Although Apple TV hasn’t taken the world by storm, it’s still an excellent entertainment device. This article explains why you should buy an Apple TV.
Table of Contents
- A Brief History of Apple TV
- Cut the Cord with Apple TV
- Save Money with Apple TV
- Think Outside of the Box with Apple TV
- Play Games on Apple TV
- Shop on Apple TV
- Get Fit with Apple TV
- Reduce iPhone/iPad Wear and Tear
A Brief History of Apple TV
Apple TV was one of the first TV devices to hit the market. The first generation model, launched in early 2007, beat Roku to the market by over a year.
Prior to the first generation Apple TV, people would often connect their computer to an HDTV. In a few ways, this is superior to streaming devices, past and present. After all, you can play any content on a computer and the HDTV simply functions as a monitor.
In practice, however, fiddling with a mouse and keyboard in your living room is less than ideal. I’ve been there and, without a doubt, Apple TV offers a superior user experience to Home Theater PCs.
Unfortunately, the first Apple TV was way ahead of its time. It offered limited functionality. At best, you could play iTunes movies and stream content from iTunes on another computer. Netflix was just testing their streaming service back then, offering it for free to anyone who subscribed to their DVD-by-mail service. I remember those days well. Netflix used to go offline at 10pm for maintenance!
The second generation model was the first Apple TV I owned. This inexpensive “hockey puck” could only play content from iTunes, Netflix, YouTube and a few other providers. It took over two years for Hulu to launch on the platform.
Without an App Store, the second generation model required developers to work directly with Apple to create channels. Content channels rolled out slowly, with about 10 new providers added every year.
Apple refreshed the second generation model by adding support for full 1080p video. This third generation model differed little from the second generation Apple TV. It looked the same, inside and out. It displayed the same screens and came with the same aluminum remote.
Finally, in late 2015, Apple released a massively overhauled fourth generation Apple TV. The new platform ran on tvOS, which was forked from iOS. It offered an App Store, allowing third-party developers to launch apps without Apple’s hand-holding. It shipped with an innovative, expensive and fragile Siri Remote. Users could speak commands directly into the remote. The remote also served as an innovative game controller.
The latest chapter in Apple TV is the new 4K model. It looks identical to the 4th generation model. Apart from a newer processor and 4K video support, the device is indistinguishable from the 4th generation Apple TV.
Apple TV is a remarkably mature and stable device. Apple has been working on it for over a decade, and unlike other tech companies, they don’t have an embarrassing history of failure.
Apple TV isn’t a huge success either. Overall, I can honestly say they are the worst Apple devices I have owned. That said, they’re much better than the competition. Apple TV is also superior to any cable box I have used.
Cut the Cord with Apple TV
People are getting fed up with cable, for myriad reasons. Cable is expensive. Once the introductory deals have expired, reality sets in. You are paying a lot of money to watch poor quality TV with excessive commercial breaks. It’s an awful lot of money to spend, only to watch an average of 160 hours of advertising per year. Ouch!
Cable is ridiculously unreliable. It fails all the time, with most people experiencing regular hiccups. Every cable system I have used seems to drop frames, pauses for buffering and displays compression artifacts far more than Apple TV.
With cable, some DVR recordings never get recorded. On demand content isn’t always available and accessible. I got accustomed to seeing more error messages than actual content. It’s ironic, because streaming video over the Internet used to be unreliable. Now, it seems to be better than most cable or satellite systems.
User experience is a nightmare with every cable system. Just take a look at that ridiculous remote with over 50 buttons on it. The notion of contextual design is lost on cable companies. The truth is, most people will subscribe to cable from one company, because they are a local monopoly. Why would they strive to offer decent service?
If you’re tired of cable, Apple TV is a refreshing change. Services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO NOW bring premium content directly to Apple TV. You can subscribe to these services directly, bypassing the cable company middleman. Sling TV, DIRECTV NOW, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and many other services offer cable-over-the-Internet for Apple TV. If you love channel surfing, Apple TV has you covered and provides a much better user experience
I cut the cord 7 years ago, and haven’t looked back. I never wait around for the cable guy to show up. I can watch any show or sporting event on the planet. I’m not missing out on anything.
