Apple TV is a low priority product hobbled by the movie and television industry. This article explains why you shouldn’t buy an Apple TV.
Table of Contents
- A Brief History of Apple TV
- Apple TV is the Worst Apple Product
- Apple TV Distorts Audio
- The TV Industry Hobbles Apple TV
- Apple TV Can’t Replace Cable
- You Have to Sign In and Activate Network Apps Repeatedly
- Apple TV Becomes Obsolete Quickly
- Why You Should Buy an Apple TV
A Brief History of Apple TV
Launched in 2007, Apple TV was one of the first dedicated streaming devices. It beat Roku to market by over a year.
Before the advent of Apple TV, home theater PCs brought digital media into living rooms across the world. Although you can still access more content on a proper computer, the user experience leaves much to be desired.
Computers are designed to be used with a close proximity monitor. Even with the lowest resolution settings, text is hard to read when your computer is connected to your TV. Fiddling with a keyboard and mouse/trackpad is even more cumbersome than the most convoluted cable remote.
Apple TV and similar devices have pretty much killed off the HTPC market. They’re cheaper and offer a much better user experience. Modern streaming devices are designed so that a sofa-bound user can interact with a distant television. With innovative remotes, new streaming devices don’t require a keyboard, trackpad or mouse.
I bought the second generation Apple TV after getting fed up with constant cable outages and high monthly fees. Natively, this device couldn’t do much more than play iTunes, Netflix and YouTube content. After a few years, Hulu and a few other channels joined the fray, however, without an App Store, Apple TV didn’t have much to offer.
The only saving grace was AirPlay. It allowed users to beam content to Apple TV from any device. It predates Chromecast by almost four years, and was one of the first wireless content beaming technologies. It’s based on Apple’s AirTunes technology, which is even older.
AirPlay is compatible with virtually any source device and just about any content. Contrary to popular belief, Apple doesn’t always lock people into their ecosystem. You can even beam content to Apple TV from a Chromebook using AirPlay.
After years of floundering and a modest refresh of Apple TV 2, there was a great leap forward. Apple finally released Apple TV 4 in late October of 2015. The new TV device leapfrogged over the entire industry.
With its App Store and Siri Remote, Apple seemed to have delivered an amazing device. Unfortunately, between their own priorities and the cable industry’s status quo inertia, the new technology didn’t live up to expectations. Apple failed at negotiating a channel bundle, and seemed to lose interest in the device.
Apple was soon bested by a slew of new TV devices offering voice control and digital assistants. They also offered 4K resolution and cost significantly less. Apple TV became a hard sell.
Apple’s most recent TV device, Apple TV 4K, finally supports televisions that have been on the market for years. They have a good excuse for being late to market. Apple waited for better compression and image quality before implementing 4K. Most tech reviewers agree that it has much better picture quality than any competing unit, offering HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped tech pundits from abstracting away the details and claiming that Apple TV is overpriced. The truth is, you get what you pay for. Apple TV costs more, but has better picture quality, a better remote and more stability than any competing unit. That said, my Apple TVs are the worst Apple products I have ever owned!
Apple TV is the Worst Apple Product
Apple is synonymous with quality, however, this doesn’t apply to all of their devices. The iPhone and Mac are excellent. Apple TV doesn’t live up to these standards, for good reasons.
When Apple TV 4 launched, it seemed as though the whole industry was changing. Cable-over-the-Internet services, such as Sling TV, brought live TV to anyone with an Internet connection. Unfortunately, while most of the industry was cooperating, Viacom decided to play hardball.
All of the live TV bundles have one similarity — a lack of Viacom channels. They may have one or two, but few can afford the entire lineup. This means that you may have CBS, but not Comedy Central. If a service offers all Viacom channels, you will be paying more than if you just stuck with cable.
It’s abundantly clear that Viacom likes things the way they are. They are actively resisting the evolution of television. Given this reality, why would Apple make television a high priority? Without their own channel lineup, they can’t really profit from the device.
No service has put together a comprehensive channel lineup that costs less than cable, because Viacom charges a fortune to stream their content. They think The Big Bang Theory is better than anything on television, while networks like AMC, with far superior content, are rising to the occasion.
