Apple TV Streaming Box Review

PRICE $149 (32 GB), $199 (62 GB)

Touch surface remote
Dedicated App Store
Snazzy photo slide shows
Arduous ID and password entries
Weak implementation of Siri
Lacks 4K video support

Apple TV Gen 4 brings a better remote to the table but fails to soar above other top streaming devices.

When Apple TV debuted in 2007, dozens of rival media receivers were already in place. At a time when TVs were too dumb to do their own streaming, Apple TV came along mainly to benefit iTunes users. Since then, other media players have come and gone, but Apple has persevered. The company recently shipped Gen 4.

What’s different in 2016 is that most consumers now own a smart TV, media receiver, game console, or Blu-ray player connected to the Internet. Unless Gen 4 can deliver a richer experience over other Internet appliances, notably the Roku 4 Streaming Player (see review, this issue), Apple TV will be a tough sell.

I thought installation would be a cinch, pulling my Apple TV Gen 3 off its power and HDMI cables and swapping in the slightly larger Gen 4. I hadn’t anticipated how much time I’d spend entering and reentering ID and password information. An Apple spokesperson suggested a shortcut that involves placing your iPhone or iPad near your Apple TV to transfer some settings. I had actually tried that first, but nothing happened. So I went with manual installation. Entering text using the onscreen horizontal keyboard and remote was inefficient. Alternatives such as voice input or tapping keys on your mobile screen are not available.

Unlike the Gen 3 model, the Gen 4 does not include an optical audio output. Gen 4’s main improvement is its slightly wider Siri Remote. Instead of incorporating a cramped four-point control ring, the black remote sports a glass Touch surface that lets your finger guide a floating pointer on the TV screen. You press down on the Touch surface to make a selection. By swiping the surface in conjunction with a time-elapsed bar that appears below a video, getting to any point in a movie is swift. The remote contains Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology, an IR transmitter, accelerometer, and gyroscope. Instead of deploying a disposable disc battery, the remote embeds a battery that’s rechargeable via an included Lightning-to-USB cable. Apple says the remote only has to be plugged in every couple of months. I found that the perfectly symmetrical remote, which is not backlit, was easy to pick up backwards, resulting in the pointer being moved in a direction not intended.

By holding down the microphone button, I was able to issue limited voice commands. I could say things like “Skip back 90 seconds” or “Turn on closed captioning.” While I was able to use Siri to search for a movie genre or an episode of Homeland, I was disappointed that the system wasn’t as accommodating as what I experienced with Apple Music on my iPad. I could tell my iPad to play any song, but with Apple TV, the title already had to be visible on the TV screen for Siri to find it.

Gen 4 introduces the Apple TV App Store. For those who like playing games or shopping, there are snappier graphics. However, in terms of sites that I was accustomed to using on Gen 3 like HBO Go, CBSN, YouTube, and Netflix, I found that having to download and install the app delayed what I wanted to watch on first use and subsequently added little to the experience.

My favorite use for Apple TV isn’t new. It’s playing a photo slide show with origami transitions. While the newest Apple TV offers some performance improvements over the previous generation, in general Gen 4 is unlikely to stand out among other devices in an already “smart” home theater. Owners or likely buyers of an Ultra HDTV set should be warned that the device does not deliver 4K content. Still, in the age of streaming, Apple TV may yet appeal to cord cutters and users of iTunes and iCloud.

Type: 10/100 Ethernet and 802.11ac Wi-Fi receiver with HDMI 1.4 output
Dimensions (HxWxD, Inches): 1.4 x 3.9 x 3.9
Weight (Ounces): 15

Warrior24_7's picture

You can always tell when somebody doesn't like Apple. I purchased two Roku 4s and an Apple TV Gen 4 as Christmas gifts for the in-laws, my son's family, and wife. After setting up "both" devices and moving them around from TV to TV, on two older, non-connected HDTVs as well as connected smart HDTVs. I can tell you that the Apple TV is virtual plug-n-play, the Roku 4...please. The Roku 4's instructions are on its website, not in the box. It requires account creation, passwords, and credit card info. You can actually set up an Apple TV Gen 4, download the Netflix app, and start watching a show before the Roku can be set-up and used. So complaining about downloading an app is a little ridiculous. Another thing the the Apple TV has is "Home Sharing". The Apple TV Gen 4 "found" my HTPC that is downstairs in the family room, and that non-smart, HDTV can play ALL of my iTunes content! That's huge. I never tried that with the Roku 4 so I don't know if it could search for and stream media stored on other devices and play "that" content, so I'm not saying it "can't". Then there is AirPlay and an Amazon app that is coming as well. "I" found that putting either of these boxes on a 4K or a smart TV may be redundant as many of these apps are already available with the TV. It's the dumb HDTV with an OTA antenna that made the most sense. I've read reviews on both of these products before buying, and the Roku 4 seems to have many QC and functionality issues. The only weakness in the Apple is its lack of 4K streaming which (as of now) seems to be overrated, over priced, and redundant!

