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Friday
Nov132015

Podcast #713: AppleTV Gen 4 Review

It's fair to say there are three big names in streaming set top boxes, Roku, Apple, and Amazon. Yes we know there are others but these are the biggest right now. We reviewed the Amazon Fire TV a few shows ago (Podcast #710) and we will review the Roku 4 in the near future but today it's the AppleTV 4. It comes in two incarnations, the 32 GB will run you $149 and the 64GB will run you $199. We took the 64 GB version for a spin. The one big feature that is missing is that the AppleTV does not support 4K. Is that a deal breaker?

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AppleTV Gen 4

It's fair to say there are three big names in streaming set top boxes, Roku, Apple, and Amazon. Yes we know there are others but these are the biggest right now. We reviewed the Amazon Fire TV a few shows ago (Podcast #710) and we will review the Roku 4 in the near future but today it's the AppleTV 4. It comes in two incarnations, the 32 GB will run you $149 and the 64GB will run you $199. We took the 64 GB version for a spin. The one big feature that is missing is that the AppleTV does not support 4K. Is that a deal breaker? Read on to find out.


Features

  • Glass Touch Remote - Fluid and precise control with a swipe of your finger
  • Voice Control (Siri) - Just say you want to watch or ask about the weather
  • New UI Design
  • Fast app switching - Double tap the home button and toggle between open apps
  • App Store - Third party games and entertainment are now available  
  • iTunes, Home Sharing, and Airplay

If you have owned a previous version of the AppleTV you won’t be too surprised at what you find in the box. The AppleTV 4 is about twice as thick but about the same in the other dimensions. On the back Apple added a USB-C port but eliminated the optical digital port. In fact to install our new unit we literally unplugged the existing cables from the Gen 3 and then plugged them into the Gen 4. Since the power supply is internal to the box, Apple used the same power cord between versions. This also helps in being able to find a spare plug in your power strip.

Then we walked through the screens to get our AppleTV online. It was straight forward but then it became a major hassle. The only way to enter data was with the remote. Ara has a long password so it was a pain to enter it using the remote. There is no mobile app to do this as there is on the Gen 3 AppleTV. This is a major oversight by Apple. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were just for setting up your iTunes account or your Homeshare, but you have to do the same thing with Hulu, Netflix, HBO, and on and on. To make matters worse, Ara has three AppleTVs so it needs to be done at all three TVs.

We were perplexed as to why Apple just didn’t keep the cable system login on file and not force you to verify it with every video app you download. And why not have the capability to replicate another AppleTV on your network. What we really didn’t understand is how could Apple release the AppleTV without a companion iPhone/iPad app? By the way, the current IR remote still works with the Gen 4 AppleTV. We had to switch our Simple Control remote back to IR so that we had the ability to control it with the iPad. But realistically once you use Siri you don’t want to go back!


Performance

Now that you have gone through the headache of setting up the AppleTV it's time to start watching. And here is where the product does quite well. In actuality from a picture and sound point of view, there isn’t any difference between the Gen 3 and Gen 4. But that’s not a bad thing. The picture and sound quality of the Gen 3 was already very good.

But what about 4K? We don’t know why Apple didn’t release a 4K model. At this point in time it really doesn’t matter especially if you are watching on a TV that is less than 70 inches. To be honest sitting at 12 feet you probably need 100 inches to see the difference in 4K and 1080p if all other things are equal. Not going 4K probably kept the price down. Once we get content that makes use of the wider color gamut and HDR you will probably see a 4K AppleTV. In the meantime don’t get hung up the lack of 4K.

If picture and sound quality are the same why do I care about upgrading? Good question! You may not need to upgrade now. The big thing is that there is an App Store for the AppleTV and that means there will be all kinds of apps in the future that will make the AppleTV a very versatile box and platform. We can see the day when the major networks will have apps for their channels and you can tell siri to launch the app. You will be able to say, “Watch ESPN 2” and the AppleTV will go there. In fact you can launch ESPN now via voice. You can launch any app via voice and it launches right away. We even asked Siri to play the latest episode of Brooklyn 99 on Hulu and within a few seconds Jake Peralta was screen making us laugh.