Save Money with Apple TV
Apple TV may enable you to cancel cable. This can save you a lot of money, if you’re smart about subscriptions.
The way I look at it, there is only so much TV I can watch in an evening. Having 500 channels, most of which don’t interest me, is a big waste. Unfortunately, the skinniest cable bundle is still much more content than most people need.
My strategy with Apple TV is to only subscribe to one or two services at a time. I’m a music fan, so I always subscribe to Google Play Music. It comes with YouTube Red, giving me an ad free YouTube experience. I also usually subscribe to one of the major streaming providers (Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW). I binge watch all of the new shows until I have exhausted the content, then I cancel and subscribe to another service.
There’s also a lot of free content for Apple TV. For example, I watch The Daily Show and The Opposition for free on the Comedy Central app, even though I haven’t activated it with a TV provider. I don’t have one. I cancelled cable. Nonetheless, just about every network app gives you some free content. I’ve watched entire series for free on NBC. The PBS NewsHour is available on YouTube every day. Services like Crackle and Tubi TV offer free movies and TV shows with their ad-supported platforms.
Just about every streaming service and cable-over-the-Internet bundle offers a free trial. I have tried them all, again and again. I end up subscribing to some of them for months. With most, I enjoy the free trial, binge watch the best shows, and then cancel.
Starting and stopping subscriptions is so easy these days. Some services will even let you put your subscription on hold while you vacation. The days of spending hours on the phone with customer service are over. If you made your purchase through iTunes, you can easily cancel the subscription, even before the end date. You’ll still get the service, but you won’t have to worry about forgetting to cancel.
AirPlay also opens up a whole new world of content to Apple TV. This mature technology allows virtually any device to beam video and audio to an Apple TV.
AirPlay works with iOS, macOS, Windows, Android, ChromeOS and Linux. Some devices may need additional third-party software, however, the technology is included in iOS and macOS. iTunes for Windows offers free AirPlay support.
AirPlay can save you a lot of money, opening your Apple TV up to even more content. Most apps support AirPlay directly. If not, you can usually use AirPlay Screen Mirroring to play just about anything on Apple TV.
Right now, I am spending $55 per month on my Internet connection. I subscribe to Google Play Music, which costs about $10 per month. For $65, I am getting more content than I can watch. I was paying $170 a month for cable with Internet service. I am saving over $1200 a year, with a much better user experience. I have done this for 7 years. I could buy a decent used car with all of the money I saved!
I do make the occasional iTunes purchase. I frequently rent the 99 cent iTunes movie of the week. I will also buy the few shows that I can’t get without cable, such as Better Call Saul. I can get AMC if I subscribe to a cable-over-the-Internet service, but really, it’s the only AMC show I am willing to pay to see.
You can save a lot of money with Apple TV. It all depends on your household’s viewing habits and needs. Of course, a large household of TV fanatics is probably better off with cable.
Think Outside of the Box with Apple TV
A recent experience with Apple TV really improved my life and broader view of existence. After a free trial expired, I decided to do without any subscription services (apart from Google Play Music/YouTube Red), as I was going on vacation in a few weeks. Instead of watching Netflix or Hulu, I decided to watch some science shows on PBS. I watched The Fabric of the Cosmos, a Nova production, and was completely blown away.
I’m more of a fan of science fact than science fiction. After all, truth is stranger than fiction, and The Fabric of the Cosmos is no exception. The series introduced me to cutting edge concepts of theoretical physics, such as the multiverse, string theory and the illusion of time.
The notion that the future already exists, supported by Einstein’s work, is largely accepted by today’s top theoretical physicists. If you liked Carl Segan’s or Neil de Grasse Tyson’s Cosmos, The Fabric of the Cosmos will completely blow your mind. Just the things we know, that can be proven, such as quantum entanglement, are truly strange and shed light on the nature of our universe (and the possibility that ours is just one in a larger multiverse).
