Once complicated boxes reserved for the tech-savvy, streaming media boxes are quickly becoming a major competitor to traditional television service. While Apple was one of the first to jump into the fray, it has been a while since we’ve seen an update to the Apple TV.
The potentially good news is that wait is now over. With a sleek new design, a completely overhauled interface and a ton of new bells and whistles, Apple is calling the Apple TV (2015) the future of television. But does it live up to the claims? Let’s see what reviewers across the web are saying.
If you’ve seen any of the last few renditions of the Apple TV, you won’t find any surprised in the latest model. It draws from the sleek and minimal aesthetic of Apple’s other hardware presenting you with a glossy black box with a light, the Apple logo and ports on the back.
While taller than previous models, its overall footprint is the same. So if you’re looking to upgrade, the new model should slide right into your existing setup seamlessly.
Tucked away inside the black box is a 64-bit dual-core Apple A8 processor with 2GB of memory. While not the most powerful chip in Apple’s arsenal, it easily keeps up with the current competition on paper.
Real world performance reviews seem to back this up, with Canadian Reviewer stating, “Opening Netflix and resuming a show or finding something new to watch is way faster on the new Apple TV than it is on other devices, Xbox One and Roku 3 included.”
To ensure you have plenty of room for your favorite movies, TV shows or games, Apple offers a choice 32 or 64GB of internal flash storage. While this might not seem like much space, the included On-Demand Resource technology helps you cram as much as possible into your Apple TV.
It works by only loading the portions of apps, games, TV series and other content that you either use frequently or might use in the near future. The rest is stored on iCloud for quick retrieval when you need it.
iMore spent some time testing the new storage system and declared, “It's an intelligent system that does a lot of work behind the scenes so that we, the humans, don't have to do as much work in front of them.”
Heading around to the back of the box, you’ll find a USB-C port, an HDMI port, the power port and an ethernet port. The USB port is for diagnostics only, so don’t plan on connecting an external drive full of movies or music.
If you’re looking to use your personal media collection, you can stream from iTunes using the Home Sharing feature or setup a Plex Media Server. The latter has received a complete remake for the new Apple TV and is receiving great reviews so far.
One odd point about the box is your Internet connectivity options. Wireless AC with MIMO support should provide a reliable connection. Reviews showed no signs of weak signals or stuttering playback. However, if you’re planning to use a wired network, the 10/100BASE-T ethernet port is actually slower than the wireless option.
You’ll also find connectivity for home theater limited. While the HDMI 1.4 with Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 support offers easy connectivity, you’ll want to ensure your media setup will support the single connection type. Overall, video quality appears sharp and fluid with iMore stating, “1080p 60FPS video provides for rock-solid interface animation and great looking games.“
Navigating the options on Apple TV (2015) is done with Apple’s tvOS 9.1. No more stripped down versions of MacOS or iOS. Overall, reviews of the new interface are very positive. Tools and Toys noted, “The new Apple TV’s tvOS is a gorgeous new coat of paint with a substantial number of new features, all for a good price.” MacWorld UK compared it to previous versions and found, “We definitely prefer this new personalised layout.”
If there was one area of the Apple TV that received consistent praise, it's the new remote. Fully rechargeable using a Lightning cable, a single charge lasts approximately three months. It also includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, touch inputs and Siri integration.
CNet called it, “the best remote on the market.” With just five buttons and a small trackpad, the remote is as straight-forward as it gets. The real functionality lies in the integrated Siri commands.
If you’ve found voice controls frustrating in the past, it seems Apple spent time polishing the system and the results show. Tools and Toys praised the controls, stating, “Siri commands are incredible; it’s voice recognition right out of the sci-fi movies and TV of my childhood.”
When you do need to use the touchpad, reviews indicate that it is up to the task of flipping through apps, scrolling through lists and even playing games with reasonable accuracy. iMore put it through its paces and said, “I can't imagine how long it took to get the feeling just right, but Apple's interactivity team deserves immense credit for nailing it so hard.”
However, there are a few issues that consistently popped up across reviews. The most common being the on-screen keyboard. Instead of your traditional grid layout, Apple opted for a single line keyboard. This is likely due to the remote that we’ll get into in a moment. Unfortunately, while the keyboard sounds good in practice, most reviews mentioned it as frustrating.
This snowballs into other areas, such as searching the App Store and authorizing accounts for apps and services. Know Your Mobile stated, “Search in general across tvOS can use a lot of improvement.” Fortunately, this is something that can be addressed through software updates.
Also, many reviews noted that the tactile click of the touchpad felt cheap--especially when compared to the sleek design of the rest of the hardware.
Of course, there’s a few things missing that people might want in a streaming box as well. If you’re a fan of 4K, you’ll need to look somewhere else. There is also no support for Bluetooth keyboards--though controllers, speakers and headsets are supported. There is no memory card expansion slot either.
Lastly, all reviews noted a definite lack of quality apps outside of the popular streaming providers. While this will likely improve over time, be sure to check availability of your favorite apps or games if they are important to you.
Overall, reviews are very positive. Tools and Toys summarized the media box well when they said, “After sitting down on that couch, the path from first button press to playing episode can always be faster, always easier, always more intuitive. The new Apple TV does just that.”
Canadian Reviewer calls it “an upgrade worth checking out and one that will get better through time as apps and experiences trickle in.”
Finally, CNet weighs in, saying, “Among vehicles for streaming video, the Apple TV is easily the most luxurious you can buy today.”