensions, but has grown a little taller to accommodate a cooling fan that runs silently inside.
The remote is also Bluetooth instead of infrared, so hiding the unit behind the television for a cleaner setup is now an option.
The box itself contains some powerful internal hardware, including Apple’s own snappy A8 dual-core processor in the HD model, and the even more powerful A10X in the 4K version – the very same chip that powered the second-generation iPad Pro. It’s a significant jump up from the single-core A5 chip found in the 3rd-generation model, but what really makes it sing is the revamped remote (now called the Siri Remote) and the new tvOS software.
The introduction of the Apple TV 4K means that you’ve now got a choice between two very similar models, with the main difference being the quality of of video they can stream and play back:
- Apple TV HD: up to 1080p High Definition
- Apple TV 4K: up to 4K Ultra High Definition, with support for Dolby Vision HDR
If you have a 4K TV you’ll probably want the Apple TV 4K – and if you have a TV that supports Dolby Vision, you definitely will! An advanced form of HDR (High Dynamic Range), Dolby Vision delivers hugely improved picture quality and colour, and is used on many Netflix shows and movies as well as movies sold on the iTunes Store.
What is the Siri Remote?
The top part of the remote is a glass touch surface and the physical buttons are positioned around the centre. There are also dual microphones for issuing voice commands to Siri, and an accelerometer and gyroscope for motion control in games. You’ll still find the Play/Pause and menu buttons, but the directional navigation buttons have been replaced with tap and swipe gestures which work really well when combing through apps or fast-forwarding to a specific moment within a movie or TV show.
The entire touch surface is also a multi-direction click button which can be used for handy shortcuts like skipping an ad on YouTube or quickly jumping back 10 seconds within a video.
There’s a dedicated volume control which can adjust the volume of your TV or A/V receiver (AVR) via HDMI. It can also turn on/off your TV and AVR and automatically switch the input to the Apple TV, as long as your connected gear is HDMI CEC compatible. If you’re like me and have a habit of losing the TV remote, this can be a real timesaver, as long as you have the Siri remote in hand.
In practice, however, I found this feature to be hit and miss. With my particular setup, the Apple TV would either turn on my TV and AVR but not switch to the correct input, or fail to turn on the AVR entirely. How well it works will ultimately depend on how well your other components work with HDMI CEC.
How easy is it to set up Apple TV?
The setup process is seamless as long as you have another iDevice lying around. The Apple TV pairs with your iPad or iPhone over Bluetooth and automatically transfers across Wi-Fi passwords and iTunes account information so you don’t have to manually enter anything. Third-party apps like Netflix and Stan however, still require account logins when you fire them up for the first time.
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How Does the App Store Work with Apple TV?
Speaking of apps, there’s a wide selection available from within the App store and you can download and install as much as your storage can handle just like on your iPhone. The Apple TV’s software is called tvOS and since it shares the same codebase as iOS, you should expect to see many of the popular mobile apps crossover in due time. The home screen has the familiar grid of app icons and the slick design aesthetic is more in line with iOS.
There was already a wide variety of apps available at launch, ranging from popular accommodation resources like Airbnb and Tripadvisor, to workout apps such as Zova, through to shopping apps like Gilt.
What can I Watch on Apple TV?
The main function of Apple TV has always been streaming video, and with the introduction of full app support on these models, Apple opened the market up for everyone to build high-quality streaming apps.
That means that almost every paid streaming service available has an Apple TV app – Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Kayo Sports, Hayu, DocPlay and many more are available.
Free or ad-supported services are there in abundance as well – YouTube, Twitch, TED, Kanopy and more. And in keeping with the “TV” side of things, Apple TV is one of the very few streaming devices to boast support for all five free-to-air networks via their free apps – ABC iView, SBS On Demand, 7plus, 9now and 10play.
You also have access to a vast catalogue of movies (to rent or buy) and TV shows (to buy by the episode or series) in the iTunes Store. Titles are frequently on deep discount (movies as cheap as $4.99 to own or 99 cents to rent) and it’s the only digital movie store in Australia to support movies in 4K.
A more recent addition is Apple TV Channels, a system where you can subscribe to a streaming service via Apple’s own TV app, and get seamless access to all their shows right in the tvOS interface (with improved picture quality). Available channels include 10 All Access and MUBI, as well as Apple’s own streaming service Apple TV+.
Speaking of which, everyone who buys a new Apple TV at the moment gets an entire year’s subscription to Apple TV+ free of charge – just activate the offer from the TV app when you’ve got your new device set up. With the service usually costing $7.99/month, that’s quite a substantial freebie – and the shows are superb.
What games can I play on Apple TV?
