Apple Updates Apple TV 4K; Introduces New Siri Remote
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.
Sounds like (!) spatial audio is still only for the tablets and phones.
I’ve seen this comment elsewhere, but am not clear how it could be implemented on an Apple TV?
I’ll preface this comment by saying that I have not owned an actual television set since 1999. I subscribe to Apple TV+ and stream it mostly on my iPad but sometimes on my 27-inch iMac if other people will be watching.
This line in the last paragraph — * with the Apple TV service being available on most popular TV platforms, no one needs to own one* — has me wondering: What is the use case for buying an Apple TV? If I were to buy a new television set and it had the Apple TV+ app built in, what additional advantages would having the Apple TV device bring? I have the feeling the answer is astoundingly obvious to everyone but me, but I just can’t see it.
"…the abomination that was the Siri Remote is now dead. (Apologies to the handful of you who liked the slippery little devil.)…
Oh yesss! I so much hated this abomination that I recently purchased the BUTTON REMOTE FOR APPLE TV manufactured by Function101 and paid 20 USD to have it shipped to Germany. Not everything designed by Jonathan Ive made sense in terms of everyday use.
Granted, those aren’t going to be strong selling points for most users. The Apple TV box has always been an ecosystem play, and at this point, I think that’s all it will ever be.
I think Chik means spatial audio in AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. Maybe that’ll be a feature in tvOS 15.
It feels like a lot of recent Apple design changes have been undoing a lot of Ive’s post-Jobs ideas. Notice how quickly the MacBook keyboards got fixed after he left?
As an owner of a smart TV (a TCL brand set with a built-in Roku device), I can say that these built-in streaming platforms are pretty bad. They have pretty slow UIs and awkward user interfaces.
The streaming capabilities built-in to DVD/Blu-Ray players are even worse.
My AppleTV, on the other hand, is fast and responsive. Definitely the best streaming experience.
For me, this is worth the price, as long as Apple doesn’t kill it before it has outlived its usefulness (as they did with the AppleTV v3).
We have a Roku TCL and generally prefer it over the Apple TV. We put the Apple TV to work in our TV room last summer when I was working on the Apple TV book update, and the family quickly grew tired of all the bugs and interface quirks. Unfortunately, I don’t think TCL integrates Roku anymore. Their recent models run Android, which is awful as a TV platform.
No not obvious to everyone, I have also wondered about this.
I hope this trend will swap over to the iPhone too: the on/off button being exactly opposite to the sound level buttons is a nightmare.
I also wonder why the iMac has to get ever thinner, as the just released one seems to be. Now we will have one more power supply brick on the floor instead of a single power cable going straigt into the iMac.
In addition to what Josh said, one other use case is Fitness+, which can be streamed to AirPlay2 compatible TV sets and devices starting with iOS 14.5 next week, but it doesn’t have the stats that show on the screen nor the integration with the Apple Watch that comes with the Apple TV. That’s probably only a small number of potential users. But, I am one of them, maybe… (plus this would be going on a 10+ year-old TV anyway, and it’s still cheaper and maybe arguably better for the environment to buy a new Apple TV than a new TV.) For right now I am using F+ with my iPad on a stand on my bike and just leaning against my elliptical machine, but being on the TV would be better.
Not to derail the conversation, but I prefer the power supply on the outside of the machine. Yes, it’s an extra brick, but you can tuck it away, and if it ever goes kaput, it’s much easier to replace.
I’ve strongly suspected that the butterfly keyboard, along with the gold Hermès Watch band and his shift to focus on fashion rather than function, were big catalysts for Jony Ive’s departure:
Thanks for all the responses! Turns out you can learn a lot just by asking smart people.
My theory about Ive is that Apple was desperate to keep him around after losing Jobs. Ive was bored and maybe had a little too much leeway, and did some very silly things, but Apple was hesitant to rein him in because he was so key to the Apple brand. I’m not sure if Cook got fed up with him or he just got tired of doing Apple stuff, but I do think Apple is better off without him. That’s not to dismiss his many, many tremendous contributions to Apple and industrial design, but everything eventually runs its course.
I don’t have a 4k tv so won’t be upgrading. I’d like to know if the new remote will work with older Apple TVs. Does anyone know? I’m using the Function 101 remote which I like but there are a few things that don’t work with that remote so I then have to go to the Apple remote. If this new 1 works with older models I’d get it.
A mute button at last! I also prefer the direction buttons instead of a touch pad.
I mainly use ATV for playing content (music, video & photos) from a Mac via Homesharing, including Apple Store purchases. The ATV is unique for this.
Yes, it works with any Apple TV that runs tvOS. In fact they are now selling the older HD version with the new remote as well.
I was pleasantly surprised when the original 4K Apple TV managed to wed my home theater system very well so that magical things happened like the entire system turning on and off with voice commands or one button push. I can’t see a ROKU doing that. The price is certainly not an issue as this is an item for people who shell out 2K+ for a large 4K HDR TV and at least as much for the rest of their system. I’ll need to replace my TV & home theater receiver to have a use for this item. The timing suggests that we may have come to rest in what has seemed like an annual change in high end specs from 1080P Dolby Digital 5.1 all the way to 4K HDR 60fps Dolby Atmos. I know that 8K is also out there - not only does the M1 chip struggle with this, but also it presents cabling challenges.
I understand that they are selling the remote separately and it works with older models. I have to replace one of our remotes so glad of this.
