Monday, November 9, 2015

First Impressions of my 4th generation Apple TV

I bought a 4th generation Apple TV yesterday, along with a Steelseries game controller.

I've been waiting a while, since the Ouya Android-based game micro-console.  The Nvidia Shield micro-console looked particularly good recently.  I have an Apple iPhone 6 and a 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet, so I'm familiar with both mobile operating systems and their games.

However, as far as connecting anything to the TV, I've only connected my old DVR, DirecTV DVR, and my Blu-Ray player.  The TV and Blu-Ray player have many connections to the outside world, so buying an older Apple TV, Roku, or Google box had no appeal.

Connecting the Apple TV wasn't difficult.  I wanted to connect it to the computer first, so it would take my current iTunes library of movies, TV episodes, music videos, and music and store them in the extra storage the 64GB model would have.  There is no such connection.  In fact, the only cable was a USB to Lightning cable for the remote control, for charging.

So, the actual connections are power and HDMI, and they don't include the HDMI cable.

As it was starting, I had some extra "fun" with my TV complaining that the signal didn't match the Deep Color that was expected.  I had to make some setting changes on the TV that most people will not have to make.

It wanted to connect to my phone but they could not meet in the middle.  It detected my phone over Bluetooth immediately, but since I didn't have the phone connected to the local network over my mobile hotspot, it wasn't able to grab the settings from my phone.  (They haven't found each other over Bluetooth since then.  The phone is on iOS 9.1 and I wonder if it's just too buggy still.)

The Apple TV wanted to connect to the internet, which I did through the odd keyboard.

You have to slide across the keyboard and select by clicking on a character.

The keyboard was alphabetical, which I suppose is easier than showing QWERTY, AZERTY, QWERTZ, or whatever pattern each country uses, but it made entry slower for me.

There really wasn't much to set up.  I selected my country and language, and it did some configuration.

There wasn't much included except for the apps to buy music, TV episodes, or movies and those apps to connect to the computer and get other apps.

I immediately downloaded the YouTube app, but couldn't decide on games or anything else.  Later, I bought and downloaded the Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising game, as I've been playing the series since the original iOS version of Galaxy on Fire.

The YouTube app required a link through an activation code to connect to my YouTube account.  The game wanted to connect to Game Center, of course.  It also downloaded more content, much like the Android-based version of Galaxy on Fire 2 HD does.  Perhaps, the iOS version does this, but it doesn't mention it or make you wait.

The game uses the remote control.  It is both simple and frustrating.  It seems to lose calibration easily, and it is much easier to go left than to go right.  The game is quite amazing looking, as with their previous games.  For playing only a few minutes, I feel as though it will be a great game with more familiarity, and with fixes.

When I was in an Apple Store, I tried the Geometry Wars game and it seemed to work well with the remote, but I had no idea how to play the game.  I think the games that use the remote, and using the remote to play them will take acclimation time.

I have a Steelseries game controller and I have yet to pair it to anything.  There is a companion app on iOS, and I downloaded that.  I'm currently charging the controller, which uses a Lightning connector.  The box has graphics indicating that it works with iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, and Mac.  US$50.00 doesn't seem that much.

As Asphalt 8 Airborne is available, I'm thinking that the controller will be very useful.  I've got the game now and it not only works well, but it looks great.  The game controller is useful but the control scheme isn't yet comfortable.  The best thing about the game may be a bug--my purchases from the handheld game are available, as I downloaded the iCloud data.  This was another that downloaded more content quite often.  Given that the iOS/Android app runs about 1.5 GB and the tvOS app was about 450MB, I would expect every unplayed course will have to be downloaded, as well as cars.

I was intrigued by the Pangea games' 3D capability.  I haven't played any of those games for years, but Bugdom was a bit of fun.  I have 3D capability on my TV, as well as 4K resolution, so this should be interesting.

Oh, and this version of Apple TV does not support 4K.  I get the feeling in a year, they'll put out a version with upgraded hardware capable of 4K, especially since the Nvidia Shield already supports the resolution.

I'm looking at potential more than anything else right now.

Update 2015.11.11: The minor software update to the operating system was very minor.   I haven't noticed any differences.

Update 2015.11.26: How is it that the remote control is worth US79.00 when the Wii Remote Plus is only US$49.99, and the Steelseries game controller Apple is selling in their stores is only US$49.95?

You'd think that it would be easier to grip since it is meant to be used with games.  You'd think that there would be a strap included instead of being available for another US$12.99.

You might also think that the remote might have a headphone jack, so you could listen remotely.

