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Eye on Demand | June 24, 2017

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Apple TV 3 Review

Apple TV 3 Review

Review Overview

Value For Money
8
User Interface
8
Availability and Quality of Services
6
AirPlay and Additional Features
8
7.5

Excellent Value

One of the first things you may notice when you look at the Apple TV, especially outside of the US, is how few useful services seem to be available. In fact, outside of Netflix countries, there is almost nothing of merit other than iTunes itself. Yet despite all that, this great little box packs more than you may imagine.

For purposes of clarification, this review is based on the latest Apple TV3 device sporting its most current OS. The older and much sort after ATV2 is only available through unofficial sources or second hand and can be even more expensive at times due to its jailbreaking ability. Although many of the features are not too dissimilar on the newer box, the ATV3 at this stage can not be jailbroken but has the advantage of full 1080p delivery.

Before we go any further, let’s first look at the two main, glaring limitations of this little box. If these points are deal-breakers for you, there may be little reason to read on.

1) The Apple TV3 has virtually no storage space outside of what is used for buffering films currently streaming either from iTunes or through other methods. This means you can not store your own library on the device which was possible with the original version. However, there are plenty of ways to stream your own content from the cloud or over your home network, which for many people is preferable anyway.

2) There are no 3rd party apps available for the Apple TV ecosystem other than the few provided. What you see is what you get, and to be honest, outside of the US in particular, this is not an awful lot. That said, what they do have is extremely good and you can always use the incredible AirPlay feature to stream content from your iOS device, iTunes library or any late model OSX machine.

Issue #1 is a moot point for me, since I stream everything from my own network (and NAS), the cloud or on-demand and catch-up services, I don’t need (or want) any local storage.

However, point 2 is a rather intriguing one and is hotly debated in the Apple TV world. Very few people can understand why Apple is holding back so long before bringing in 3rd party developers. If they did, it would quickly turn the Apple TV into possibly an unbeatable media platform – if looking at the quality and quantity of services available on iOS devices is anything to go by.

Still, until that happens, the killer feature of AirPlay will have to suffice, and part of this review will look into that side of the Apple TV.

 

  • AppleTV and remote

    If you are already familiar with Apple TV’s second incarnation, you may have noticed how difficult it is to spot the differences between the 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TVs, as they look almost identical. Which is for the most part a small, sleek and shiny little black box that is pretty difficult not to find a spot for around your television.

    When you compare with the average Blu-Ray player or other set-top box, the Apple TV3 really doesn’t command a large footprint. In fact, it’s smaller than a CD (excluding height) which means it can fit in some pretty tight spaces. One thing to keep in mind though, is that unlike the Roku box, you must keep the device in line-of-sight of your remote or IR extender.

    • Height: 0.9 inch (23 mm)
    • Width: 3.9 inches (98 mm)
    • Depth: 3.9 inches (98 mm)
    • Weight: 0.6 pound (0,27 kg)

    Apple TV specs

    All connections are to be found on the rear, and it is worth mentioning right now that the only video-out support on the Apple TV3 is HDMI. For those with older television sets, this would most likely be an issue. Although HDMI to Composite or even SCART converters do exist, they are generally quite expensive and may not provide the optimum video quality or aspect ratio, with nothing greater than standard definition. Only HDMI connections support high definition signals, and the Apple TV3 will happily playback 1080p HD video when available.

    Apple TV rear

    Connections on the rear are pretty straight forward and shown above. Apple have somehow managed to squeeze a full power supply into this tiny box, which in itself is a pleasant treat. This means no external power brick is required and only a small electrical cable is needed to plug into your power board.

    A single HDMI connector can deliver both HD video and audio to your television, but for those who choose otherwise, an additional Optical Audio connection is supplied for a fiber-optic link to your surround-sound system. Outside of that, there is only a 10/100Base-T Ethernet port for connection to your broadband if you choose not to use the internal 802.11a, b, g, or n Wi-Fi.

    Apple Remote

    Finally, there is the supplied Apple remote. This is essentially the same controller you can purchase separately for US$19 that will also control your iPod. My thoughts are quite divided regarding this remote. On one hand, Apple like to simplify their hardware to only include what is absolutely required. In this respect, the Apple remote is minimalistic and functional. On the other hand, it is a bit too small for comfort and its thin edge can sometimes feel uncomfortable to the hand. Since there are so few buttons, the amount of control is quite limited and you will have to get used to the Menu button also functioning as the back button, which can be slightly annoying.