Games make up the bulk of the App store library and I was surprised with how responsive the Siri Remote felt with games like the adventure platformer Rayman Adventures and the racer Asphalt 8. There’s even a Wii Sports knockoff called Beat Sports. If you really want to get the most out of the gaming capabilities, then you will need to invest in a dedicated game controller, which you can pair to the Apple TV via Bluetooth. The good news is that since last year’s tvOS 13 software update, you can now pair a Playstation 4 or Xbox One controller with the Apple TV for use with games.
And games are something Apple takes very seriously on their versatile little device, too. A recent addition to the Apple family is the Apple Arcade service – kind of a “Netflix for games” where a monthly subscription price ($7.99/month in Australia) gives you unlimited access to a couple of hundred high quality games, all of which are carefully vetted by Apple to make sure they’re complete games that don’t hide “microtransactions” – extra costs many free games throw at you to keep playing. It’s incredible value, and the one subscription gives you access to games on your iPhone and iPad as well as Apple TV.
How does Apple TV support streaming?
On-demand apps like Netflix, Stan, Disney+, hayu, DocPlay, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Kayo Sports, Twitch, AnimeLab, TED, and Cricket Australia are on there, and you can view your own personal library of TV shows and movies using apps like Plex or Infuse. Of course, you can also make up for any lack of native apps by beaming the content from your iPhone or iPad to the television using AirPlay, but with almost every streaming service making sure it has an Apple TV app ready to go, it’s unlikely you’ll need to..
Aside from the app store, the other killer features of the new Apple TV are voice commands (great for searching inside apps) and the ability to quickly switch between recently opened apps with a simple double-click on the home button. In one scenario, I was checking accommodation options with Airbnb, bouncing between the Netflix crime drama Narcos and a tech focused podcast on YouTube, all while also popping in and out of a game session with Rayman Adventures.
Can I use Voice Commands on Apple TV?
Siri is also well implemented and while she remains an unused feature on my iPhone, I found myself calling upon her services whenever I needed to find something to watch on the Apple TV. It feels quite natural too. You can say things like “Show me all the Bond movies with Daniel Craig” and then further shorten that list with “Only the good ones”. Siri will pull results from iTunes, Stan, Prime Video and Netflix, as well as any other app that has had Siri search support added. Another handy voice command is, at any point of a movie you can just ask “What did he say” and Siri will skip back and temporarily turn on closed captions, so you can see what you missed.
Unfortunately, you can’t use Siri to search for apps within the App store and, surprisingly, she can’t be used to play tracks from Apple Music. She also struggles when it comes to common foreign language words and names. For example, Siri was way off base with commands like “Show me movies starring Aziz Ansari”. It wasn’t until I completely butchered the name with an American accent that she finally understood who I was referring too.
Apple TV Device Compatibility
|Mac||Yes||macOS Catalina 10.15 software|
|PC||Yes||Supported web browser via tv.apple.com|
|iPhone/iPod touch/iPad||Yes||latest versions of iOS and iPadOS|
|Android devices||Yes||Supported web browser via tv.apple.com|
|Apple TV||Yes||4K, HD & 3rd generation|
|Vizio & Sony Smart TVs||Yes||via Airplay 2|
|Amazon Fire TV||Yes||Fire TV Stick (Basic Edition); Fire TV Stick 2nd gen; Fire TV 3rd gen; Fire TV Cube 1st & 2nd gen; Fire TV Stick 4k|
|LG Smart TVs||Yes||2019 models or later|
|Samsung Smart TVs||Yes||Select 2018 models & 2019 models or later|
What makes the Apple TV 4K Different?
For those with a 4K-capable TV, Apple released an updated version of the Apple TV to support them – not surprisingly named the Apple TV 4K (the existing model was renamed the Apple TV HD). Is it worth picking up this more expensive model instead if you don’t have a 4K TV? Possibly not – though it will work just fine on a HD television, and future-proofs you in case you get a new TV later. But for many, the price difference might seal the deal on the HD version – it costs $209, while the 4K model costs between $249 and $279 depending on how much storage you want (the more the better if you’re planning on using Apple Arcade).
Other additions to the 4K model are support for Dolby Vision HDR video, hardware decoding of more advanced video formats (though these are generally only used for video in 4K) and the much more powerful A10X processor, which can be beneficial for games as well.
In Summary: Is Apple TV right for me?
The Apple TV isn’t quite the future of television that Apple claimed, but in time it might be the only streaming box you’ll ever need. At $209 for the Apple TV HD, it’s still not exactly cheap – but those who use these smart little devices seem to absolutely love them. With a great user interface, wide app support and stunning video quality, it’s easy to see why; it’s a case where you go get what you pay for.
These Apple TV models are light years ahead of the previous device that bore the name, with the best remote on the market taking the place of the old model’s simplistic control. The polished software experience is also a notch above the competition and the App store has the potential to provide endless entertainment experiences. If you’re an Apple fan who owns a lot of TV shows, movies, and games on Apple devices already, the new Apple TV is absolutely worth the investment.