As a Certified Apple Whore, I was pretty much obligated to purchase the new version of Apple TV. Could not be helped, really. Is it worth the money for the upgrade? Let's find out...
The original Apple TV was a hot mess of a product. Dubbed "iTV" it had a hard drive for local storage, but I don't know that it ever used it because the unit required you to stream video from a computer. Eventually it was upgraded with additional functionality (namely, you could buy media from the iTunes Store) but it was such a klutzy product that I never really used it.
Then came the second generation. This Apple TV was a fraction of the size of iTV, jet-black in color, and much more capable. With no local hard drive, your only option was to stream content, which is pretty much what it was meant to do all along. This implementation was a huge improvement, but still pretty crappy. The menu GUI is awful. It always seemed under-powered, and dropouts or full-on crashes were common. Apple upgraded bits and pieces for the third generation model which, I'm guessing, helped with more reliable streaming... but I never bothered because it was pretty much the same damn thing.
And here we are at Generation Four...
The new unit looks much the same as the previous version, but is noticeably taller. Everything else about it, however, is a very different animal.
First of all, I had the crap shocked out of me when I plugged in the new unit to my television and had the television automatically turn on and change the input to Apple TV. This is thanks to HDMI-CEC which is an extension to the HDMI cable standard that allows you to control HDMI devices in a smarter way.
If you have a television, a cable box, and a stereo receiver, you end up juggling three remote controls just to watch the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory. Yes, many remotes now-a-days can be programmed to control multiple devices, but that'e exactly how it happens... you are controlling three different devices separately. With HDMI-CEC, however, you don't. Assuming all your components are CEC capable, they talk to each other and control each other. Turn the volume up on your TV and it will pass the info to your stereo receiver. Change channels on your TV and it will pass the info to your cable box. And so on. The system isn't without its hiccups, but it's a fantastic technology in theory (and mostly in practice).
The upshot of all this? Your CEC-capable TV automatically switches inputs when you turn on your Apple TV and you can control television volume with the Apple TV remote. Nice.
Setting up Apple TV couldn't be easier if you have a modern iOS device. You just wave your iPhone (or whatever) over your Apple TV when it asks and your Apple ID and iTunes account info is transferred automatically over Bluetooth. Pretty spiffy, right?
Unless your WiFi router is set up to restrict access via specific MAC addresses like mine. Usually, this is an easy fix... you just look at a sticker on the peripheral you want to grant access to your wireless network, type it into your router's "allowed" table, and you're golden. Except Apple doesn't put this information on their precious Apple TV. Which would be fine because you can get the MAC address from the Apple TV's system menu. EXCEPT YOU CAN'T ACCESS THIS MENU UNTIL THE APPLE TV IS SET UP. BUT YOU CAN'T SET UP THE APPLE TV UNTIL YOU HAVE INTERNET ACCESS! This is categorically stupid. I had to disable access control on my router to set up Apple TV so I could get the MAC address to set up access control. HELPFUL HINT TO APPLE: put the fucking MAC address on the damn Apple TV next time... like you used to do.
It's during this setup that you get exposed to Apple's new remote control. It's plastic and metal, not awesome solid aluminum tooling like previous generations, but it has a nifty "swipe pad" at the top. This allows you to swipe to select menu items and, more importantly, swipe to enter keyboard data like user id and password. While definitely a better option than having to click click click to pick letters off an on-screen keyboard, it's not perfect. I had no problem swiping left to right, for example, but rarely am I able to swipe up and down and get it to register the first time. Annoying. But only half as annoying as the fact that I couldn't get the iPhone Apple Remote App to work with the latest Apple TV.
Okay... so you've set up your Apple TV. Now what? Well, the first thing you'll notice is that Apple has a minimal number of "stations" showing... whereas the previous generation had a shitload of them... whether you wanted them or not. Don't use Hulu? TOUGH SHIT! HERE IT IS! But the latest Apple TV nicely avoids the unnecessary clutter by turning all the "stations" into apps. Want to look at YouTube videos? Grab the app. Want to view NetFlix content? Grab the app. But that's not all... apps are for more than just "stations"... you can download full-blown actual apps, like games, and run them right on your television. This is a pretty powerful upgrade, and I wonder how many people will drop gaming consoles if the content for Apple TV really takes off.
And speaking of upgrades... Heeeeere's Siri!
Using voice commands with Apple TV is pretty great. Click the "listen" button and tell the thing what you want. "Show me John Goodman movies" works exactly as expected. Better than expected, actually, because Siri searches not just the iTunes Store, but your apps as well! And here's where Apple TV really shines... it gives precedence to cheaper options first. If the movie you want to watch is available on your Netflix subscription AND on the iTunes Store... the Netflix option is first up because you've already paid for it. That's a pretty bold move for Apple, since most companies would put their own product ahead of everybody else.
Siri is most welcome to Apple TV because the interface, while less cluttered, is still pretty shitty to navigate... even with Apple's new swipe remote. The problem is that there's no API for Siri, so most apps can't use that feature. YouTube, for example, would benefit greatly from Siri interaction... except it can't. Not yet anyway. Another problem with Siri is that Apple TV Siri is limited to only Apple TV functionality. Unlike iPhone Siri, which can answer questions or do internet searches, for example. HomeKit functionality, surprise surprise, is missing.
AirPlay is, not surprisingly, fully supported. which means you can stream content from your iPhone or computer (assuming they have that capability).
All Apple TVs comes with a spacious 2 GB of memory, but there are two models when it comes to the amount of storage (via flash memory)... 32GB or 64GB. I have no plans for downloading a ton of apps, so 32GB was the choice for me.
When it comes to hardware features, the fourth generation Apple TV comes up short compared to older versions. First of all, it's HDMI only... including for sound, because Apple TV no longer has an optical audio out jack. In addition, the only service port is the USB-C port. Luckily, a USB-C to USB cable is included in case you don't have one. There's an ethernet jack, which is nice if your WiFi isn't reliable, but kind of a waste otherwise.
Performance is much improved in the latest iteration of the product thanks to the Apple A8 chip upgrade. Menus are smoother (and prettier)... streaming feels more reliable... and response time is better.
Overall, I'm quite pleased with my new Apple TV. Well worth the price of admission... especially if you have a lot of content purchased from the iTunes Store. I wish that it was smarter about voice interaction though. Having to press the button on the remote to activate Siri seems old-fashioned when you've got devices like Amazon's Alexa that's always listening. Furthermore, Siri should be a hell of a lot smarter. Right now it's a drastically dumb-downed version from what I'm used to on my iPhone, which makes no sense. I mean, come on... at least give Siri access to my music library! Also lacking in the "no sense" department? No support for 4K video(!) and no iPhone remote support.
Maybe next time.
Which I'm guessing will be 2017. A little late to the party.