I’ve never actually reviewed the Apple TV on this blog. But I’ve had my current model for 5 years, so I think I can handle a “where it stands” review. Just know that when I first got my Apple TV it was the star of my entertainment center. It was my first streamer (followed by Roku, Chromecast, and Fire TV). It integrated well with my Macbook and my iPod Touch (these were pre-iPhone years). It had Netflix, which was all I cared about at the time, and I couldn’t say enough good things about it. Over the years Apple has added new “channels” including other streaming staples like Hulu, Crackle, and HBO Now. But after 5 years it is only one of several streamers that I have on my TV stand. And while I don’t use it exclusively any longer, it is still streaming throughout the week. So this old dog (5 years is ancient for tech like this) is still proving itself, but there is a new sheriff in town, and that’s the brand new 4th Generation Apple TV. So before we talk a bit about the difference, let’s first take a look at the 2nd Gen Apple TV, and see where it stands.
Apple TV – 2nd Generation (STREAMING MEDIA BOX)
Original Purchase Date: 10/01/2010
Time owned between Original Purchase and Where it Stands: 5 years, 45 days
In 2010 media streamers were not a large market. Even now, 5 years later, they aren’t a huge market, though many companies (amazon, roku, google, apple, etc) are working to change that situation. But back in 2010 “instant streaming” was as much a novelty as anything, as people still clung to their DVD players. The mass movement to digital media had only just begun. I’ve already spoken of my first impressions of the Apple TV, but understand this streamer was excellent in those early years. It had a simple interface (with only a few channels initially). And it saw cool updates every year, like Airplay where I could “cast” the content of my iPod/iPad/iPhone to the TV through the Apple TV. This was years before Google would introduce the same function with the Chromecast (another streamer I now own). So it was great. At the time it would have been my first recommendation, but five years is a long time.
Apple is a closed system. Always has been, always will be (to some degree at least). My first major beef with the Apple TV was that there was no way to play external media, like movies stored on an external hard drive. I was already into digital media when I got the Apple TV, and my tool of choice was the WDTV. This device allowed me to plug-in an external hard drive and watch my movies and shows via a simple interface on the screen. To be fair the only current media streamer that kind of does this is the Roku, and even that device is now a smooth experience. So the Apple TV has you locked into the channels they offered. I use Netflix and Hulu for the most part, and both work well on the Apple TV. I’ve found some cool education channels like the Smithsonian Channel and Discovery Channel that offer lots of free media. But, as it always seems to be with Apple, the free stuff will only get you so far. Most of the channels require some form of payment (one time or subscription). So don’t get too excited by the Disney Channel, HBO Now, or ESPN. You are going to pay for those channels to get much more than ads. Over the years the Apple TV has added channels and functionality without sacrificing speed and experience. That’s pretty unique, especially for Apple, which always is pushing you to their new devices by ditching support for older devices, at least in my opinion. So where exactly does this five year old streamer really stand?
Where it Stands
The 2nd generation Apple TV was discontinued in 2013, so why are we having this conversation you might be asking. While the latest and greatest Apple TV is out now, you can still get the 3rd generation Apple TV and it will only run you $69. That’s better than the $100 I paid for my device in 2010. And it’s better than the entry-level price of $150 for the 32GB model of the 4th gen Apple TV. So I think these thoughts on the 2nd generation are relevant. So would I recommend it? As an entry-level media streamer the 3rd gen Apple TV is a bargain, since most similar devices will run you $100. But there are better “entry-level streamers” in the form of “streaming sticks”. Roku and Amazon both offer these for around $50. The Chomecast will only set you back $35. So from a price standpoint, I wouldn’t recommend the Apple TV. While it works just fine, it is expensive for something so old. It also works best for a household that already has other Apple devices. Where other streamers get along with everything better. If you have Amazon Prime, I’d point you to the Fire TV Streaming Stick. If you are brand new, with no affiliation, I’d point you to the Roku Streaming Stick. The Apple TV is good but no longer good enough.
So for now, the Apple TV (2nd and 3rd Generation) scores a CUP HALF EMPTY
First Impressions of Apple TV (4th Generation)
Here is the short list of what the new Apple TV does that is different and exciting. First it’s a whole new interface, called TVOS. The iPad has truly come to the TV screen. And app developers will reap the benefits in the same way they’ve been cashing checks with their iOS apps for years. By allowing 3rd party apps on the Apple TV all sorts of options open. The long-awaited PLEX app is already available. This app allows you to stream media from your computer, or server (if you are a geek like me). This is similar to what the Apple TV has done for years with Airplay, but now any device running PLEX can take advantage of it. And thus begins the rise of digital libraries!!
The new Apple TV features an updated remote control with a trackpad vs the direction pad of the old device. It’s still small, so you’ll be checking the couch cushions from time to time, I’d imagine. The remote also takes a card out of the Fire TV deck with voice control. Of course Siri is front and center, pulling up shows and films based on search criteria. The really cool thing that differentiates the Apple TV from all other streamers in this regards is what I’d call “layered search”. You can search for comedies. Then filter to a specific star, and the search will modify accordingly. I haven’t tried this feature in person, but I can imagine the possibilities, having done voice search with my Fire TV for over a year.
Finally, gaming. The Apple TV has long been an untapped resource for gaming revenue. The idea that you could throw iOS games to the screen was introduced with Airplay, but it was always clunky. Now Apple is taking on the Fire TV specifically, which also has a gaming element (and associated controller). Only time (and 3rd party developers) will tell if gaming will find new life on the Apple TV, but it seems like an easy bet to make.
Apple likes to “redefine” genres. They did it with the smartphone (iPhone), they did it with the tablet PC (iPad), they are trying to do it with the smartwatch (Apple Watch). And now they are truly going after media streamers. Roku, FireTV, Chomecast, and a few others have never faced competition like what it coming. Will the Apple TV prove to be the best? Only time will tell. But things look promising. Stay tuned.