On Technopolis TV at the end of 2014, I was blown away by Amazon’s set-top streaming box, Fire TV. The slick, voice-controlled system was almost embarrassingly ahead of its nearest competitor, Apple TV; you just spoke into Fire TV’s remote and it found your show, film, whatever. So much better than spelling it out on the Apple TV remote.
But it was inevitable that Apple would, as it always does in its own good time, trump it. I’ve been using the latest Apple TV for a while now and it’s the best online television portal there is – with the proviso that you really need to be an habitué of Apple’s overall ecosystem.
I began to realise just what an accomplished product this is when I was setting it up. After all, how many devices are an actual pleasure to install? You do this wirelessly using an iPhone or iPad; there’s no need to even input a password. It almost instantly enlists your TV into your all-encompassing Apple world. One minute it’s your familiar TV; the next your apps, photos and iTunes are up on the screen.
The new device is fatter than earlier models – but at 3.5cm x 9.8cm sq, the expansion is negligible. The interface is just beautiful (making my previously nominated “just beautiful” interface, on the Fire, look dated); the remote has a MacBook-esque trackpad that works well with practice, and it makes Siri a real friend you’re not embarrassed to speak to for the first time. Ask Siri on your remote to find the latest action movies and it will list them. Then ask for “just the good ones” and it will whittle down the selection based on Rotten Tomatoes ratings.
Of the dozens of gems on board, there are lots I love – the growing Apple TV app store, for example, which includes many that are actually useful for grown-ups – like BBC iPlayer and Channel 4 News. There’s an audio setting to soften loud noises or music and emphasise dialogue. Brilliant. And you can fastforward or rewind using the trackpad – or ask Siri to skip back 10 seconds to listen again to a line of dialogue you missed, with subtitles.