Apple TV hands-on preview

I'm a cord cutter who lives on the Apple TV and watches iTunes, Netflix, and AirPlay video constantly. It's a huge part of my Apple experience, and it hadn't been updated since 2012. Until now.

The original Apple TV ran a lobotomized version of OS X, had a hard drive, and synced all it's content from the iTunes desktop. Then, in 2010, it switched to running iOS, got NAND Flash storage, and began streaming from the cloud. The new Apple TV keeps that same foundation but brings it into the present.

tvOS

Like Apple Watch, Apple TV is getting it's own system-level branding: tvOS. It has the same plumbing as iOS and watchOS but system and presentation layers all its own. And when you're dealing with a 10-foot interface—something you sit away from and interact with from afar—it's those front-facing layers that really matter.

Gone is the old, dark, dead design and in its place is a new, bright, lively interface that better fits the post iOS 7 aesthetic. Backgrounds blur and artwork, when chosen, shifts in virtual 3D space like layered paper. It's charming. As are the video screen savers that, instead of animating static images in space like they used to, now show the world in motion.

Movies and TV are now clearly labeled as "iTunes" while Music has become Apple Music. The constraints of the Apple TV headboard actually look to make the Music app flatter, at least at first glance.

Like Apple Watch, there's not sign of Safari and apparently none of WebKit in the frameworks either. Browsing on the TV would have been nice, but it's a sign that web data has moved beyond one app and, potentially, into every app.

Apple hasn't forgotten about accessibility though. VoiceOver and all the now-standard iOS-style options are present and accounted for.

The remote

The remote is bigger now, with a touchpad area at the top and menu and home buttons in the middle, and Siri, play/pause, and volume buttons at the bottom. It's not Wiimote big or heavy, but it does include core motion detection technologies like an accelerometer and gyroscope. And yes, there's a wrist strap to prevent you accidentally losing grip and launching it, shuriken-style, across the room and into the TV. It recharges via Lightning port but lasts months at a time on a charge.

The touch pad feels terrific. I've sometimes over or undershot with the Apple Remote app for iPhone but with the new hardware remote I was able to get to precisely the icon I wanted every time. I was only able to try a couple of games, but that included things like swinging the remote and driving with it, and the feeling was very connected and very natural. There was no delay or disintermediation.

You can't currently pair multiple Apple remotes to a single Apple TV so for multiplayer games you need to get and use Apple-certified game controllers. I hope we get multiple Apple remote support eventually, because they're cool, but things like battling relatives for Siri control of the living room might need to get figured out first.

Gamepads

If you already have MFi game controllers for your iPhone or iPad, they'll work with the new Apple TV. They've had a rough start since they were introduced, though, with quality varying wildly from vendor to vendor. Hopefully, a higher profile with Apple TV will help change that. I believe Apple was using SteelSeries in the demo pods and those felt and worked well.

You can navigate the entire Apple TV interface with a controller, far as I could tell, which makes it convenient. Since the apple remote can do things the controllers can't and vice-versa, it'll be interesting to see which developers embrace.

Apps + games

That's right: developers. Apple TV is now a platform and tvOS can run apps just like iOS and watchOS. Like the systems themselves, they're nearly identical when it comes to frameworks but different when it comes to interfaces. Apple TV apps are meant for the Apple TV.

Unlike watchOS, they're also apps unto themselves. There's an App Store directly on the Apple TV, and that's where you download them from. The benefits of being plugged into AC power and having lots of resources available. Well, relatively speaking. There's 2 GB of RAM inside and 32 GB or 64 GB options of storage.

I haven't had a chance to look into it yet, but it sounds like native games won't be able to use a ton of that space, though, and will have to rely heavily on on-demand resources (part of iOS 9 app thinning) to dynamically add and remove content like levels, cut scenes, tutorials, etc. from the cloud.

No 4K

That all runs on an Apple A8 processor. That's probably to keep costs down relative to an Apple A9, and because pushing around 1080p, especially with Metal and Apple's other graphics technologies, doesn't even require an Apple A8X.

Since there's no iTunes 4K yet, 2160p vs. UHD is still annoying, high dynamic range still needs to be considered, and a lot of people lack the bandwidth needed to stream 4K consistently, that Apple doesn't have a 4K story isn't surprising. It is disappointing from a video enthusiast perspective, however, and in terms of future-proofing the platform.

Siri

Siri on the Apple TV is amazing. The sequential inference works incredibly well to find content, letting you ask for something broad then narrow it down, shift it around, and find exactly what you want. Natural language means you can find things like guest stars in specific TV episodes not only easily but intuitively. Likewise control. "What did she say?" jumping you back several seconds and adding subtitles is genius.