Unfortunately, a bundle that’s missing key channels is unusable. Apple’s hopes for growing a television business were deflated, and they adjusted priorities.
Apart from the hump-bearing iPhone battery case, there is no more neglected product than Apple TV. They assign their worst developers to work on it, and it shows.
The core tvOS operating system is actually quite stable and robust. This has little to do with the Apple TV team, as tvOS is forked from iOS. The core of tvOS is solid, thanks to iOS developers. Minor deviations from iOS to tvOS have resulted in numerous quirky defects. Apple TV doesn’t crash or freeze, but it is full of obnoxious bugs. After all, Apple’s best developers are working on iOS and macOS. Apple TV isn’t profitable enough to demand top developers.
All of this means that my Apple TVs are the worst Apple products I have owned. My Apple TV 2 used to randomly restart, often in the middle of a video. They never fixed this, and I put up with this for two years, until the 4th generation model was released.
Apple was unwilling to update Apple TV 2 with a new data model. This forced Google to remove YouTube from Apple TV 2. Users could only play YouTube on Apple TV using AirPlay from a source device.
When Apple TV 4 debuted, I was excited. Apple seemed to take TV seriously. They worked hard to create an amazing device, but when their channel lineup never materialized, they seemed to give up on the device, which launched with some annoying defects.
Apple broke AirPlay with tvOS 9, Apple TV 4’s first operating system. I remember this well. I returned from Costco with my brand new Apple TV 4, and decided to listen to some music. Whenever I walked in between my Apple TV and Airport Extreme router, the music would cut out.
Apple ruined AirPlay, at least with audio streaming. They cut down buffer size so much, even the smallest network disturbance would cause a drop out. I was livid, because my last Apple TV played music over AirPlay flawlessly.
After two years of fiddling with my WiFi network, I could only ameliorate the problem. Every time I heard an audio dropout, it made my blood boil. It took Apple almost two years to fix this bug! They finally overhauled AirPlay for the second time, and fixed the problem.
The fact that it takes them two years to solve a serious defect is pathetic. It speaks volumes about the Apple TV team’s ineptitude.
Whenever I restart Apple TV, the remote fails to connect. I have to press a button before it connects. This bug was introduced a few months after I bought my Apple TV 4. When I first experienced it, after a tvOS update, I thought my Apple TV froze. I finally figured out that I need to press a button for the remote to connect. The trackpad is otherwise unresponsive after a restart.
It’s poor engineering. What other TV remote has to be turned on and connected to the device? That’s a huge step backwards for wireless technology. Even the AirPods will connect automatically, because they were developed by a different team.
This defect has been around for 2 years now, and they still haven’t fixed it. I think their engineers are still trying to finish “Learn Objective C in 21 Days”, which has also taken them a few years.
Their quality assurance does a poor job of testing. They miss a lot of defects and clearly don’t do full regression testing prior to each release, which results in reintroducing the same defect, over and over. For example, they continually break and fix the ability to toggle Reduce Loud Sounds using Siri. I gave up and change this setting from the Settings app.
Siri on Apple TV is as dumb as can be. It’s nothing like Siri on your iPhone. Siri can perform some TV-related parlor tricks, but it’s frustratingly incompetent on Apple TV. Often, finding a show or movie using Siri is a hopeless endeavor, as it misinterprets my words. I went to nationals in debate, so I am an effective public speaker.
Even launching an app on Siri is a frustrating experience:
Siri: “Who you? I don’t understand.”
Why would Siri expect someone to launch Hulu on a TV device? Clearly, I want to play some strange auditory peek-a-boo game with Siri!
It’s not just Hulu. Netflix and many other apps can’t be launched with Siri. Even though Siri’s brain is in the data center, its behaviors change with tvOS updates. After one update, I can’t launch Netflix unless I say “launch app Netflix”. It used to work just by saying “Netflix”. Then this functionality is restored, only to revert back to bugginess in the next release. There’s clearly a huge problem with their software development life cycle when they continually reintroduce the same defects, over and over.
Looking to get into software development? Just buy “Learn Objective C in 21 Days” and show up in Cupertino three weeks later. The Apple TV team will hire you. You’ll probably be their best developer.
