Today we’re taking the first really deep look at Apple’s fourth-generation Apple TV, which will hit stores next month. In our exclusive video, we explore the upgraded hardware, the Siri Remote, and dig down into tvOS, the new UI that brings the entire experience to life.
Are there surprises? Oh yes. The new Apple TV actually supports Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth speakers, a special Night Mode, and radically improved accessibility options inspired by iOS. You can learn about all of the great new features below…
Watch The New Apple TV In Our Exclusive Video
Check out our unboxing and in-depth hands-on (software/hardware) video above.
New Hardware: Apple TV (4th Gen) + Siri Remote
As you can probably tell, this new Apple TV is quite a bit taller than the previous generation. Side-by-side, you can see that it’s over 150% of the prior model’s height. We’re guessing that the new internals need a bit of breathing room.
Inside of the Apple TV we have an A8 chip and 2GB of RAM running the show, a little more powerful than an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. It’s packing 802.11ac MIMO antennas for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, an IR receiver, and some reconfigured ports on the back. Of course we have the power cable connection point, an HDMI 1.4 port that unfortunately does not support the output of 4K UHD content, an Ethernet port, and a USB-C port, but that’s not going to be used for anything at the moment aside from service and support.
Compared to the third-generation Apple TV, the ports have slightly changed. Unfortunately, Apple has ditched the optical audio output and the layout has shifted a bit because of that. The look and feel of the hardware is pretty much the same, though. It’s plastic with very glossy sides, offset by a matte finish on the top with the Apple TV logo front and center. Aside from the dimensions and port layout, everything here remains unchanged.
The real difference is found in the software and remote. Apple has revamped the Apple TV’s remote this year with a drastically different design and a new set of features. The front of this new Siri Remote features a dual-tone glass finish with a glossy element towards the bottom and a matte finish indicating the touchpad’s position. Yep, I said touchpad. Like Apple’s Magic Trackpad, you can swipe across this matte black area to navigate the new Apple TV, which is a step up above the old circular direction pad found on the previous generation’s remote. Comparing the two side-by-side, you’ll notice some major differences in the layout. The Siri Remote features a new set of buttons that enable some features within tvOS.
At the top we have the standard Menu button which acts as a back button for the most part, but next to that there’s a new button with a TV icon, which will take you all the way back to the main tvOS screen when pressed. Below those, we now have a Siri button that can be used to accomplish a variety of tasks we’ll get into shortly. There’s also a play/pause button and a set of volume up and down buttons for deeper integration with the Apple TV and your home theater.
Near the top of the Siri Remote on the front and back, you’ll find microphones that are used in conjunction with the Siri button to listen for your commands. Further examining the backside, you’ll notice that the old circular battery door has been retired in favor of something that makes a bit more sense. The new remote charges with a Lightning cable, which is included in the box, and according to Apple you should get months of battery life from a single charge.
Apple will also sell this remote for $79 if you want another one. It’s unclear whether you’ll be able to use two or more for multiplayer games from the App Store, but multiple MFi Bluetooth controllers and iOS 9 devices such as iPod touches and iPhones will apparently be able to pair with the Apple TV. There will also be a wrist strap for a Wii Remote-like experience that will retail for under $15.
As mentioned, the new Apple TV features Siri integration, which is by far the easiest way to find what you’re looking for throughout multiple apps and indexed content. Siri will search through everything on the Apple TV and catalogs of linked apps, returning results surprisingly fast. You can ask Siri for information on a collection of topics including movies, TV shows, sports, and weather. Check out the above video for a closer look at these new features.
Stock charts are even available if you ask for them.All you need to do is hold down the Siri button on the remote, speak your question and release.
New Software: tvOS + Apps
New Apple TV hardware is long overdue and is great to see, but the real differences with this year’s Apple TV lie in the software interface, which has been completely redesigned.
Setting up the Apple TV was extremely simple, but you will need to be updated to iOS 9.1 in order to get the ball rolling. All you have to do is unlock your iOS device and hold it near the Apple TV. From there you’ll be prompted to allow automatic setup, and after scrolling through a few menus and options to customize the experience, everything is golden.
The Apple TV is running a custom version of iOS 9 with support for the same graphics, sound, wireless, and accessory features found on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. There’s a shiny new interface on top of it which Apple calls tvOS, but developers can now just port iOS games + apps directly to the TV, and as long as you can control them with the Siri Remote, you’re good. No need to deal with sluggish AirPlay games anymore.
