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  • The Apple TV Disconnect

    November 3rd, 2015

    As I await an opportunity to spend extended face time with the fourth generation Apple TV, I can already see a disconnect with the product and its reviews. There are certainly legitimate criticisms, but it’s also easy to put questionable value judgments on them.

    So we have one review that, in essence, claims the product is completely flawed and mostly unusable. He cites voice recognition problems with Siri, login issues in setting up services after apps are installed, Bluetooth glitches, and the difficulty of using the remote flexibly.

    There’s hardly much left. With all these apparent faults, it would seem that the Apple TV is a huge miss for Apple, a broken product in serious need of redesign. That, of course, assumes the article and the experiences cited are correct. Unfortunately, the piece comes from ZDNet, which is not always the most credible source for tech news.

    To be fair, the writer might have purchased a defective unit, and merely exchanging it would eliminate some of the problems, but most seem to be the result of flawed software and not the hardware. Well, except for the Bluetooth issues. Since the writer didn’t attempt to confirm the conclusions with a second unit, it’s hard to know.

    In contrast, Macworld’s Apple TV review was mostly positive. You might expect them to be biased in favor of Apple, but they do make sharp criticisms where necessary. My only concern is the fact that they didn’t mention the lack of 4K support, although that might change if the piece is ever revised. Maybe it’s not important to them, maybe they ran out of room and didn’t want to make the article too long. But this is a known shortcoming that must reviewers agree on.

    Without enough time to explore the product, I won’t expand much on my concerns about ZDNet. But when one reviewer reports problems that aren’t fully confirmed by others, I wonder whether there are other factors at work there. It appears this unit was purchased and is not a review unit, meaning the software would be the actual release version. The only other area that concerns me is fretting over the fact that you have to login, separately, for each service you add. That is nothing new. When I set up Netflix on my third generation Apple TV, I also had to enter the login information from scratch. How else does Netflix know who is connecting to the service?

    My real concern is whether the 2015 Apple TV vindicates Apple’s presumed plans to conquer the living room. The new features largely make it comparable with other set-top boxes that offer voice search and gaming. Perhaps Apple’s solution is sleeker, more elegant, but it hardly fixes the ongoing issues managing your entertainment gear. If Apple TV is meant to be your one-and-only set-top box, and there won’t be another box from a cable or satellite provider, a gaming console, or a Blu-ray player, that might be possible. But as soon as you have to deal with multiple gadgets, the core shortcomings persist. Apple hasn’t changed a thing, at least not yet.

    Now as a harbinger of the future, perhaps Apple TV does have potential. If Apple eventually offers a TV subscription service that, when combined with a few subscriptions to separate services such as Netflix, offer all or most of the content you receive now with multiple gear, that’s quite another issue entirely. It might make sense for young people or new families, starting from scratch and hoping to survive on tight budgets.

    I had hoped Apple would at least offer a solution to the multiple remote control dilemma. The only lip service played to the need for having several at hand is integrating the volume control so it works with your TV or audio system But the ZDNet review, if true, claims the volume cannot be controlled on Bluetooth headphones, which is a sad shortcoming.

    My TV setup is fairly conventional as such setups go. I have a third generation Apple TV, a Cox set-top box, a VIZIO Blu-ray player, and a ZVOX sound base. I use a Logitech Harmony remote to make these devices work together, with varying degrees of success. Unless I hold it thus so, it will fail to switch on or switch off the correct devices. In fact, Barbara will often come ask ME to turn on the TV, because it regularly fails for her. At least I have the patience to click Help to let the Logitech attempt to sort things out when things go wrong. Or just turn the things on manually.

    Other than going all-Apple, the newest Apple TV makes no effort to resolve such a dilemma. I realize Apple wants you to fully embrace its ecosystem, and I realize that will succeed for some. Or at least it has a chance when and if Apple offers its own alternative to cable and satellite television. But not yet.

    I would feel more encouraged if Apple was more forthcoming about its game plan, but that’s Apple.



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    One Response to “The Apple TV Disconnect”

    1. Matthew says:

      I believe the Apple TV is supposed to help with the multiple remote dilemma because its remote should be able to do some basic controls of your TV like power, volume, change input, etc. Also, if you were to replace your cable box with the HD HomeRun (cablecard), you could link that into a Plex server, and control everything with the free Plex app on the Apple TV. So you theoretically can do the single-remote thing now if you slightly change your setup. One other note, my cable company gives me a $2.50 refund every month for using the HD Homerun instead of their cable box.

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