Review: Apple TV (4th Generation) - No More Walled Garden

I've never been a huge fan of jailbreaking iOS devices.

And with the 4th Generation AppleTV, there is no longer a need to do so.

The AppleTV ecosystem has always been a "walled garden".

You can access plenty of content from the device - but only from the sources approved by Apple.

If you wanted to rip your DVD collection, you couldn't easily play it on your AppleTV.

Now, the 2nd Generation AppleTV could be jailbroken... allowing users to install NitoTV and Kodi, and stream their own non-Apple-approved content.

BUT, there was a trade-off. The 2nd Generation AppleTV couldn't do 1080p.  For me, that was a dealbreaker.

Speaking only for myself - I'd much rather stay within Apple's walled garden, and pay for true high-def content, than jailbreak a device to stream 1080i or 720p content.

The new AppleTV finally tears down the wall. It's substantially more powerful and intuitive than any prior AppleTV, and with the open App Store, your AppleTV can be completely customized.

I picked up a 64 GB AppleTV last night, and we spent the evening putting it through its paces.

Next-Gen Remote Control

The first thing you'll notice is the new remote. It's a winner.

The top half of the device (the matte black portion) is a touchscreen. IR has been ditched for wi-fi, so there is no line-of-sight required.

It's *substantially* easier to navigate the AppleTV home screen with the new remote - no more pressing down 7 times to slide through tiles.

The remote is also Siri-capable, which comes in more handy than you'd think. My son asked it for "Crossy Road", and the game immediately fired up.

tvOS App Store

This is what truly separates the new AppleTV from its predecessors.

At the outset, the tvOS App Store is a bit of a drag.

You'll have to download and install quite a few apps that you'd have assumed would have been pre-installed. Like Netflix. Like YouTube.

And while the new remote is a major step forward, it's *really* bad for text entry - especially where, as here, the "password entry" on-screen keyboard is laid out with the entire alphabet left-to-right.

If Siri could handle passwords - or if the remote had TouchID, we'd be getting somewhere!

That said, the tvOS App Store provides the majority of the value proposition here. 

Right off the bat, you'll see the power of this AppleTV with its games. Rayman, for instance, looks as good as any next-gen console.

For now, all AppleTV games have to be playable with the remote. This seems like a major limitation - potentially a console-killing limitation.

However, my 9-year-old was tearing through Rayman levels with ease... so what do I know?

The games are nice - but the new options for accessing a home media server are absolutely game-changing.

Plex released their official tvOS client today - what that means, is that you can now access a movie library on your AppleTV. Full Stop.

What that ALSO means is that I need to acquire a Mac Mini to act as a home server, and get started with ripping my collection of discs.

Incredibly excited about this aspect of the AppleTV - it's a paradigm-shifting breakthrough.

And I don't see how it's possible to go backward from this - the horse has officially left the barn.
From now on, there's almost no reason to keep the physical media your movies came on.

I expect BluRay (and all other physical media formats) to go the direction of  music CDs. For a while, we'll buy discs and rip them. Then, we'll abandon physical media entirely.

So What's Next?

The obvious answer is 4K video.

Now, Apple has a long history of leaving certain features out of its devices

The cynics among us may say they do so in order to have something to add for next year's device. And that may be the case.

But 4K is still a relatively new technology, and with adoption rates low, I don't see this as a dealbreaker. And I expect it to be the differentiator for the 5th Gen Apple TV.

The other obvious "what's next" is Apple Television.

Apple has, for a number of years, been working on a cable-TV alternative... this AppleTV was reportedly built to handle exactly that.

I'm hopeful that this will provide a "traditional" TV-watching experience - allowing us to flip through live TV channels, rather than apps.

I imagine that AppleTV will have a "base tier" of channels, including the major networks, at a flat fee.

Then, we'll be able to purchase apps for the specific additional content that we want - ESPN, HBO, Showtime, and so on.

Adding a channel's app will provide the same content-on-demand experience that it currently does - but will also add those channels live stream to your channel guide.

And the entire experience will be controlled by Siri.

But that's still several months off, at the minimum. Apple isn't going to go live until they've got all of the relevant content-providers on board.

So, for now, the AppleTV is strictly a "streaming on-demand" box. And that's fine.

One more thing....

The new AppleTV remote is great.

However, I'm STILL going to beat the drum for a true fully-featured Apple Remote, capable of controlling an entire home theater - in the way that a Harmony remote does.

With the new AppleTV, Apple is clearly making a play for becoming the central hub of the home theater experience (and maybe even home automation in general).

A touchscreen-style remote control, with RF and even IR capability for legacy devices, would be the final piece in this puzzle.

With an Apple Remote acting as the platform, third-party HomeKit and tvOS developers could offer true integration and centralization - you could adjust your Hue lighting, lock your Kevo doors, close the Lutron shades, all with a Siri command, if you choose.

You could scroll through a fully-interactive TV guide (including Rotten Tomatoes reviews) to find programming, without banishing the current show into the corner of the screen.

A true Apple Remote would give Apple the advantage in the HomeKit vs. Nest race, as well as in the tvOS vs. Android TV battle.

They should be working on it immediately.

But for now - let's look at what Apple has given us. Finally, an Apple TV that puts the user in

It's a device with as much polish as the iPhone, and that's saying something.

FOUR STARS (out of 4)    


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