Apple TV Review
Or, how the future of TV isn't the smartphone
I came into using Apple TV being unsure of what to expect. I'm a big TV/movie watcher and am fully embedded in the Apple ecosystem.
Up until now I'd been using Plex with massive success. Their Mac app has constantly provided the best couch experience of any media center I've ever used.Running Plex on the Mac Mini does involve some manual effort that can be painful. I was hoping that Apple TV would be something more solid and simple than running Plex on a Mac Mini.
The marquee feature for Apple TV is probably the use of Siri search. Overall I found the quality of the search to be lackluster, but that's not a shocker. It seems like search is its own app which contains the listings. The search results page provides links out to the iTunes store as well as Netflix, HBO, and whatever other partners Apple has worked with. The results deep link into the respective apps.
Apple claims that the future of TV is apps. Apple TV, in its current iteration, is all my fears of that claim confirmed. The best experience Apple showed in their keynote was the MLB app. It provided a cool picture in picture experience with attached scores and stats. The experience was spectacular.
The issue with apps is that each app or channel is its own little silo — which is even illustrated by the touted MLB app. Somewhat ironically it seems as though TV technology peaked in the late 90s when all cable came through the tuner built into your TV and had working picture in picture.
Having played with Apple TV for a few days I came to realize that's what I was hoping Apple would provide: a wonderful experience for browsing all the media provided by all these providers. Instead of being buried in the MLB app, I would have liked to have seen any two sources picture in picture, and/or had an app to provide stats.
The current implementation of Apple TV seems like Apple is using apps to solve every problem. With the watch and TV, the paradigm doesn't fit as well as it did on iPhone and iPad.
The feel of the remote is, in typical Apple fashion, a fabulous piece of engineering. The buttons all have a natural feel and the device as a whole also feels great. I don't even mind the fact that the top and bottom aren't easily distinguishable.
When it comes to actual input, the swipes are not as predictable or nice feeling as a click. I was unable to intuit how far I'd need to swipe to get between items and entering text with it isn't very easy, in large part because of the lack of accuracy. You have to pick a letter from a horizontal list by swiping left or right.
Entering login credentials felt like walking though a hellscape. On Apple TV I had to enter the entirety of my credentials by hand for each app. This first-run experience tainted my whole experience with Apple TV.
Many other devices have arranged some sort of web-based handshake with a code, it baffles me that Apple doesn't have at least this. The benefit of the app platform will allow developers to attempt to solve the login issue on a one-off basis. I would have expected Apple of any company to find some elegant solution to this problem for all apps.
The last issue I had with the remote was when using it as a controller. I only played with Alto's Adventure. I found the latency distracting. Maybe the latency was only noticeable because I'm used to playing on the phone directly, but it really detracted from the enjoyment of my usual play.
As a video watching device I find Apple TV rather disappointing. If Siri works you can get to the content you want fairly quickly, otherwise it's a fairly slow process. I may be spoiled by the great job Plex has done with their Home Theater app, but the experience on Apple TV really falls short for me. The app metaphor doesn't feel right for seeking out content.
That being said, if you want the Apple TV more as a little iOS device hooked up to a giant screen, it's probably a pretty good device for you with lots of potential. I'd be curious to know if the input latency was a general issue or just one specific to my experiences.
Apple claimed that this device would revolutionize TV. I definitely don't see that. I hope that they can work towards that but in the meantime I'll be returning my hacky setup.