I came out of this experience a changed man. It’s a bit depressing for some to accept that we are not as special as we think we are. Concepts such as the multiverse make humankind seem all the more insignificant. That said, I don’t mind being a small part of an amazingly vast multiverse. It’s even possible that I exist, simultaneously, in multiple universes. This seems to be true of the particles that make up everything.
It must be said, all of these theories are just that — theoretical. No one knows for sure if there are multiple universes. For now, it is based mostly on mathematics, with some observational evidence.
The most important point is that Apple TV changed my life. If I had cable, I’d probably be vegging out on some food show. With Apple TV, intellectually stimulating content is easily accessible. With cable, you have to dig through a landfill of garbage content to find anything good.
Apple TV will let you build the biggest garbage pile of trashy TV, if that’s what you want. I like that I am able to get streamlined access to content that I enjoy and has changed my life. I now spend hours devouring shows about theoretical physics and the nature of existence. My favorites are Nova, PBS Space Time and Closer to Truth.
These shows are all free to watch, either on YouTube or PBS.
Play Games on Apple TV
Apple TV is a remarkable game console. While it may not have all the bells and whistles of the newest Xbox or Playstation consoles, it can actually outperform these platforms. For example, games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne or Riptide GP: Renegade are actually better on Apple TV than on any other platform. They’re smoother and offer better graphics. Steering by simply tilting the Siri Remote is far better than any game controller. That said, I wouldn’t expect to play World of Warcraft natively on Apple TV.
Some may doubt the claim that Apple TV offers high performance gaming. The specs reveal the truth. The current Apple TV boasts a speedy A10X Fusion processor. This processor outperforms many desktop computer processors.
Hardware is only part of the story. Apple has always engineered extremely efficient operating systems. Their competitors take advantage of this, claiming that Apple devices are under-powered. They beef up a few specs, but overall, most competing devices are slower than Apple products because they run inefficient operating systems.
tvOS is no exception. Derived from iOS, it offers all of the optimized efficiency of its iPhone and iPad counterpart. Technologies such as Metal 2 enable graphics binaries to run directly on the hardware. This is why Apple TV games usually perform better than dedicated game consoles or desktop computers.
Apple TV is not weighed down by a stack of inefficient technologies. It runs on code compiled to machine language, not interpreted byte code like Java-based technologies.
The model I own features an A8 processor and gaming is smooth and fast. The new 4K model is even more powerful.
I recommend purchasing the 4K model, even if you don’t own a 4K TV. It is much faster, so you’ll enjoy a better gaming experience. The price difference is surprisingly insignificant.
Serious gamers may have some reservations about the Siri Remote as a game controller. I have to admit, it is an excellent controller for racing games. It’s also very frustrating to use with platform and first person shooter games. Rest assured, you can use a more traditional game controller with Apple TV. I use the SteelSeries Nimbus with mine.
If you’re a fan of Steam games, there’s some great news. The Steam Link app will be coming to Apple TV soon. You will be able to play any Steam game on Apple TV. I am amazed at how this device improves every day!
Shop on Apple TV
TV shows, movies and streaming subscriptions are typical purchases made on TV devices. Apple TV has taken this a step further, offering full access to shopping, right on your TV. You can buy clothes, shoes, furniture and even browse houses for sale, all on Apple TV. Hungry? You can even order a pizza on Apple TV!
Your cable box probably offers some shopping options. You can shop on QVC, but this is a much different experience. By the way, Apple TV offers QVC, except it is a much different, interactive experience.
Get Fit with Apple TV
The Nintendo Wii was one of the first game consoles to focus on fitness. After all, most people don’t equate gaming with fitness. This is unfortunate, because a fun, interactive experience makes exercise less of a chore.
