Apple TV 4 Reviews: Siri is Helpful and There’s Loads of Potential

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple TV review: new set-top box’s slick, redesigned interface gets the details exactly right.

I’m testing Siri on the new Apple TV that arrives this week at a starting price of $149, the first major revamp since March 2012 of the set-top box Steve Jobs famously referred to as a hobby. By all accounts, the streaming media device has received a major upgrade from its previous version, which languished for many years while competitors like Amazon, Google, and Roku leapt ahead. While the previous 3rd generation model cost us $109, the new fourth generation Apple TV on sale from tomorrow costs $269 and $349 for 32 and 64 Gigabyte storage models.

But there are a few characteristics that make each stand apart, like their prices, remote controls or the ability to stream video content for high-end 4K television sets. The Seinfeld episode in question was available through the Hulu app on Apple TV. 2001 A Space Odyssey was available to rent or buy through iTunes, or watch free as a Netflix subscriber. Visually, it’s just a taller version of the current box, that is, a foreshortened cube with four-inch sides apart from its height which is 1.4 inches. Oh, and I had no intention of actually viewing those lousy films from 1993, though Apple TV drummed up a list that included Sliver, RoboCop 3 and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.

Just as third-party apps will be key to the future of the Apple Watch, what the Apple TV evolves into will be linked to the growth of the app store that will grow as more iOS apps are converted for the TV. It never made a ton of sense to me why Apple would ever want to bring out a branded television, despite persistent rumors that the gang in Cupertino has been working on something. The Siri remote is as cool as it sounds, with touchpad navigation and a truly impressive voice function. (“Show me dramas.” “Show me Wes Anderson movies.” “Skip ahead 15 minutes.”) The universal search is also a welcome change.

With older Apple TV models, the content choices were limited to what Apple offered, and while the US options were broad ranging, in Australia it was a more meagre selection. DOWNSIDES: Can’t download unapproved third-party apps outside Apple’s App Store; can’t yet access Amazon’s catalog of streaming content; can’t stream Ultra-HD 4K content. Which brings us to the first operational improvement: the remote control doesn’t need line of sight to work it so you can hide it from view completely or at least not worry if the dog’s lying in front of it. It is obvious, however, that Apple has designs on the living room, and that a substantial makeover of the companion box that plugs into your existing TV was long overdue. Tell Siri, and it will show you where it’s available — iTunes, Netflix, Hulu — and where, given your existing accounts and subscriptions, it’s easiest/cheapest for you to watch.

Sure there’s iTunes Movies and TV, Apple Music, Netflix and Stan, and Ten’s catchup service Tenplay, but other catch-up services such as Plus7, 9Jumpin, SBS On Demand and ABC iview are not present yet. However, the flexibility of the tvOS platform means developers can submit these apps via the TV App store and, being Apple, there’s a good chance they’ll be keen to do so. Yes, Apple TV’s new app store is where the biggest potential rests, and the offerings that are already available from various developers signal that much more is to come. (The ESPN app, for example, offers live viewing in addition to existing content.) It has the potential to turn your TV into one giant iPad: Search for homes on Zillow, book your vacation on Airbnb, use the remote as a controller to play the various video games that are starting to populate the store. (If anyone at Seamless is reading this, please create an app ASAP.) As our content-viewing options have multiplied in recent years, I’ve clung, however stupidly, to my cable subscription. And where’s 4K, with resolution that is four times better than high definition ? ​Apple faces fierce competition across the streaming (and pricing) spectrum, from the likes of Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Nvidia Shield, Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony Playstation, and TiVo Bolt. *The user experience. I’ve seen remotes with 51 buttons, magic wands you end up waving around in the air like you just don’t care, even coffee table mouse-and-keyboard rigs.” David Phelan, The Independent: “But there’s much less tapping to be done than before because searching for a film title, for instance, is now done by Siri, Apple’s voice-recognition system.

The remote has two microphones, one to pick up your voice and the other on the back to listen to, and nullify, other noises in the room so you don’t have to hold the remote right up to your face. And sometimes on a Saturday afternoon, I want to accidentally stumble upon a five-hour Say Yes to the Dress marathon or mindlessly watch three episodes of Property Brothers before my brain even processes that I’m awake. You can move your thumb along the touch surface on the upper face of the remote to navigate what’s on the screen, or click the touch area to select an action.

I have hardly ever had to repeat what I was saying and mostly Siri has understood accurately.” Walt Mossberg, Recode: “Siri works to search not only in Apple’s own iTunes service, but in Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Showtime, and displays results across multiple networks — er, apps. The top half is a touchpad that lets you flick and select, navigating your TV screen in a similar way that the touchpad on a MacBook lets you navigate your computer. I searched accommodation for my Christmas break with the Airbnb app, and on Periscope tuned into a curious after hours broadcast by a UK police officer who was fielding questions such as “who did you arrest today” and “do you arrest drunks in pubs?” It’s not as if Apple TV is bereft of content. Apple says you can pair the new remote through Bluetooth just by bringing your iPhone close by, but I couldn’t get it to work and had to pair the remote manually. If you can’t recall the name of the classic movie When Harry Met Sally, but can remember its stars, you can say ‘show me movies with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.’ Siri can also do follow-up questions.