We’re big fans of the redesigned interface. Everything is very clean, and navigation is smooth with the Siri Remote’s touchpad. The all new UI is bright, with San Francisco fonts and clean selection bars. If you prefer the look of iOS 9, the new Apple TV really carries it over here, with translucent panes, widget pop-ups like Control Center, and smooth animations. Apple has even added a parallax effect to the icons which move at varying speeds when you wiggle your finger on the remote’s touchpad.
At its core, the Apple TV offers the basic services and content that we’re used to seeing with iTunes and iOS 9. On the main screen at the top, you’re presented with the Top Shelf, this will feature recent titles, music, movies, shows, and more based on the icon selected from the apps below it. You’ll be able to customize it a little, too.
There are apps for Movies and TV here, both of which will allow you to find new content and see your previous purchases all in once place. Jumping into a title will present you with relevant information about the movie or TV show with actors listed. It’s clean and well put together which makes it fairly simple to find what you are looking for. During playback of a movie, you can ask Siri for information about the actors to pull up widget like cards displaying the results and also simply swipe down on the remote’s touchpad for relevant information about the movie such as a description, audio, and subtitle settings. Also, as with the previous generation, you can easily AirPlay content from an iOS device or Mac straight to the Apple TV.
There’s also a Photos app with a familiar icon (remember, this is based on iOS 9) and that will bring full iCloud Photo Library support and albums to your Apple TV. As before, you can browse through the albums using a remote, but it’s easier using the touchpad and swipe through the photos. It also allows you to start a slideshow using a specific set of photos or set an album as a screensaver. It’s relatively simple as far as functionality goes, but essentially the easiest way to view your photos on the big screen.
There’s also a Music app which enables Apple Music, bringing an unlimited supply of music to the mix. Here you’ll have access to everything you’ve added to your Apple Music collection and previous purchases. Along with that, there’s Beats 1 radio and several other radio stations available, but you can always create your own station based on an artist or song.
When listening to a song in a playlist or on a station, you also have the ability to specify whether or not you love the song. Apple Music will use this information to better serve you future songs. Clicking on a song in the Now Playing section will enable you to view what’s next in the queue and additional options are available through the menu icon above the album art.
There’s also Home Sharing available, which will allow you to access local content on your computer which can be streamed to the Apple TV. Simply enable Home Sharing on each device and you’ll be able to browse through your music, movies, and TV shows stored on another computer.
Jumping into the Settings app reveals a wide selection of new options available with tvOS. First off, a very cool feature of the new Apple TV is the ability to connect Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth speakers to use for audio output system-wide. This will allow you to privately watch movies or listen to music without the need of your TV’s speakers. The option is within the settings and has worked fantastic so far. We’re big fans of this new ability.
When the Apple TV is finally released, there will be an App Store available, which will exploit the gaming capabilities available here. The Bluetooth section will allow you to connect Apple MFi game controllers or you can simply use the included remote. Apple has big plans for gaming on the Apple TV, but who knows if it it will be able to compete with consoles anytime soon. We’ll get into the gaming capabilities more in the full review, so be sure you’re subscribed to the channel so you can be the first to check that video when it drops.
Apple has added new video-based screensavers. Screensaver options can be found in General Settings and when “Aerial” is selected, you’ll be presented with these beautiful video screensavers after a custom duration of idle time has passed. It appears that the Apple TV will only store a set amount of these at once on the device and download new ones every month, week, or day and run about 500MB per download.
There’s also a new set of accessibility settings available. Previously there were only options for voiceover, video descriptions, and closed captioning. The new menu adds a ton of new features such as a great new Zoom function with adjustable multipliers, bold text options, increased contrast settings, reduce motion, and audio descriptions. You can set it up to launch certain accessibility options with a triple-click of the menu button through the Settings as well.
There’s a section within the Settings to manage apps which is pretty empty at the moment, but will fill up once apps become available. Along with that, there’s an option to manage the storage on the device, which will populate the apps on the device and how much space they take up individually. Within the Accounts options, you’ll find the ability to manage subscriptions for various apps and services on the Apple TV such as Hulu, Netflix, or other apps in the future.
There are a ton of new things to discover within the Settings app, more of which are shown off in the gallery here:
Discovery is what the Apple TV is all about and I think the new hardware features and tvOS are really going to make a positive impact in that category. This new set-top box is set to launch in the near future and I’m looking forward to checking it out more.