Apple TV’s Siri Remote is similar to the Wii remote, but much better. It enables developers to create physically interactive games. For example, you can virtually bowl in your living room, using the Siri remote to mimic the proper physical motion. I often get worn out after a few games of Asphalt 8: Airborne. Standing and steering the car for several minutes isn’t the best workout, but it does burn some calories. It’s much more fun than running or resistance training.
For the more athletically inclined, the tvOS App Store is loaded with personal trainer apps. Many of these apps require little or no gym equipment. Personal training apps can often improve athletic performance. Some people need this motivation to succeed, and it’s right there on Apple TV.
Before you get too physical with your Apple TV, keep in mind that the Siri Remote is fragile. You may want to get a case, strap or both before you engage in strenuous exercise. For more information, please read “Protecting the Siri Remote”.
Reduce iPhone/iPad Wear and Tear
The iPhone and iPad are used exhaustively by some people. I personally know people who spend 10 hours a day on their iPhone. Much of it is spent browsing endless social media feeds. Some prefer to watch TV shows and movies on these tiny screens.
There’s a problem with overusing your iOS device — wear. The more you use your iPhone or iPad, the shorter its lifespan. The main culprit is the lithium-ion battery. Excessive use causes the battery to overheat and shortens its lifespan. It can be replaced, but it’s typically an expensive process. Battery replacement can cost almost as much as the least expensive Apple TV!
Moving parts, such as buttons, can also wear out over time. Every time you use your iPhone or iPad, you risk dropping it. Shattered screens and dented panels are often the result of endless hours of iDevice abuse.
The other issue is ergonomics. Watching TV on a tiny screen is fatiguing to both your eyes and body. Staring at the tiny screen results in tired, strained eyes. Holding the iPhone or iPad for hours can be exhausting. I know this all too well. I end up doing this whenever my Internet Service Provider is having problems. As an unwilling Comcast customer, this happens all too often.
Apple TV is a great way to give you and your iPhone a break. With Universal Apps, most of your iPhone apps can be installed on Apple TV at no additional charge. Game Center allows you to pick up a game on Apple TV using the same account as your iPhone or iPad. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can play Asphalt 8 on an iPhone, with that tiny screen!
Screen size is another huge advantage of Apple TV. It connects to the biggest screen in your home — your flat screen TV. You can connect your TV to your stereo for amazing sound. Seriously, why would anyone watch or play anything on their iPhone at home, when Apple TV is such a better option?
Apple TV is Not For Everyone
Given my enthusiasm for Apple TV, one may assume that everyone should own one. This is not the case. Large households will likely benefit from keeping cable. The costs of a la carte purchases and subscriptions can add up quickly, especially if your household requires multiple simultaneous streams. You also need a very fast Internet connection to serve streaming media to everyone in your home.
Apple TV is also very frustrating, especially if you don’t have cable. Many of the content channels require a cable or satellite subscription for activation.
The iPhone is Apple’s top priority. The iPad and Mac seem to be tied for second place. Apple TV seems to be the most neglected product at Apple.
The tvOS team constantly reintroduces the same regressive bugs over and over. They’re not show stoppers. Your Apple TV won’t constantly crash or freeze. But you will be annoyed by a plethora of small defects, mostly cosmetic or superficial, but some with dire consequences. For example, they seem to break the ability to toggle Reduce Loud Sounds using Siri with every other release. I just gave up and change it in Settings.
I think most people will find Apple TV useful, but it is far from perfect. It’s hard for Apple to take the device seriously, when the TV industry is doing everything to keep cable on life support. It’s absurd that we’re sending data over 1970’s cable lines, but the cable industry is too complacent to evolve and too powerful and greedy to allow anyone else to upstage and disrupt them.
Apple TV is a forward-looking device that exists in an environment that’s deeply resistant to change. The entire industry will need to change before Apple can take it seriously.
TV is important. Most of us watch a lot of TV. It is so important that a few very greedy corporations have captured the industry and hold it back. We’re all just waiting for the business side to catch up with technology, once again.
For more information on Apple TV, please read “Apple TV 4: The Unofficial Manual”.