The Apple TV team was given tvOS on a silver platter, and they still managed to screw it all up. After six years of using Apple TV, I can honestly say it is the worst Apple product I have used. It deserves Xfinity branding!
Apple TV Distorts Audio
It’s established that Apple TV is a quirky product and these defects can persist for years. There is a very annoying Apple TV defect that has persisted for 3 years now. Audio is distorted.
Regardless of the audio source, be it native or AirPlay, Apple TV 4 and related models have a serious problem with audio distortion. They seem to be aware of this, as some updates have ameliorated the distortion, but it still exists.
For some time, I suspected that there was something wrong with the configuration. Maybe I had a defective unit? But then I set up an Apple TV 4 for my mom, and it had the same problem. Audio is distorted. It’s clearly a problem with the tvOS operating system. How many more years will it take them to fix it?
I’m at the point where I am considering buying a Chromecast to stream music. It’s pretty sad that it has come to this. I may dig out my old Apple TV 2, which didn’t have a distortion problem, but suffered from somewhat muddy audio.
Let’s face it, Apple’s consumer products do not offer audiophile quality. Apple Music offers the lowest audio quality of any music service. They don’t even offer mid-grade consumer-level quality that you’d find in the average name brand stereo. Dr. Dre has a lot of work to do, and I do see small improvements since Apple acquired Beats. The HomePod sounds amazing.
Apple needs to assign some audio engineers to Apple TV for a few weeks, to solve this problem once and for all. The distortion is so obvious and they’ve adjusted the audio level between releases. They just haven’t been able to completely fix the problem.
As it stands, however, even the sounds generated by navigating the home screen are distorted. Music with a wide frequency range sounds horrible. They’ve completely ruined my love of electronic ambient music, because the low frequencies are horribly distorted. I thought I had a blown speaker. Nope. It’s just Apple TV.
If you’re planning on making Apple TV the centerpiece of your streaming music solution, don’t do it. Even if they fix the problem, they will likely break it again in a future release. This is the Apple TV team, after all.
The TV Industry Hobbles Apple TV
It appears that the cable industry will keep delivering content over 1970s technology until it is pried out of their cold, dead hands. Although many media verticals have embraced the future, Viacom, in particular, is holding the industry back.
It’s been possible to stream HD video for over a decade now. Most Americans have home Internet services capable of delivering multiple 4K video streams, with bandwidth to spare. Why are we still using cable?
In most cities and towns, cable is a monopoly. You can only choose one provider. This is great for said provider, however, the notion of streaming video over the open Internet hurts profitability.
It’s not the technology. Digital cable streams content over an intranet — the cable provider’s closed version of the Internet. Although they do this over 1970s coaxial cable, the technology is pretty much the same as any streaming device, albeit shabbier. Most cable boxes have lousy picture quality and lots of pauses, dropped frames and compression artifacts.
The problem with steaming TV over the open Internet is that it forces cable companies to compete. They do everything they can to be monopolies and will fight to keep it this way. This is only one countervailing force which keeps the future just out of reach.
The easy solution is to collude with content providers and make them require a TV provider to access network apps. So if you install the NBC app on Apple TV, you need to activate it with your cable or satellite TV provider in order to access most content.
If you think that this means an ad-free experience, guess again. They want you to pay for cable so you can watch commercials and content on your new, expensive Apple TV.
Viacom is owned by National Amusements, which primarily operates movie theaters. National Amusements also owns CBS. Devices like Apple TV allow people to enjoy movies in their living room. With massive flat screen TVs, people can enjoy movies in their home, without all of the popcorn munching, soda slurping, large, screen-blocking heads and sticky floors. This is yet another motive for inhibiting the growth of streaming media.
Owning over-valued content is Viacom’s main asset. Unlike other media conglomerates, Viacom grossly overestimates the value of their content. I understand that people like The Big Bang Theory. Is it better than The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad? Most people would say “no”. Rotten Tomatoes is good evidence that AMC programs are superior to Viacom’s. AMC plays ball with streaming services. Viacom doesn’t.
Viacom charges a hefty fee for streaming their channels. Unfortunately, this means streaming services often have to pick and choose Viacom channels. One service may have CBS, but lacks Comedy Central. Services that have them all cost as much as cable. When you factor in the Internet services, you end up spending more.
