Apple’s boss, Tim Cook, used to say Apple TV was a “hobby”. Now he calls it “the future of television”. That’s a pretty big step up. This new version is still a little black box that you plug into your telly to watch programmes from the internet. Plenty of other boxes do that without so much hype. So what’s new?
Setup is straightforward, especially if you have an iPhone or iPad with iOS 9.1. Connect the Apple TV to the mains, attach it to your HDTV with an HDMI cable (bought separately), then plonk your i-thingy down next to it and the two will say hello to each other. Type your Apple username and password and you’re done. Without an iPhone, you’ll have to enter some details using the remote control.
You’ll then see the Home screen’s big friendly icons. Two usher you to Apple’s iTunes Store, for buying or renting films and TV shows. You can also listen to tracks from Apple Music if you have a subscription. You can play iTunes purchases from your Mac or PC over Wi-Fi, and show your photos from iCloud.
This is all very Appley, but the new box also works independently of other fruit-branded products. A new icon brings you the App Store, where thousands of compatible apps are appearing. Games are an obvious draw, even for those of us who’d never bother with an Xbox. Crossy Road, a cartoonish take on the classic Frogger, is simple and fun, and multiplayer mode is hilarious. Or try Shadowmatic, where you rotate levitating shapes to cast shadows in recognisable forms. For more excitement, Geometry Wars 3 is a dramatically pretty shoot-’em-up.
There are educational and informative apps, too. Touchpress Classical Music Reimagined displays an orchestra, a musical score and a visualisation with dots pulsing as each musician plays. Carrot Weather provides forecasts from a grumpy robot. If you’re likely to download a lot of apps and videos, you can pay an extra to double the built-in 32GB of storage, but you can always delete them and reload them later free of charge.
Apps also serve as TV channels, and this is what could change how we watch telly. Previously, there were icons for a few stations that had partnerships with Apple. Now the system is open to anyone. Whether they broadcast free, such as BBC iPlayer, or require a subscription, such as Netflix, there’s scope for the home screen to fill up with all the channels you’d expect on Sky or Virgin cable, and more.
A week after launch, we found only a limited selection in the UK: we could get Now TV, Sky’s pay-monthly service, but not ITV or Channel 4. It’s unlikely TV companies will ignore the opportunity for long, and with apps such as YouTube you’ll never be stuck for something to watch. Apple TV still doesn’t support 4K resolution, which might start to be a problem when you’re choosing your next TV.
The included Siri Remote is a lightweight rectangle with six dicky buttons and a rather skiddy touchpad. You can also talk to it, but ask it to find you a video, and it only searches iTunes and Netflix; that’s something Apple needs to work on. While you’re watching, you can tell Siri to skip forwards or backwards, or even ask ‘What did he say?’ to replay the last bit with subtitles. We’re hoping for a ‘What was he in?’ function that tells you where you had previously seen a familiar face.
It’s not so much the future of TV as the present but better. More UK broadcasters need to get apps out, but the new Apple TV is good as it stands, especially if you like a bit of casual gaming.
32GB flash storage • HDMI 1.4 port • Ethernet • 802.11ac Wi-Fi • 35x98x98mm (HxWxD) • 425g.