So is requiring a button push to invoke Siri. It means you won't accidentally activate your TV when you mean to activate your watch, phone, or tablet, and it means the Siri remote gets terrific battery life. It also means you never have to worry about Apple eavesdropping on you in your living room. That's huge for privacy. Siri isn't listening unless you explicitly want it to be.

October

The Apple TV isn't shipping until October, and I only got to spend about 30 minutes in the various demo areas, but I like what I saw. When it ships, following on the new iPod touch in July, it'll mean our long iTunes device drought will finally be over.

And now that Apple TV is a platform, iTunes will need to keep the updates coming. That's the best news of all.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

62 Comments
  • Of all of yesterday's announcements, this is the one I'm most stoked about. Can't wait till it's available.
  • Same.. Very happy with the update. Yes, a few things like 4k would be 'nice'.. but I don't know anyone with a 4k screen yet.. they just are not mainstream yet and I don't have one, and won't for years.. I still have a nice 60" large LED VIZIO screen.. hell if I'm going to upgrade to 4k 'just' because it's a trend. My TV works just fine. I think MANY people will feel the same way about their current TVs. It's going to take years before 4k is everywhere, and even then, someone will be harping on the 'next big thing' as the new sales pitch anyway.
  • USB-C won't be a standard for years also but that didn't stop Apple.
  • So, 4K would be critical to the ATV design like USB-C was for the MacBook?
    Apple is great at forcing adoption of new tech and elimination of old (floppy, CD) but they can't force adoption of 4K and there is no benefit to do so. Sent from the iMore App
  • There is a benefit to do so because the new iPhones can record video at 4K and there are 4K TVs out there and rumors of a 4K iMac. It would be nice if people record videos in 4K and eventually own a 4K iMac to be able to stream it through iTunes to their 4K televisions via their Apple TV. I mean if they are going to drop micro US for USB-C on the new Apple TV it makes sense to forward think rather than leave gaps like this. When my plasma eventually dies I will end up with a 4K anyways.
  • Like I said below, 4K video would be nice and it's somewhat of a disappointment that it isn't included. However I still intend of purchasing it despite that shortfall and expect that I will still enjoy the heck out of it.
  • I agree that 4K would be 'nice' as well. However that fact that it doesn't doesn't make it 'DOA' (or whatever hyperbolic term that Internet commenters use) for me. It wouldn't surprise me if they add 4K support in a future software update, but who knows. People get bent out of shape out of edge cases that usually don't even affect them.
  • The new Apple TV looks great. I'm interested in how the Music app will work. Will it have profiles like Netflix so that my wife and I can have our own "Your Music", "For You" etc. and so that when she plays something it doesn't use that for it's recommendation engine for my tastes and vice versa.
  • That is something I hadn't even considered. i am very interested to see how apple handles this. The TV is now a shared connected device and the manner it handles things like this will be very important to families that don't share a single account. I think that bringing "profiles" to the iPad is a needed thing as well, but I know people are tired of hearing about that lol.
  • Yeah. Or Touch ID perhaps could unlock iPad into your profile. Apple TV could use Touch ID from the remote app but their remote is missing it. I really want profiles on iOS. Sent from the iMore App
  • Great point...never thought of that. Sent from the iMore App
  • Very nicely drafted!!! You know Rene? I love imore and more specifically your articles for this reason! They are amazingly detailed! I really hope you are working on an app on the Apple TV, or anything with apple news...
  • Any comments on whether Apple will allow other media providers (such as Vudu, Amazon Prime and SlingTV) to develop apps for the Apple TV?
  • Plex and KODI are two I'm interested in.. Hopefully they can make it into the App Store w/o issue. I don't expect KODI (XBMC for old hat users).. to make it because of it's Add-on system. or if it does, very crippled. PLEX though already has Apps for iPhone and iPad.. so here is hoping!
  • I'm curious if there is a way to access the media on your computer. I noticed the "My Computer" app is missing. Any idea Rene? Keep up the great work.
  • Oh wow... I hope they don't remove that ability I stream everything from iTunes that is installed on another computer in my basement.
  • Yes, this is my concern as well. "My Music" is clearly in the screenshots on Apple's website, but I didn't see "My TV Shows" or "My Movies" anywhere. That will be a deal killer.
  • If you watch the ad, when scrolling through the apps (0:08) next to Crossy Road is an an orange icon with a Macbook on it and a play button, I'm sure this is the My Media section
  • Wow, good catch! I bet (and hope!) you're right!
  • Although Apple made no mention of it, Home Sharing is still supported, as evidenced by a line in their tech specs page, "iTunes purchasing and renting and Home Sharing require iTunes Store account". What is unclear is whether Home Sharing will work right away with universal search and the other cool new navigation features or, if not, how long we will have to wait for them to support this. I wish some of the folks who attended the event had asked about this. For me, the new Apple TV is useless if it doesn't work well with Home Sharing. I never buy or rent video content from Apple, but I have a substantial movie library stored in iTunes on my iMac. Two other features I'm disappointed were left out: headphone support (a la Roku), and the ability to stream Home Sharing content over the internet to remote devices on the same account (a la Sling.)