SimonTC's picture

You can always tell an Apple fanatic who will excuse every weakness and attack those who point them out. 4K is certainly not overrated and overpriced.
Not to mention Apple is the company that for years thought 720p was "good enough", while everyone else was at 1080.

brenro's picture

Doesn't offer any streaming services that compete with it's own. Very incomplete compared to a Roku.

Warrior24_7's picture

Amazon is coming, Netflix is available, so what are you talking about? Don't just read the product reviews, read the "user" reviews as well. Users take a different "real world" perspective experience.

brenro's picture

The Roku has hundreds of channels available you can't get on Apple TV but if you're already invested in iTunes and have other Apple devices (which tens of millions of people do), then an Apple TV is certainly a viable choice. Myself and many others have, however, avoided the Apple walled garden approach.

Warrior24_7's picture

Of course if you're heavily invested in Apple, then the Apple TV makes the most sense. There is nothing wrong with the Roku if that's what you want. I actually purchased the Roku 4 and Apple TV, set up and used "both" devices. If you don't have a 4K TV then there is no need for the Roku 4. What is being said about the Apple TV is inaccurate or being down played because people are drinking that Apple haterade. Right now, I have HBO GO, Showtime, UFC, CBS, ABC, FOX among others. So saying it doesn't have competitor's streaming services is false. Amazon is coming as well. My smart TV has Netflix, Hulu, Amazon video, Gamefly, Pandora, M GO, plus web access. It's getting beyond redundant. Say what you want about Apple's so called "walled garden", but they want it that way and so do their customers. Their stuff just works. Read the user reviews on the Roku. It's basically poor QC. In the end, it may also give the Apple TV a longer lifespan.

Nitya's picture

I have two Gen 3's and a Gen 2 Apple TV. I bought one of these so I could replace my Gen 2 with one of my Gen 3's since Gen 2 no longer receives youtube. I returned it mainly for the reasons cited in the review. Another thing, the Gen 4 will not recognize a standard Apple Bluetooth keyboard which I find an amazingly stupid oversight especially since Apple makes you download "apps" and enter your iTunes password for every app. FYI - I also own two Apple MacBook Pro's, an iMac and a MacPro tower and my wife and I both have iPhones. I have used Mac's since 1989. Apple missed the mark on this product.

Philt56's picture

Got a great blk Friday deal and kept it to the last day waiting for them to fix things. Apparently their claim that the remote app fi provided full 3rd gen capacity didn't include listening to music. I could no longer bring up my iTunes library in the remote app and tell it to play anything. Gone was the Computer menu to show the library. Sure I could bring up the music app and airlay to it but whats the point? then my music is interrupted if any other app is used and plays a video or ad.

As the autor says almost any other video app is on my TiVo or bluray so why bother. ill keep my cheap 3rd gen and play my music.
just hope they don't break hmesharing again like a previous update did.

and cmon, no timer to tell it to stop playing? As in a real sleep timer, not a suspend timer like they have.

Philt56's picture

To clarify my comment. One of the nicest things was to browse my iTunes library on my PC with the remote app on my PC. That went away with the gen 4. No way to see my music with the remote app like on the gen 3. I don't want to turn on my tv just to play music. And the GUI on the app is much faster for browsing.

Warrior24_7's picture

"Another thing, the Gen 4 will not recognize a standard Apple Bluetooth keyboard which I find an amazingly stupid oversight"

I never tried to use a keyboard with the device, because I don't need to. But there is a video (right here on this little 'ol website) of a guy doing just that.

Apple has added support for the Apple Remote app, with tvOS 9.2 bringing support for dictation and Bluetooth keyboards.

mtymous1's picture

Apple zombies waited roughly 3 years and *STILL* didn’t get 4K, hi-res audio support, DLNA support, a gigabit port, nor true live TV (among other desired features). Sounds like all they got was just more “crApple.”

For about the same cost of the more expensive model, I would opt for an Intel NUC.

Also, if you know what you're doing, you can get a Raspberry Pi to give you a helluva lot more features for a fraction of the cost.

Warrior24_7's picture

Did someone try and hide this little ole aticle?

Mono's picture

When it comes to Apple all you need to do is look at there insane markups. Do a search online for BOM's Apple products. There phones range from 75-80%. How the hell is that good for the consumer? Sure it's good for the shareholders but that's it. Changing power adapters on a regular basis. Again, it's great for the shareholders. They love to exploit their loyal customers. Apple can do no wrong in their eyes.