    Personally, I lasted about two days before I programmed my Harmony Universal Remote remote from Logitech, and relegated the Apple TV remote to the study where I keep my iMac.

     

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

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  • Just like the Roku box was originally created as a platform to play Netflix, the Apple TV’s original and primary function was to play back iTunes content. In this respect, it is without any doubt, the best way to watch iTunes films and television shows. We can always watch on a laptop and even whack an HDMI cable across to the main TV, or alternatively iTunes content will happily play on any iOS device from your iPad, to your iPhone or iPod Touch. But there is nothing quite like a good sofa-friendly platform to watch your favourite television show or movie, in full 1080p HD and on the big screen.

     

    Regarding third party apps, this is where the Apple TV may provoke some shock. Within the US, Apple have provided a reasonable, if small selection of usable apps including Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO GO and Watch ESPN. Netflix is also available in all of the other represented countries where the streaming service operate. But outside of those countries, the Apple TV home screen may seem a little empty. There are some global apps such as YouTube and Vimeo amongst others, but Apple have seriously neglected almost all other nations. It is very rare indeed for Apple to approve a service specifically for a country outside of America. Even the BBC iPlayer is missing from the UK’s region, which considering this is the most widely available television catch-up service in the world (by platform), its absence is quite telling. This is not to say Apple have not approved any service specific to another country, Watchever, a German streaming service not unlike Netflix was recently added to the German region, but it is rare.

    Comparisons with Roku’s products are bound to be expected, and in a similar vein, Apple’s apps share a similar look and feel to each other, although far more stylish than the super basic Roku approach.

    Apple apps generally take two main approaches. Either movie and TV posters slide across the left-hand side of the screen, whilst categories and options can be chosen from the right, or there is a more static listing at the very top, with details and options underneath.

    In either case as can be expected, the Apple TV3 is fast and responsive, stable and elegant all at the same time. And yes, it’s Apple, so basically it just works. But an unbiased review should also look at some of the negative sides as well, and one would be the slow pace for apps to be updated to include new features. Nothing is seriously lacking in the apps Apple provides, but if a new feature was rolled out across other platforms, don’t expect Apple to be amongst the first to include the changes.

    Click on some of the apps below to read reviews.

    NetflixHuluCrunchyroll button

     

     

    PBS

     

     

     

     

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

  • If the lack of dedicated apps bother you, there is a stopgap solution until Apple finally (hopefully) allow third party developers onto the scene. And as far as makeshift fixes go, it is one seriously impressive one.

    If you haven’t yet seen AirPlay in action, it may come as quite a pleasant surprise. I personally find it quite possibly one of the most amazing advances in television technology I have seen in recent years. Sure, there have been plenty of other ways to transfer video from another device wirelessly to your TV. But AirPlay, when implemented correctly, simply performs the task with perfect elegance.

    AirPlay can be achieved from within iTunes or via mirroring from mid 2011 Macs with OSX Mountain Lion, but more often than not, it is used in conjuntion with an iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad).

    AirPlay

    There are two different ways to implement AirPlay:

    1) Standard: This is simply sending a video image across from your iOS device (or iTunes) directly to your TV. It offers the highest possibly quality stream (full 1080p), at full-screen on your TV, with almost complete multitasking – meaning you can switch off your iOS device to save power or use it for most other applications and this won’t affect the video streaming to your television.

    2) Mirroring: When all else fails, this is the alternative as it replicates (or mirrors) the screen on your iOS device over to your TV. The catch with this is that when performed from an older iPhone or iPad, you may get horrible black bars around your television image as the aspect ratios don’t match (although some services force a hack that resolves this) and video quality is usually poorer than standard AirPlay. Multitasking is generally impossible as the screen must be replicated over to the main TV.

    If the app you use correctly implements AirPlay (and not all developers do), then it really is amazing. Apps like Zattoo, BBC iPlayer, PBS Video and File Browser are excellent examples of services that make full use of AirPlay with all the trimmings.

    Unfortunately, many developers and VOD streaming services ignore the basic rules, crippling AirPlay by excluding some standard features. Sometimes they omit multitasking, requiring the iOS device to remain on an all times (draining the power quicker than needed) and forbidding other apps to be used. (FilmOn and Crackle are guilty examples here), whilst others hide the AirPlay button, forcing users to access the iOS multitasking screen.

    Then there are services that force viewers to use the mirroring feature without the full-screen hack (such as the UK’s Demand 5 and most US OTA networks) meaning you have a very poor quality video complete with black borders, which can be quite irritating in this day and age.

