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Why the New Apple TV Falls Short of Expectations

There is potential in this new product, along with installation pitfalls somewhat unique to the custom world. It will be interesting to see how this device finds a home in the custom environment.

At the beginning of the smart phone era whenever anyone asked if it was possible to do something, the comeback used to be, “There’s an app for that.” When it came to the popular Apple TV products program, however, selection was fixed in the menu and while users could choose between the available services, there were no extensive choices that could be added at the user’s discretion. With the unveiling of the next-generation Apple TV product last week, that soon will change.

While Apple TV has withstood challenges from the likes of Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV products, even the strongest Apple fans were admitting that the current product was getting long in the tooth. When the fourth-generation Apple TV hits the market in late October, many of the complaints about the current product will be answered, but questions remain if the Apple logo is enough to fight back against agile competitors.

On the plus side, the new product will be powered by a new 64-bit processor using a new tvOS operating system that will offer Siri voice navigation and search along with 32 GB or 64 GB to accommodate downloaded apps. That’s right, the new Apple TV will include an app store from which users will be able to select from a wide variety of streaming video services audio services and games. Indeed, with the new Apple TV the question will become is there an app for the desired content services. While this is clearly an update for Apple TV, one should be reminded that this is not new but rather a functionality already offered by game consoles, Android TV, and streaming service products such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV. But, at least there will be “an app for that,” provided that Apple has an app for the desired service.

From a hardware perspective, the new Apple TV catches up to the competition. But, in the minds of many, it didn’t go far enough in some aspects. For example, the Wi-Fi has been updated to 802.11ac with MIMO, and Bluetooth 4.0 joins IR capability with regard to the remote. On the other hand, the HDMI is the older version 1.4 rather than the expected HDMI 2.0 with the ability to handle 4K video. This is particularly puzzling given that the new iPad Pro and iPhone 6s/6s Plus models, also introduced last week, have video capture capability approaching 4K.

With that, we begin a list of cautions regarding the new product, of which systems designers should be aware. Without the new version of HDMI, how will the new Apple TV provide mirroring capability for playback of 4K content? Perhaps even more important, the lack of the latest HDMI version and 4K capability means that the new Apple TV will be unable to play 4K from the likes of Netflix, M-GO, and other services soon to arrive that will feature native UHD content. Remember, HDMI is not upgradable from the 1.4 to 2.0/20.a versions. Further, with HDMI 1.4 instead of the latest version, there may be a concern about the compatibility of the new products with HDR content soon to come from a variety of sources.

The remote for the new-generation Apple TV is clearly an improvement over the current models. It includes a microphone for Siri, up/down buttons, and, as previously mentioned, Bluetooth communication. The most important feature of the new remote is a touch service that can be used to swipe when making selections or to use as a touchpad for control when games are in use. That’s right, the new Apple TV will include games as an option along with traditional video and music programing. Yes, “there is an app for that”.

This advancement, however, is not without some concerns for integrators and installers. As with other Bluetooth remotes, you gain the advantage of not having to point the remote directly at the product being controlled but you lose the ability to easily integrate the remote functions into a unified control system. One might be reminded of the accessories that allow the use of third-party remotes with PlayStation yet depend on the game console’s USB remote to serve as a translator between the remote and the device. Because the new Apple TV does not have any USB inputs other than for service, the question remains as how users fold the new remote into complex systems. Yes, there is an IR sensor on the new Apple TV, but it remains to be seen which functions may be copied for use into IR driven systems. Suffice to say, at this point there not an app for that.

We would expect that concurrent with the launch of the new Apple TV there would be a new remote app designed to handle both the touch pad and all other functions from an iOS device, but that too remains to be seen. Further while gaming is touted as a feature of the new product, it also remains to be seen how multiple remotes will be handled in games with multiple players.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the Apple TV announcement in the custom world, even surpassing the relative absence of 4K capability, was the total silence during Apple’s launch event of anything having to do with the capabilities of the new product with Home Kit or a Health Kit. Many pundits were expecting that the new Apple TV would include a variety of features and functions that would make it more than just another streaming device, but a true home integration hub.

Of course, given the availability of an app store, there is the possibility that some apps may be ported to the new Apple TV. However any overt mention of using the Apple TV, particularly with Siri voice control or a swipe of the touchpad, to adjust HVAC controls, lighting, access controls, or the ability to use an app to view remote cameras, was noticeably absent. We can hope that these capabilities may be added at a later date, but for now the new Apple TV will have to stand or fall as a streaming device for movies, music, and games. Keep in mind that, based on the life cycle of the current Apple TV, the new the new Apple TV will be around for a while. For those who were hoping to use it for home control will see if, sooner or later, there will be “an app for that.”

We’ll leave the details of other new products such as the iPad Pro and new iPhone models to our other colleagues here at Residential Systems and in our sister publication, TWICE. We’d be remiss in not mentioning, however, that for some in the custom world the new iPad Pro, as an extension of the iOS ecosystem, shows great potential, both for on-the-go and in-office design work as well as for client presentations when it’s larger, high-resolution screen will come in handy.

For all the capabilities of the new Apple TV and the apps that are central to its success the one app we don’t have is one that will tell the future. There is potential in this new product, along with installation pitfalls somewhat unique to the custom world. It will be interesting to see how this device finds a home in the custom environment. When I get my hands on one late next month, I will get back to you to see how it compares with logical rivals as well as on its own merit. Clearly, Apple strives to further the ways in which it can not only capture consumer dollars with its hardware, but also gain an increased share of revenue from streaming, over the top, and game content.