It just doesn’t add up. With Apple TV, live, streaming channel bundles should be cheaper. You are providing your own Internet service. There’s no need for technicians to set up and support your device. There are no cable lines to maintain.
Something really stinks with these streaming channel lineups, and the stink lines are emanating from Viacom. They are not solely to blame. The whole channel activation racket with Apple TV is disgusting. You have to pay $100+ a month for cable, just to watch the same commercial-saturated content on Apple TV. Greed is preventing the adoption of, what is now, mature technology.
Apple TV Can’t Replace Cable
It’s fair, yet unsafe, to assume that Apple TV can replace cable. The massive market of used Apple TVs indicates that people tried it and decided to sell it. Most likely, they figured out that Apple TV is useless. Few assume that network apps require activation with a cable or satellite subscription.
Most households still need cable, even after purchasing multiple Apple TVs. Instead of watching a program through a cable box, one watches it on Apple TV. Apart from a better user experience, it’s the same show or movie peppered with the same advertisements. Congratulations, you just spent $150-200 on a totally superfluous device.
There are some benefits to Apple TV. It runs apps, unlike your cable box. It’s actually a fairly decent game console. You can use it to watch Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and other streaming content.
Apple TV doesn’t provide a singular solution for most households. They have to keep subscribing to cable. They may already have a game console. Most modern TVs can stream Netflix, YouTube and Hulu out of the box. Apple TV just complicates your living room.
Apple TV is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. It’s not particularly good at delivering content, mainly due to the lack of decent media deals. Gaming is decent, but it only offers a subset of the games you can play on your iPhone. The main impediment, however, is that it is tethered to cable. This is not a technical requirement. It’s based solely on greed.
The industry wants you to pay to watch commercials. They refuse to pass on the savings of cutting the cord. Instead, they view TV devices as means to further cheat consumers.
Apple TV is not alone. You can’t really cut the cord with any streaming device. Virtually all network apps require activation with a TV provider.
You Have to Sign In and Activate Network Apps Repeatedly
For the most part, Apple TV offers a vastly superior user experience compared to a cable box. The screens look amazing. The Siri Remote is easy to use. For most tasks, you can even control Apple TV with your voice. But there is one very big fly in the ointment.
As part of negotiations with networks and cable companies, Apple TV network apps require activation with a TV provider (cable or satellite). Unfortunately, this is not a one time thing. Even with single sign on, users are forced to constantly activate network apps, over and over. It is so frustrating that I want to slap shot my Apple TV hockey puck right through the Apple Store window.
I keep telling myself, this isn’t entirely Apple’s fault. But they did allow the television industry to severely hobble and destroy Apple TV’s user experience. That’s a rarity for Apple, but they will capitulate if the price is right.
I personally don’t have cable, however, I did set up Apple TV for my mom. This allowed me to finally try single sign on and network app activation. It’s horrible.
First and foremost, the process is ridiculous. You can’t do it on Apple TV alone. Activation requires a web browser, and the geniuses at Apple decided not to create one for Apple TV. After all, web browsers open the door to free content. Activation requires the use of a computer, iPhone, iPad or any device with a modern web browser.
That’s not the worst thing. Activation also requires creating a digital account with your cable company. You probably have one, but don’t remember the password. So that’s 15 minutes of “forgot your password” fun right there. If you don’t have one, you will most likely have to dig up a cable bill to get your account number and other details.
It sucks. You have to jump through so many hoops just to watch the same cable content on Apple TV.
It gets even worse. Single sign on doesn’t work at all. Even after enrolling in single sign on, I was forced to individually activate each network app. That’s not the way single sign on is supposed to work. It’s an outright lie.
Not only is there no functional single sign on, but you will be forced to repeatedly re-activate network apps over and over. It is the most frustrating thing about Apple TV and deserving of multiple class action lawsuits. THEY LIED ABOUT SINGLE SIGN ON! IT DOES NOT WORK!
The interface between Apple TV and cable providers is about as elegant as a Great Dane mating with a Chihuahua. Even if you have cable, this aspect of Apple TV is so frustrating, you’ll want to throw it out the window. No wonder so many people are selling used Apple TVs. They came, they saw, they puked…
If you enjoy cable content, stick with your cable box. Apple TV network apps are a nightmare.