All the reasons Josh outlined, including the ecosystem play, are reasons for me to fork over the extra bucks to have the two AppleTVs in our house.
I think that in fact the remotes that came with every Apple TV since the 2nd gen. are “forward compatible”–and for all I know the one that came with the 1st gen too?
Yeah, I’m using the 3rd-gen ATV remote with my HD. It’s obviously not quite as functional but it works. Looking forward to a new remote where my first order of business is not to consult a manual to use it to the full!
I’m sure they’ll push 8K in the future, but I don’t see the point. Most people can’t even get the full benefit of 4K. You need a BIG screen and you need to sit super close to it. Nor do I care for 60 fps content, because it just looks weird and cheap to me (like those awful Hobbit movies). Might be cool for sports, though.
I’d rather have HDR than 4K if I had to choose. HDR makes the biggest difference in picture quality since the jump to HD.
So glad the new remote is backward compatible with the Apple TV HD.
I hate the remote that came with it, it’s often causing things to happen I didn’t intend when swiping the trackpad. Probably the worst ergonomics of any remote ever designed.
Oops, this just in on MacRumours. I don’t care, but some may.
8K will likely need a 60 inch TV from about 9 feet viewing distance to look best. But the progression from 480P in a 27in CRT to 42 inch HD Plasma to 50 inch 4K HDR has been pretty seamless with respect to space due to the changes in technology and bezel size. The overall size of the screen has remained fairly constant especially in the vertical and weight specifications. The increase in width is really a function of the change in aspect ratio from 4:3 to 16:9. But there is nothing left to downsize for the jump from 50 to 60 inch screen. For most homes, we make be at peak TV with 4K HDR. The next visual frontier is VR
Now there’s a vexed question. You might be interested in this 13-year-old discussion (and the comments–the subject is LCD projectors, but the history of the origin of 24fps and the way commercial theaters used double shuttering to mitigate its effects is interesting.
@Julia A possible use case for the Apple TV is to run Apple Arcade games.
@Shamino I totally share you view on the ghastly UI and performance of all smart TVs. A big culprit is that smart TVs are designed by accountants who shave the specs of the hardware to the minimum RAM and CPU performance to save 0.000001cents per TV. Even though the now previous AppleTV 4K is in computing terms practically an antique its performance and memory still hugely exceeds most smart TVs.
Sadly Apple increasingly these days also try and shave the specs to save 0.000001 cents per device. As a result they previously removed the USB port from the AppleTV. I have not seen a definitive indication but I presume the new model has not reinstated it. As a result Apple stupidly cannot allow the AppleTV4K to do video calls like the Portal device from FaceBook. With Apple having added a feature to the new iPad Pro to ‘follow’ the speaker around a room this is something that would have been perfect to do with the AppleTV4K. Furthermore games could have ‘watched’ the player to see if they were doing certain actions as part of the game play.
Note: The removal of the accelerometer and gyroscope sensors from the Siri remote is another symptom of removing every last possible thing to shave the cost. This has apparently broken several games. It also prevents Nintendo Switch style controlling of games.
How stupid to omit the U1 chip from the new Siri remote. Of course this could be intended to encourage/force the sale of lots of replacement remotes.
Slightly off topic. Siri has just got panned again by the UK’s ‘The Gadget Show’. It came last - again. Even HomeKit also failed to connect to a smart light bulb unlike Google and Alexa despite there being a QR code provided with the bulb.
Whilst I totally agree with HomeKits ability to work without the Internet and to ensure good security and privacy it is falling so far behind the competition that such benefits are worthless.
I’m looking forward to the new Siri Remote. I hate the one I have, which more often than not does something I don’t intend when I pick it up or accidentally bump it in the wrong spot. It’s also unnecessarily difficult to feel which is the top of the remote. These are shortcomings that the “old school” remote didn’t have and which, therefore, actually made it more useful in many ways than the Siri Remote.
I see the new remote is available separately for order today for delivery in a week or so.
Oops, a month or so, sorry. You can also pre-order at Best Buy, among others.
Two notes about Apple TV Remotes:
A major complaint about the old remote is that it is difficult to tell the top from the bottom. There’s an easy fix for that–use the Lightning port at the bottom to attach a tail. You could attach a short recharge cable, or, more elegantly a wrist strap. Apple used to sell the wrist strap, but it is still available here
I received a set of AirTags today and bought some Belkin holders for them. Note that the holder can be easily separated from the keyring (or, in an alternate version, an attachment loop). Anyway, I looped the Apple wrist strap through the hole in the holder to attach the Airtag to the remote.
I have just posted this in Apple Discussions:
“The Apple promo refers to controlling the TV with power and mute buttons. I am hoping that the mute function also works with Homepods connected to the ATV. It makes perfect sense but that doesn’t mean it will work - it has taken years (nearly typed tears!) for Apple to come up with a mute button.
I guess I will have to wait until people receive deliveries in mid-May and report back.”
BTW my current Siri Remote has a small plastic button stuck on the lower surface to tell up from down.
Also I might submit a design suggestion to Apple that the remote has a small LED that glows if an Apple Watch is in proximity
Thanks for the story, Josh.
I find the lack of Find My support unconscionable. The remote and AirTags were announced simultaneously. And remotes are the proverbial poster child for lost devices, second only to keys. And they already conceded to making the remote bigger anyway, and also removed the gaming sensors.
I hate when people suggest Apple just wants to make money off you, but this is not looking good.
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