Good news: the Apple TV as a hardware platform isn’t dead. Bad news: the form factor isn’t changing and the price isn’t coming down. Good news: the abomination that was the Siri Remote is now dead. (Apologies to the handful of you who liked the slippery little devil.) Bad news: the new Siri Remote isn’t compatible with the Find My app.
The Apple TV hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in the past few years, but Apple has at long last unveiled the second-generation Apple TV 4K with some high-end features for improving image quality and a (finally!) redesigned Siri Remote.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s new:
- The processor in the second-generation Apple TV 4K has been upgraded from an ancient A10X Fusion to a not-exactly-current A12 Bionic, first introduced with the iPhone XS in 2018.
- The upgrade to the A12 Bionic enables playback of HDR and Dolby Vision video at 60 frames per second, including Dolby Vision video captured on an iPhone 12 Pro and sent to an Apple TV 4K using AirPlay.
- The new Apple TV features HDMI 2.1 and Wi-Fi 6, which could open up new capabilities in the future, like 4K video at 120 fps.
- It also supports Thread, a cross-platform mesh networking protocol for home automation devices, which could also open some interesting new HomeKit features.
- Apple added a new color calibration feature that will also be available for the Apple TV HD and the first-generation Apple TV 4K. You can use any Face ID-enabled iPhone running iOS 14.5 or later to calibrate the colors on your TV. There have been special DVDs and apps to calibrate TVs for years, but this will hopefully make it more accessible to home theater buffs.
But the big news is the new Siri Remote.
Siri Remote, Take 3
The new Siri Remote, with its aluminum body and directional ring, looks an awful lot like the old silver Apple TV remote. In fact, the new Siri Remote is a blending of the old and new designs. The center button of the new directional ring is a touch-sensitive surface, and in a nice touch, the directional ring is a touch-sensitive jog control that you can use to skip backward and forward through content.
Unlike the first two Siri Remote designs, each button has a distinctive feel so you can identify the buttons by touch. What a concept! It can also be used as a universal remote, thanks to the addition of power and mute buttons. What will Apple think of next?
The new Siri Remote is significantly thicker than the previous one, but Apple missed a major opportunity by not building in Find My support, or at least a dedicated slot to slap in an AirTag. Even regular-sized remotes get lost in couch cushions all the time (a fact acknowledged in the AirTag video), so this exclusion seems like a huge oversight on Apple’s part.
Also missing are an accelerometer and gyroscope, which means that you can’t use the new Siri Remote as a motion controller for certain games. That’s no huge loss, especially with tvOS 14.5 gaining support for the latest Xbox and PlayStation game controllers from Microsoft and Sony.
Bizarrely, Apple has already discontinued all existing SKUs of the Apple TV. You won’t be able to order an Apple TV from Apple until 30 April 2021, and they won’t ship until mid-May.
The good news is that the new Siri Remote is backward-compatible with the Apple TV HD and first-generation Apple TV 4K and will be available by itself for $59 on the same schedule.
The 1080p Apple TV HD will still be available, now bundled with the new Siri Remote for $149.
The new Apple TV 4K will be available in two storage tiers: 32 GB for $179 or 64 GB for $199. As usual, we can’t recommend that most people spend even the extra $20 since it’s only worthwhile if you load a lot of apps or apps with a ton of data.
The pricing still seems awfully high for what you’re getting, but with the Apple TV service being available on most popular TV platforms, no one needs to own one. But the Apple TV has always been an essential ecosystem play for Apple, and as long as Apple sells content you view on a TV, it seems likely that it will be around in some form.