Apple TV Becomes Obsolete Quickly
Apple gets a bad reputation for planned obsolescence. They’re actually far better than most tech companies. Most of my Apple devices are useful for 4-15+ years. I have an iPod Classic that is 15 years old, and it still works. It has the original battery. I have abused it and it still works. I usually get 4 years out of an iPhone before I upgrade, and I keep the old one.
Contrast this with smartphones that only get software updates for a year, if you’re lucky. I haven’t owned a Windows PC that lasted more than 5 years. Corporations typically replace them every 3 years. Most technology products are disposable junk destined for the landfill.
Then there’s Apple TV, the notable exception to all Apple products. Unlike other Apple products, Apple TV has a remarkably short lifespan.
My first Apple TV, a second generation model, was obsolete after two years. I kept it for 4 years, and the last two years were horrible. It would restart randomly. Google had to pull their YouTube channel because Apple refused to update the operating system.
I bought my fourth generation Apple TV shortly after it was released. Although it was quirky, I really enjoyed playing racing games. Apple TV got me into gaming again. It was so well done, with buttery smooth animation and flawless game play — not a single dropped frame. Indeed, games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Riptide GP: Renegade played better on Apple TV than on PlayStation.
Unfortunately, after the tvOS 11 release, gaming performance declined significantly. Playing my favorite games was a heartbreaking experience. Instead of smooth performance, I was now experiencing dropped frames and lag. My hopes for any improvement with software updates has been dashed. After multiple updates to iOS 11, gaming still lags. Apple’s solution is for us to buy a new Apple TV 4K, with a faster processor.
Both of my Apple TV’s were pretty much obsolete after two years. While this may be better than other brands, it is not in line with other Apple products.
Apple still sells the Apple TV 4, even though gaming lags unacceptably. If you do decide to buy an Apple TV, spend a little more and get the 4K version. Even if you don’t have a 4K TV, the new Apple TV 4K features an A10X Fusion processor. That should keep the device relevant for two years, before the tvOS team ruins its performance.
I’m not sure if it is planned obsolescence or just the incompetence of the tvOS team. Either way, it’s unlike any other Apple product. You’d think they’d be concerned about tarnishing their brand. Perhaps like Fender, Apple needs their own “Squier” brand for lesser products such as Apple TV and their ugly iPhone hump case. Apple TV does not deserve an Apple logo.
In every aspect, Apple TV is an inferior product. Between the television industry’s greed and Apple’s unwillingness to take the device seriously, it’s a bit of a disaster. The supply of used Apple TVs grows every day, as people just give up on this ridiculous device.
Why You Should Buy an Apple TV
After all we’ve covered, you may find it surprising that I recommend Apple TV to some people. Despite my own frustrations, Apple TV has enabled me to cut the cord and save a lot of money.
I love TV. I watch it every night. That said, I am very picky about what I watch.
For me, surfing through a cable channel lineup is like digging though a dumpster. It’s full of garbage. I don’t care about observing the lives of famous, wealthy people with large, greasy buttocks and insane pop star husbands. I’m more interested in staying up to date with theoretical physics than Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
I enjoy playing sports, but I can’t stand watching sports on TV. An hour of game play drags on for 4 to 5 hours, with inane conversation and an absurd amount of commercials. Baseball is even worse, with 15 minutes of actual game play.
I understand that watching sports is often an excuse to drink beer and eat hot wings. Guess what? I can do that while watching something much better. We’re in the golden age of television. I have no time to waste watching some overpaid athlete kick dirt and spit on the ground for 5 minutes before he does something that’s not very interesting. My dog gets excited when someone throws a ball. It doesn’t work for me.
For me, someone who likes the best TV shows, hates channel surfing and dislikes televised sports, Apple TV is a great investment. I watch exactly what I want to watch. I only pay for what I enjoy. I save over $1000 a year, which makes all of the quirks and planned obsolescence worth it.
Apple TV works well for small households, dorms or shared homes, where TV use is minimal, yet people still want to enjoy content on a large screen. If you have a large household, cable or satellite makes much more sense.
There’s actually a pretty good case for Apple TV, but it only works for some people. For more information, please read “Why You Should Buy an Apple TV”.