Apple TV review

The new Apple TV is understated, smart and still under development

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Here's the part in the review where we typically lay down the hammer and give a definitive nod to a product or write its name in the disappointing category of our notebooks to be long forgotten.

As much as I'd like it to fall into one of those two camps, the Apple TV doesn't fit in either. Taken on its own merit, it's a good streaming video player. It supports some of the most popular video formats - H.264 video up to 1080p, 60 frames per second and MPEG-4 video - as well as most audio files.

There are a few apps out already in the Apple TV's first two weeks that I've found seriously impressive (Beat Sports!), and the apps are slowly but surely becoming more diversified by the day.

But both thanks and due to the new tvOS backbone, the Apple TV feels like a first-gen system, rather than a refresh of an already-solid product. There are dozens of irksome quirks that litter the experience, from a stubborn remote that misreads gesture commands to a number of unintuitive shortcuts (for example, if you want to delete an app from the home screen you hold down the touchpad and press the play/pause button. How you would ever figure that out on your own, I'd never know). It's not quite the revolution Tim Cook pitched me, and that hurts.

Overall, buying an Apple TV feels like you're agreeing with and reinforcing Apple's desire to charge you at every possible turn. It's one paywall after another, and unless you're already bought into that mentality, it can be a tough pill to swallow.

If you're entrenched in the Apple ecosystem (you buy movies and shows from iTunes, subscribe to Apple Music and/or stick to phones and tablets running iOS), then the Apple TV will be a supremely good addition to your living room that will only improve with age.

We liked

As much as you can knock it for looking like a plain black box, Apple designed a sleek exterior for its new hardware. It's unobtrusive, understated and, best of all, quiet.

The breakout star of the device, though, is the new tvOS. It's opened a world of possibilities for the platform to overtake the living room in the same way iPods conquered Walkmans and iPhones replaced flip phones. I see a lot of potential in the platform and a few areas of improvement that can be fixed with a patch here and there.

Finally, while there's not a ton of content right off the bat, there are some really smart ideas in the works. It's only a matter of time until the platform finds a runaway success like Angry Birds or Infinity Blade and converts the hungry horde of casual gamers into iTV lovers.

We disliked

Both a boon and a faux pas, the Siri Remote is the most loved/reviled aspect of Apple's new plastic. By building in a microphone and half-baked Siri support, the Apple TV takes some serious steps forward on its march to the living room throne. But simultaneously, an inaccurate touchpad and obfuscated buttons are keeping movement to a crawl rather than an outright sprint.

Plus, at $149 (£129, AU$269), it's not the cheapest player on the market and the competition is just that much better that it's hard to warrant spending an extra $30 if you're not already bought into the Apple ecosystem.

Final verdict

If you have your heart set on an Apple TV, and you don't mind dealing with a few flaws, there's nothing horrifyingly wrong with Apple's new system. For anyone who's already bought into the ecosystem, there's plenty to enjoy with plenty of room for the system to change and grow.

I mean, this is the company that brought thumb scanning into the public's attention, developed its own payment system and radically changed what we thought a cell phone camera was capable of. Why can't that same level of innovation happen here?

On the other hand, if you're looking for a fully functional system that already has one of the best voice search algorithms, a fully stocked streaming app library and 4K-ready hardware, you might want to consider a Roku 4 or Amazon Fire TV.

The Apple TV is a platform-in-the-making. It's not what Tim Cook pitched us, but it's clearly not a hobby for the company any longer. It's real and steadily improving, even if it had to return to its infancy to learn how to walk again.