It also correctly dug up TV shows based on questions like ‘Show me the finale of Breaking Bad.’” David Pogue, Yahoo: “It’s clear that Apple worked its fingers to the bone on this; it works unbelievably well. But I’m also presuming that a lot more people will be buying such TVs in the near future, possibly as soon as Black Friday when plummeting prices presumably fall further. Chen, The New York Times: “Gaming graphics were also on par with Nintendo’s Wii U, and some of the casual games seemed to compete directly in Nintendo’s sweet spot: lightweight, family-friendly gaming. Voice isn’t unique to Apple TV — Roku, Fire TV, and the latest Chromecast offer the feature as well — but I’d be complaining if Apple hadn’t added Siri.

Siri understands commands like “Jump forward 20 minutes” as well, though you can also use the touch-surface to scroll ahead with a picture-in-picture view of where you’ll end up. There’s also a port at the bottom for a wrist strap, sold separately, that Apple are calling the Remote Loop — missing the chance to use Infinite Loop as more than just the address of its Cupertino headquarters. While watching a movie, swiping from the top lets you switch subtitles on and off, select the speaker and choose whether to reduce the louder sounds during viewing or stay with the full dynamic range.

But these complaints are hardly deal breakers, and the user experience as a whole is easy, intuitive, and is the first thing that’s ever caused me to consider dumping my cable. And as of a few days ago, it hadn’t submitted one. (An Amazon spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the company “doesn’t have anything to share” on the topic.) Which means presumably I’ll be streaming Season 2 of Transparent from my phone to my TV come December — a bummer because Prime Video is my second-favorite feature of Amazon’s membership service, right after two-day shipping 30-pound bags of dog food to my front door.” Nilay Patel, The Verge: “But limitations are everywhere. Some games will let people use their iPhone or iPad as a remote control — but that’s up to the app makers, and if you do start using your iPad to blast aliens or whatever it’s important to remember an iPad makes for a lousy ninja star when thrown across a room. Tim Cook says a Siri search API is coming, but I get the feeling Apple wants Siri search to be a differentiator for the more premium services, so we’ll see how wide open that API is when it gets here.

And once Siri drops you into a streaming app from that universal search, it’s a free-for-all — they all have different interfaces and recommendation engines, and none of them talk to each other. In fact, look closely and you’ll see that a movie image looks almost 3D – as it moves it appears layered, like one of those special edition DVDs with a moulded 3D cover, or the parallax view on the iPhone. That’s a shame since it offers the best streaming experience today, and more potential tomorrow once app developers go to town finding ways to exploit the big screen and that slick remote. I sampled a variety of apps during my tests, some free, some fee-based: QVC and Gilt for shopping from the TV, Zillow, Airbnb, Crossy Road, Rayman, Transistor, HBO Now and more.

Or, and this is my favourite detail of all, if you miss a line of dialogue in a movie, you can press the microphone button and ask “What did they say?”. Breakneck, in which you fly around a planet, is a good app to use if you want to use your Apple TV’s gyroscope features, or a reason to buy a compatible game controller. Beatsports is a bit like Wii-like sports game which requires you to swing your Apple remote to hit a ball with a baseball bat while playing tennis and making music — yes, it is all a bit weird. This is the one where you navigate a chicken across roads, rail tracks and rivers (though the question of why it’s crossing is never fully answered).

Apple has filmed aerial images of key locations around the world that display as a screen time, matching the time of day in the screen saver location to your local time. Does Not Commute, the game where you must steer vehicles through increasingly complicated urban landscapes so they never crash into each other, works very well.

Expect wholly new games to arrive in numbers and in the future developers will doubtless build their game to run on iPhone, iPad and Apple TV so that you only have to buy it once. If you’re worried the remote might fly out of your hand, there’s a separately-sold wrist loop which connects to the Lightning charger socket with special teeth to hold it tightly in place.

Overall Apple TV starts off as a work-in-progress in terms of a strong, local app offering but there’s lots of general apps. tvOS offers a platform for app developers to add more. What’s more, many people don’t have a consistent 15Mbps internet speed available to their TV, needed for 4K playback, either because the regular connection is slower or because the TV is connected by wi-fi for the last stretch, which diminishes the available speed. It’s not like Apple to include capabilities that can’t readily be used – an earlier Apple TV delivered HD content only because that was suddenly plentiful.

Telstra recently launched its Telstra TV set-top box for $109, which is similar in functionality to the third-generation Apple TV which is still available for $109. Mind you, the HD content looks pristine, not least thanks to the excellent upscaling capabilities of the TV I’m testing it on (the Samsung UE55JS8500). Both are substantially more than Amazon’s 4K-capable Fire TV box which is £79.99, though to make the most of that you need the £79 Prime annual subscription. Still, I absolutely get why it’s not here, after all, for most people this won’t be an issue, so why charge us for building in technology we won’t use?

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