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Review: Apple TV 4K’s new Siri voice controls make the difference

While the new Apple TV 4K does HDR and 60 frames per second, it is the addition of Siri voice control that will make most difference to Irish users.

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Apple TV 4K now comes with a new remote control and Siri voice command support for Irish users

Apple TV 4K now comes with a new remote control and Siri voice command support for Irish users

Apple TV 4K now comes with a new remote control and Siri voice command support for Irish users

Apple TV 4K now comes with a new remote control and Siri voice command support for Irish users

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Apple TV 4K now comes with a new remote control and Siri voice command support for Irish users

While the new Apple TV 4K does HDR and 60 frames per second, it is the addition of Siri voice control that will make most difference to Irish users.

Reviewed: Apple TV 4K (2021)

Price: €199 (32GB) or €219 (64GB)

Pros: Siri voice control now added, supports 4K HDR at 60 frames per second

Cons: Siri is still limited with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video

The rationale for buying an Apple TV set top box has always been that it’s a simple, quick, user-friendly way to get to platforms like Netflix. But in 2021, there are lots of ways to do this; every new TV comes with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus now built in. (Some even have Apple’s own platform channel, Apple TV+.) Even for those with older tellies, gadgets like Amazon’s Fire TV stick or Google’s Chromecast now do the same thing at half the price, or even less.

So what’s the reason for buying Apple’s latest TV 4K box?

Having had it attached to my sitting room telly for a week, here’s what I think.

1. Siri

Although the main audio-visual draw here is 4K HDR at 60 frames per second, the big feature for me is that you can use voice-controls with an Apple TV for the first time in Ireland. It’s activated by pressing a button on the side of the new remote control.

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Overall, it’s pretty good: Siri reaches far and wide across the Apple TV’s functions and content features. From the main menu, you can ask it to, say, resume Wolfwalkers or start The Avengers in Disney Plus and it will jump right in.

Similarly, you can ask more general queries, such as “show me movies with Carey Mulligan” or “find me some good horror films”.

And because it’s regular Siri, you can ask general questions about the weather, set timers, find your iPhone and -- if you’re the smart home type -- do things like turn your lights on and off.

Arguably the cleverest application of Siri here is within some of the movies of TV shows you’re watching. You can ask it to “fast forward two minutes” if you’re getting sick of an actor’s ham. You can also ask for the last few seconds again through the phrase “what did she say”?

Overall, I have found it to be useful and helpful, especially when you know what you’re looking for but don’t know exactly which menu or silo to start rooting through.

But it’s not perfect for Irish users on content navigation. Frustratingly, there still appears to be some geo-restrictions on Siri with both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, two of the three most popular film and television platforms. An Irish request to Siri to play ‘The Crown’ on Netflix or ‘The Boys’ on Amazon Prime Video is met with the response that this command is “not available in your region”. (You can, however, ask it to open Netflix or Amazon Prime Video and take it yourself from there.) Despite this, I found Siri to be an overall boost in using the system.

2. That new remote control

It may sound like an odd thing to pick out, but the new Siri Remote is worth mentioning here. It’s been redesigned in a few ways. As I mentioned above, there’s a Siri button on the side for voice requests. But the other change is the large touch-sensitive clickpad at the top of the remote. As well as being able to touch-navigate through things on the TV, you can also now scroll (or ‘jog’) through a movie by using your thumb in a circular gesture on it. (For those of a certain generation -- think of how the original iPod worked.) It’s not all a touch-tracking affair, though; there are 12 other buttons on the Siri Remote for those who don’t fancy swiping and ‘jogging’ -- you can get to, and through, everything without needing to use its touch-sensitive navigation abilities.

While this dual-execution ability might sit a little oddly with the school of Apple industrial design favoured by the late Steve Jobs (who always liked stripped-down, single-purpose simplicity, even at the expense of customer choice), I’m glad these buttons are there as a default. As clever as some of the scrolling features are, I still slip a little with touch-sensitive controls for TVs. Iterations from TV providers like Sky, in particular, were horrible to use.

Lastly, the aluminium Siri remote is now a brushed silver colour, which makes it that bit easier to pick out among all the other black remotes loitering on couches and tables in your living room. It’s rechargeable using an ordinary Apple Lightning cable.

3. 4K HDR at 60 frames per second

People often glaze over when you start to talk about TV technical specifications. The main thing to note about the latest upgrade to Apple’s TV box is that it can play anything from any main movie platform provider at, or close to, its maximum quality. That’s actually quite important in an age when even budget TVs now come in 55-inch or 65-inch sizes with 4K and HDR, bought by people in homes that now generally have access to high speed, unlimited broadband for very high resolution streaming.

Technically, this supports both 4K and HDR at 60 frames per second. You won’t see much from platforms like Netflix or Disney Plus (or even Apple TV+) at 60 frames per second, because it’s often considered ‘too smooth’ for a cinematic experience. But HDR is important, especially for moody, darkly lit movies. This supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, the industry standards. For anyone who invests in speakers for their home TV setup, the Apple 4K box also supports Dolby Atmos. As for connectivity, it supports HDMI2.1 and Wifi 6. All of this powered by Apple’s A12 Bionic chip, the same one as in last year’s iPad.

4. Clever integration with iPhones

While there are a handful of rival TV set top boxes that can do the core functions of what this one does, one unique selling point of Apple TV is how it integrates with your iPhone and your Apple account generally.

For example, anyone with an iPhone 12 can use it to set the best on-screen colour balance from the Apple TV. This is a little like wizadry when you’re doing it: it asks you to bring your iPhone up to the television set with its main cameras facing outward at the room. Those cameras then tell the Apple TV what the lighting and hues are around the room and it adjusts the tone of what you see on the TV screen accordingly. It even gives you a ‘before’ and ‘after’ example on the TV screen let you decide whether you think it’s made adjustments for the better (I went with its recommendation, which was a slightly warmer hue, easier on my eyes). It’s a very clever trick that reminds you (fancy that) of the benefits of having an iPhone when using another Apple device.

There are lots of other examples of this integration. If you’re searching for something or entering a password to another account, it lets you enter via your iPhone rather than picking individual letters and numbers on screen. It also knows what Airpods are associated with your account and will recognise them if you put them on for wireless listening.

And it also means that setting everything up is really easy. The Apple TV will simply connect to your iPhone and use it as a base account for setting everything else up.

5. Should you buy it?

The updated Apple TV 4K is a luxury, all-singing, all-dancing set top box in an era when Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and yes, even Apple TV+, are taking over mainstream television viewing.

Thankfully, the era when choosing your set top box meant choosing between platforms is long gone: Apple TV has all of the main platforms, and many good smaller ones, too (I’m a fan of MUBI, for example).

Still, given that it’s twice the price of what you’ll get from Amazon or Google, what is it that Apple TV 4K offers above the others?

It’s two things, mainly: a slicker, more integrated user interface and a wider variety of functions. On the latter point, for example, Apple TV 4K supports both gaming (through a €10 per month Apple Arcade subscription) and workouts (through a €10 per month Fitness+ subscription).

Some years back, Apple CEO Tim Cook told an audience that he believed the future of television lay in apps. Apple TV 4K is an example of hardware being put into place to usher in that future.


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