The other feature that I (Ara) really like is the “What did he/she Say” capability. Have you been watching a show with someone who for some reason never understands what was just said? It can be very frustrating!! This feature was made for you. You simply pick up the remote and hold the Siri button and say, “What did he say”. Then Siri backs up about 15 seconds and turns on subtitles for you. Once you hit the point where you asked the question Siri turns off subtitles. If the application does not support the subtitles activation, Siri just rewinds 15 seconds and lets you listen harder.

You can also ask Siri, “Who’s in this”? You are then presented with a list of the actors in the show. But as far as we could tell, it only included main characters (regulars). Which was a bummer because I actually wanted to use it because I recognized someone and wanted to know where I saw him before.  You can also ask about weather and sports scores. An advantage the AppleTV has over the fire TV is that the results only show up in the lower third of the screen while the show continues to play. If you swipe the remote up then the show is paused until you clear the screen.

There are games and a dedicated game controller. We downloaded a rudimentary game which was kind of fun. We see the potential there but right now we didn’t see any sophisticated games. It should be straightforward to port iOS games so look for this category to increase very quickly.

 

PROS
  • Siri integration into the improved touch remote
  • Voice commands that really work
  • First rate developer tools that should make for great apps
CONS
  • No iOS remote
  • No centralized password storage for use across different apps

 

Conclusion

The fourth generation AppleTV feels like it was taken out of the oven a little early. But it's nothing that another 10 minutes of cooking time couldn’t fix. We fully expect the true potential of this device to be achieved as developers release new and interesting apps. If you want to jump in now, you won’t be disappointed. You may just get a little frustrated with the setup.

 

 

Download Episode #713

Reader Comments (4)

In a previous show you mentioned Vizio smart TVs are tracking what you watch.
You can turn this off from the System menu. Look up "How to turn on or off Smart Interactivity" on the Vizio site.
I did this, and then I just shut off the WIFI connection since I don't use the smart TV function at all.

November 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTim in Detroit

If I had to guess I'd say that Blindspot doesn't figure to go on past this season and they will then have the one episode to use as a wrap-up. Much the same way CSI got to wrap the show.

As the representative of rural America let me just say that I certainly hope 1080p and 4k BD's continue to get made. My +/- 1Mbps internet connection doesn't really allow for high quality streaming, much less large downloads. At least they let me go into the office to download big stuff like El Capitan. Watching those first five seasons of Downton Abbey were a little...fuzzy.

November 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRick K.

During the Apple TV review you mentioned getting a Fire TV or Fire TV stick if you want to view Amazon content.

I would like to point out that Roku also has an Amazon app. While a fair number of streaming services are available on all the platforms, a major point of differentiation exists when talking about rental / purchase services. Either from fears of competition and/or due to the fees of their app stores when it comes to 'in-app purchases', Apple TV, Fire TV, and Android TV only cater to their own offering when it comes to this type of service.

Roku on the other hand has all the major rental / purchase services - VUDU, Amazon, Google Play Movies and TV, M-GO, etc. The only offering absent is iTunes.


So if you are not entrenched in the Apple ecosystem in terms of content, Roku makes a compelling case as being the most open and universal product.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHugh

Regarding the AppleTv review. If you are waiting for the Apple Remote to become available I think you will be waiting a long time. The reports are that the response from Apple hasn't been promising when it comes the the App. You will likely get BT keyboard support, which will solve some of the issues of entering passwords etc..

Also, when I set my AppleTv up it asked me if I wanted to use my iPhone to set it up. So I did just that and it transferred all my iTunes, WiFi, and relevant settings and passwords over to the AppleTv. While I did still have to do the third party log ins via Verizon FiOS to get access to HBO, that is hardly Apples fault that it doesn't save third party passwords. Actually seems very strange that you would suggest that, as that is exactly what you would not want, company A having passwords about company B.

November 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

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