I like the latest Apple TV.  I'm just annoyed that it seems to be experimental at this point.  I expect Google to sell products in this way but Apple should know better.  The MacBook Air took a long time to become desirable to me, and then, they brought out the MacBook that was even more extreme.

As this year is ending, they will most likely push out some small change and a bigger change around February.  Eventually, it will feel good and all other products will feel ancient and clunky.  Right now, it works, just.

Update 2015.12.02: Thankfully, the games can be played without an internet connection.  Unfortunately, music, music videos, movies, and TV episodes cannot be seen because they are not copied to the device.

So far, I have three games: Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and Geometry Wars 3.  The Galaxy on Fire games have been intense.  When I played the first, I often had to power off/power on the 2nd generation iPod touch.  Even when I had moved to an iPhone 4S, Galaxy on Fire 2 was often very intense for the phone and then, the HD version came along.  It's only with the iPhone 6 that it's been particularly good.

It will take a while for Apple to fix tvOS and the games will need to be smoothed out plenty of times.  The hobby needs to be given a higher priority.

Update 2015.12.04: I finished the story mode of Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising but I have to say that the performance was so slow when busy that the game wasn't much fun.   Even the network connection was dropped a couple of times.

The trouble will probably be alleviated by April with various efficiency improvements between tvOS and the game but it's obvious that this box is underpowered at the moment.  That's probably why it doesn't support 4K, even though it's technically possible with the CPU and GPU.

Update 2015.12.05: Since Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising was updated to support game controllers, I waited a while and tried it today.  The game isn't fighting me.  Supposedly, there is a problem with the remote control.  Strictly, performance isn't any better but I've managed to complete waves much more quickly and get time bonuses on some.  Since I can actually focus on one enemy vessel and it doesn't move much, I can get rid of it quickly.  It was enough of an improvement that I went from something like 219,000 to 326,000.

Previously, I thought the achievement badge (in Game Center) of getting through 30 levels was completely nuts and now, it seems that 10 levels should be easily repeatable.

Still, it's not smooth yet.  Between the controller and the TV, the movement is a bit jerky but it goes where I want it, mostly.

Update 2015.12.08: The tvOS 9.1 update has smoothed things a bit.  The remote control itself works better in GoF:MR.  It still seems as though the game is fighting me, compared to the game controller, but it is close to being what it should be.

Manual Update seems much like iOS on the phone

It still doesn't help when the system is too busy.  Seeing that it has disconnected from the network is troubling.  When I was playing a game with the remote, it also said that the game controller had been disconnected.  Since the game controller has only one real function, I'm fairly sure that it wasn't the one which disconnected from the Apple TV.

Update 2016.03.22: tvOS 9.2 arrived and I saw a minor performance improvement.  I'm still seeing the network connection go away during Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising, which is a very busy game.  It seems to me that the Apple TV should have been tested and tuned much better than this.  I hoped that almost all of the problems would be fixed with this release, but that's definitely not true.  Of course, they added a lot of functionality into this release, such as enabling Bluetooth keyboards, that was available in the previous generation.

Update 2016.10.04: The 3rd generation Apple TV has been discontinued.  With tvOS 10, my 4th generation Apple TV seems good, but still not great.  You'd think that the A8 processor would be enough but it doesn't seem to be.  They haven't improved performance enough, which is sad.  Hopefully, getting rid of the 3rd generation model will give development resources to the 4th generation model.

Update 2016.12.14: tvOS 10.1.1 is out and they've included a new TV app that helps you attach to your other apps, if they're compatible, and connect to the store.  So far, it only connected to the CW app, but I suppose others will make their content compatible for easy access in one place.  I have seen some fight for control of TV, which is why generation 4 of Apple TV is a set top box and not a whole TV line.   Apple should probably just buy a cable company and make enhancements, as SBC/AT&T has recently done to create DirecTV Now.

I'm not sure whether the performance of tvOS is enhanced or not.  I played Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising for a few minutes and only got one network disconnection message.  I suspect not much has changed and it was only my short play time that caused the difference.  I didn't get powerups that normally slow things down.

However, I am happy with the box.  I've been able to watch local news, TV shows, and more as though they belonged on the TV.  Even YouTube videos look good.

Update 2017.03.27: tvOS has been updated yet again, this time to 10.2.  There are few changes and I haven't used it much yet.  It's naturally becoming more stable, but it's still not finished.

I remember expecting excellent performance by April 2016.  It's almost one year later and it still isn't great.  The fact that they're only supporting a maximum of 1920x1080 makes me think that they're making a load of money on the box.  If Android boxes can support 4K resolution, why didn't Apple?

There has been one notable recent change for me.  When Apple TV asks for text entry, my iPhone wakes up and presents me with a keyboard.

No comments:

Post a Comment