    And finally, usually due to a licensing mess they got themselves into, some completely block any form of AirPlay (and even HDMI or Composite cable-out) like TVNZ and 4oD (which is a real shame for 4oD since they have possibly one of the best iOS streaming apps otherwise available). If there is one way for a broadcaster to say television doesn’t belong on television, this certainly appears to be it.

    This is such a pity as iOS offer the widest range of television network VOD services (catch-up, on-demand or otherwise) and as long as you create the appropriate iTunes regional accounts and have a good DNS or VPN service, you can mix and match television streaming solutions from around the world to your hearts content.

    Reviews of services that use the standard method of AirPlay or full-screen mirroring:

    BBC iPlayerITV PlayerCrackle

     

     

    ABC iViewSBS OndemandViaplay

     

     

    RTE Player3PlayerPBS

     

     

    ZattooFilmOnUSTVNOW

     

     

    AertvADMCCrunchyroll button

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Reviews of services that implement only a limited version of AirPlay without full-screen playback:

    Demand5

     

     

     

     

     

    For more information on the functionality of AirPlay, please visit the official Apple website.

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

     

  • Navigating Apple’s user interface is exactly as should be expected – simple, attractive and clutter-free.

    iTunes gets top billing here, with the upper portion of the screen dedicated to either their Movies or Television program highlights, depending on the category chosen. Clicking either of these will present a short list of selected titles and drilling through them will not only allow you to gain more information or play the title, but generates a further list of similar highlighted content.

    There is to a certain degree, a comparable level of categories and suggestions that you would find through Netflix or Hulu. But if that is not enough,  you can always search for content manually.

    Other Apple options also include accessing your iTunes music via iTunes Match, or directly connecting to iTunes accounts on other computers (via Home Sharing), useful for accessing content you may already own.

    The Settings button allows you to set-up networking, AirPlay, video quality and other preferences as well as restarting the device in case of failure or performing a factory reset.

    Outside of the basic iTunes-related apps, you will be presented with a selection of services that Apple have approved for your region, which you can move around – but not delete and certainly not add to (at least not yet).

    Third party apps tend to work very similar to Apple’s, in that you will normally be presented with a selection of options with either scrolling posters on the left hand side of the screen or scrolling down through poster-filled lists.

    Home

     

  • Switching regions to change the available apps.

    One of the big, but silent advantages with the Apple TV is the ease of switching regions. For example, if you buy the Apple TV in Australia and are not happy with the existing apps, just switch to another country. (Seriously, you may be amazed to find how difficult this can be on many other devices and Smart TVs)

    Change regionIn fact, unlike many competing platforms, you can change your country region as many times as you like and the new apps will appear immediately when you return to the home screen.

    Just keep in mind that region restrictions may be built into the apps themselves, so just because you can see Netflix or Hulu all of a sudden, it doesn’t mean you can access them immediately.

    On the other hand, unlike the similar Roku box, you have greater control over your network settings and you can quite easily install unblocking DNS servers such as those provided by Overplay. It also goes without saying that you will need a full subscription with many of these streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu if you wish to use them.

    Using alternative iTunes accounts.

    Another interesting point to keep in mind is how iTunes may offer different films, television shows or music for sale or rent in each country. If you can’t find your favourite Bollywood movies in the Canadian store, you may want to access the Indian store instead.

    This is easily possible by simply switching your iTunes account to that of a different country.

    Keep in mind though that unless you have already purchased it, most music and video requires a payment to iTunes. It is after-all a PAYG streaming service. You will not only need to create a new account for a different country, but you will also need to be able to top it up via gift vouchers or link it to a credit card from that particular region.

    At the time of press, you do not need any further verification to access content from other countries iTunes stores, once you have confirmed payment methods, as they do not impose region blocking.

    Accessing global regions via AirPlay.

    If you thought it was easy enough to access content from other regions using a SmartDNS service directly through the AppleTV, there are even more options available via iOS and AirPlay.

    iPad’s and iPhones not only have the ability to manually select DNS servers, but you can also easily configure VPNs if that is required and then airplay the content directly to your Apple TV.

    If all this DNS talk seems gobbledygook, head on over to our guides for beginners. It really isn’t as complex as it sounds.

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

  • Roku 3: There is no doubt the closest cousin to the Apple TV is the very similar looking Roku 3. In fact, at least for an American audience, the Roku 3 box may offer more direct services since it allows (to a point) third party developers a chance to add their own channels.