  • Great find. I wonder if it depends on how the files are tagged. I use iDentify, and I would say 65% of my iTunes library is not from iTunes purchases, so I hope it is supported in search as well.
  • I process all my movies through iMedia Converter and iSubtitle before importing into iTunes. This is to ensure everything is in an iTunes-optimized format and all the metadata is populated. But I don't know if anything else is required to allow for the Siri searches and the ability to skip to any part of a movie using the touchpad.
  • I would think the scrubbing will work as it does now. As far as the "What did she say?" part, maybe not. What is iSubtitle? I will have to look that up... As far as the Siri searches, I would think it pulls from the file metadata and would work.
  • On the old Apple TV there is no scrubbing, only three speeds of clunky fast forward and rewind. So the question for Home Sharing movies is whether swiping on the new remote's trackpad will display the timeline and allow you to directly move to any point you want (as shown in the demo), or whether it will just mimic the same crappy ff/rw functionality we have today. Regarding Siri searches, you would THINK that they would just use the available metadata, but it's already been revealed that it's only supported on a handful of services and that this feature requires tapping their Siri API.
  • iMedia Converter converts the video to the format best suited for a device (iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, etc.) and also populates all the metadata and the cover art. iSubtitle just lets you find soft subtitles and embed them in the video file. This is in contrast to "hard" subtitles which are burned into the video itself and can't be hidden. It can also populate metadata and covert art. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/isubtitle/id402687628?mt=12&at=10l3Vy
  • I ripped my existing blu ray collection and any new ones and import them into iTunes so my library is half iTunes and half stuff I ripped. I hope this feature doesn't go away, I doubt it will but Apple keeps pushing Air Play as a big feature in iOS and Mac OS X....
  • Again, according to their tech page, Home Sharing is supported. The question is whether it will have full feature parity or be given second class status and denied access to the best new features.
  • Yes, I would really like to know how well it works with Home Sharing too. I also have a big movie library not bought from Apple which I stream to my ATV 3. but the interface is horrible and I've been waiting for something better for a long time. If the universal search and other new stuff doesn't work with Home Sharing it will be a major downer for me. If somebody knows what the story on this is please post.
  • My Apple TV is my only TV experience; no cable, no antenna. All content comes through it (and my iTunes Library on my iMac). So, I'm VERY excited about this update!!!
  • So far we have no evidence of which features will work with content streamed from your iTunes library.
  • Thanks for the great quick take impressions. One thing maybe you can answer: Is there still the "computers" app? So that you can easily browse iTunes content not in the cloud?
  • Just wish they had kept to optical digital out. I can't hook it up directly to my A/V receiver now, though I may be able to use the optical digital output from the TV. The problem with that is when I used the previous Apple TV solely to play music I wouldn't even turn on the TV. I just used the remote App from my iPhone to select the tracks. Now it looks like that won't be possible.
  • Same. I am using the optical out of my tv for surround sound from all HDMI sources and the built in apps- this way I never have to switch inputs on my receiver. My setup is a bit weird. I have a 2014 TV, but a 2006 (or so) receiver, which doesn't have HDMI.
    I'm lucky that my TV (LG) does support AC3 pass through (out from HDMI source, out of Toslink optical) most don't. Most TVs will force the source device to 2-ch PCM, since that's in the EDID of the TV. Like my 2009 Samsung, it won't pass the AppleTV's Dolby Digital (AC3) out of the optical (even when I set the AppleTV to AC3), but it will output AC3 from broadcast ATSC / QAM.
    Oh, industry standards: everyone has them but they are never the same.
    (Still no mention of HDMI-CEC from the 2015 AppleTV; I assume the Volume +/- on the Siri Remote is via IR) Sent from the iMore App
  • You raise a good point. I haven't even checked to see if the TV will pass 5.1 through the optical digital out. There are some adapters out there that will spilt the HDMI and output to another HDMI and a toslink for audio. Not sure how well they work. I may have to try it and see... Sent from the iMore App
  • I currently have four AppleTV's. I look forward to updating at least one of them to the new version. Love the AppleTV for what it does for me, and this update improves that experience. Awesome. Best part of the whole day, IMO.
  • But is there a 'find my remote' feature??
  • No, but there's an optional wrist lanyard so you won't lose it.
  • So, they took some features from Amazon's Fire TV and added a more useful remote? Meh...honestly I watch TV to watch TV-news is sometimes on in the background while I work. This won't change that-still nothing live (that I can get free over the air).