    But despite the fact the Apple TV has few non-American services, the Roku box is far more American-centric than the Apple puck. Unlike the Apple TV, which is sold pretty much everywhere, Roku is only sold in the US, UK, IE or CA, with only the US having any decent local channel coverage. Granted, the UK Roku does include the BBC iPlayer, possibly the most important FTA catch-up service around – but that is it. Glaringly omitted are all the other main UK FTA catch-up services, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5 and although the American version includes Amazon Instant Video, the UK one somehow fails to include the UK’s equivalent, LoveFilm.

    The rest is a bit of a seesaw situation. Apple has AirPlay, Roku has more US Channels, Apple has YouTube, Roku has Plex… etc.

    Basically, if you wish to access only US content, the Roku box may very well be the better choice. If you want to make use of AirPlay then the Apple TV is one of the best little boxes out there.

    Roku front

  • The Apple TV can be bought in pretty much any country in the world. If you have an Apple Store, that is one great place to purchase the device.

    Alternatively, online stores like Amazon also sell the product, and the links below will direct you to the official Amazon store whilst not costing any more to help support Eye on-Demand at the same time.
    Flag US SmallTo buy this item from Amazon US, click here.

    Flag UK Small
    Alternatively, to purchase from Amazon UK, click here.

    German Flag
    German Amazon customers can purchase here.


  • Apple often call their little Apple TV hockey puck a hobby project, yet there is no doubt Apple have major plans to take this to a whole new dimension. The fabled iTV is very likely to surface at some stage, but whether that is a real, full-sized television, or simply a much more powerful set-top box is open purely for speculation.

    What we have today is a fantastic little, affordable media center, that may seem somewhat restrictive right now, but can in fact deliver a great deal more than first anticipated – especially when AirPlay comes into the fold.

    When coupled with an iOS device, especially an iPad, the combination becomes one of the best media centers money can buy. The simple nature of the iPad, using the touch screen to browse, find and play streaming content, then airplaying it across to the telvision, has the potential to become the ultimate remote.

    Add in the various existing apps, which includes iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crunchyroll and a few more and you may have almost everything you need to access your desired content.

    What makes it great for streaming television?

    • Great, simple user interface.
    • Good value for money.
    • The perfect way to access iTunes video content.
    • Includes Netflix and Hulu apps. (may require a good SmartDNS service if you are not within the correct region)
    • Amazing when used with AirPlay which opens up a lot more content. (requires an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad)
    • Easy to switch regions.
    • Can be purchased globally.
    • Can also be used to stream music from iTunes via your home network or iTunes Match.

    What it’s not so good for.

    • Without making use of AirPlay, the box has limited potential.
    • Limited number of apps currently available.
    • Limited accessing of non-Apple content on your network without AirPlay.
    • Very basic remote.

    Technical Details: (Apple TV3)

    • Wi-Fi (802.11a, b, g, or n) wireless network (wireless video streaming requires 802.11a, g, or n) or 10/100BASE-T Ethernet network.
    • iTunes Store account for buying or renting movies and buying TV shows.
    • For streaming media from a Mac or PC: iTunes 10.6 or later; iTunes Store account for Home Sharing.
    • Netflix subscription required for streaming content.
    • Hulu Plus subscription required for streaming content.
    • Crunchyroll subscription required for streaming most content.
    • HBO GO subscription required for streaming content.
    • ESPN subscription required for streaming content.
    • MLB.TV subscription required to watch live and archived games.
    • NBA.com League Pass Broadband subscription required to watch live and archived games.
    • NHL GameCenter Live subscription required to watch live and archived games.
    • AirPlay requires iOS 4.2 or later.
    • AirPlay mirroring requires iOS5 or later and iPhone (4S or newer) iPad (2 or newer) iPad Mini iPod Touch (5th generation) or OSX Mountain Lion on iMac (Mid 2011 or newer) Mac Mini (Mid 2011 or newer) MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer) MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer).
    • AirPlay mirroring also requires an Apple TV2 or newer.
    • Streaming your own content from your network to the Apple TV via AirPlay still requires the video to be encoded in a native format unless your external device can transcode on the fly.
    • Requires a SmartDNS solution to access content that is normally region blocked.

    Log:

    17.07.2013: Review published: Score 7.5: Excellent Value

    02.08.2013: Updated with Crunchyroll service and review links.

     

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    (Note: Some selected photos used in this review are property of Apple)

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]