  • Life must be hard with all these newfangled doohickies and those damn kids on your lawn.
  • So instead of hitting a back button, we're supposed to hit a button and then tell Siri to rewind? FFS. Sent from the iMore App
  • The touchpad lets you pause and play, as well as skip instantly to any part of a movie, according to the demo. My question is whether this works for all content, or whether the input will only work as ff/rw on some.
  • No
  • So from Apple.com, it states that you can control the volume of the TV and you can turn "the TV" on or off. You'll need a compatible TV with HDMI-CEC. I just looked this up and supposedly by 2009 TV has HDMI-CEC, my Chrome-cast can automatically switch inputs so I guess this verifies HDMI-CEC. Here is the question, How does one turn the Apple TV & "the TV" on or off? This is huge for people who want to use only the Apple interface and not have to worry about switching inputs. (I have a Tablo, they are working on support, the apple TV would be a game changer, I'd chuck my Roku out the window)
  • Definitely getting one. My first gen apple TV has been sitting under my TV unloved for a very long time now. I'm sad how little love was given to that device by Apple but time to move on now and the new device should be great.
  • Has anybody heard if tvOS will be available on legacy Apple TVs in some form? Even if it's just a "look and feel" update it would be nice to have. I have 6 legacy Apple TVs and all I need is Apple Music access, really. The rest of the new features get a "meh" from me as I have Logitech Harmony hubs and that Siri remote would end up in a drawer somewhere...
  • They are going to continue to sell the ATV 3 for $69. I hope that means they plan to move the legacy hardware to the new OS. I have an ATV2 and an ATV3. I'll certainly pick up one of the new ones for our main room, but I'd like to keep the others in rotation.
  • Haven't found confirmation that you can still stream from home-sharing / your desktop iTunes library. That's fascinating! I guess the Apple cheerleaders (aka: Hooters - they're in every stupid keynote - listen for the hoot) missed that - HOOT HOOT HOOTY HOOT HOOT (they're so authentic, and not fake at all!).
  • All that's missing is a TV service so I can cancel my cable subscription! Sent from the iMore App
  • No 4k, right. We have all seen this movie before, with the iPad mini, which was launched without a retina display and *everybody* knew Apple would launch an upgraded model next year with this feature, which it did. Now, we all know Apple will launch the 4K Apple TV next year, so the question really is, wait for 4K or not.
  • questions. (1) do you have a 4K tv or will you in the next 3 years
    (2) do you have much 4K content or will you in the next 3 years That is my thinking. My answers are no to both. Even with the 6s having the ability to, I doubt I will use it, for storage reasons on both the device and my iCloud Drive. So it is a non issue to me, and I think I am in the majority.
  • Fair points, but it seems like the iPhone team answered "Yes" to both. Right now the iPhone produces content the Apple TV cannot reproduce. Its one of those small things Jobs would not let happen.
  • Hi. What's the story with AirPlay ? Can we still stream our contents please ? Now that apps are up. I wonder if a plex app for Apple TV is on the cards !!!! Sent from the iMore App
  • Glad its here. Possibilities are great. But was expecting innovation in the design. Not a chubby version of the last one. Sent from the iMore App
  • Does anyone know if there is anything for home kit it the new Apple TV. I will be buying a couple to replace my Apple TV version 2s. was really hoping for something for homekit
  • The atv is what I am most excited about, will be getting one of these, from what I read about it you can only have 1 remote so will the remote app on iPhone work as a 2nd remote for gaming. Will there be new software update to existing atv?
    Also looking forward to watch2 software, love my watch.
    Like the look of the new iPad but probably won't get it as find I am using my iPad mini less all the time and using my iPhone 6+ instead, may do if it has something killer for me
    All in all some excellent new products and software, so excited Sent from the iMore App
  • Any news on what's going to happen with the prior gen ATV's? I know they're still going to sell it - but what about the software? Any move towards a similar platform?
  • It is not getting tvOS. But it could continue to get new channels via updates, though I would imagine that will be less likely going forward. Maybe some marque ones, but not everything.
  • Any word on if the iOS remote app will be compatible? Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm still wondering why there's no Computer app at the top of the menu. I don't know if anyone at the event saw it but I heard it wasn't there. The money I was saving for one I just got a iPad Mini 2 instead.
  • No Amazon Prime, no customer. Plus Roku 4 is due to be out by year's end and Amazon Fire TV at any moment. So we have apps on our phone and tablet. We really need it on a streaming box???? I think this is a swing and miss.
  • Remotes: left out of article, did we not see demos of 2nd players playing via iPhone or iPod Touch also? So, many people will have a 2nd controller in their pockets? Sent from the iMore App
  • i may get 2 ....... as always , taking advantage of Apple genius 14-dat return policy I do that with all hardware i get from the store.