The Apple TV a tiny box - a media streamer - that plugs into your TV and connects to the internet to allow you to stream films, TV shows, Apple Music and now games. You'll be able to rent films and TV programmes form the iTunes Store, or get access to streaming services such as Netflix. There's also channels dedicated to Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr, Now TV and others. Here's everything you need to know about the 2015 Apple TV including release date, features, price and specs. See also: 11 best media streamers 2015.
The 2015 Apple TV replaces the outgoing model released back in January 2013 - read our review of the 3rd-gen Apple TV
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Apple TV 2015 UK release date & price - buy new Apple TV now
The new Apple TV went up for pre-order direct from Apple on Monday 26 October and today (30 October) is available to buy. The 32GB model is available for £129, and the 64GB version for £169. To pre-order now visit apple.com/uk/shop/buy-tv/apple-tv.
You can still buy the older Apple TV, too, which is priced at £59 after a recent price drop, and is particularly appealing to iPad and iPhone users thanks to its AirPlay feature, which allows you to stream content from your iOS device directly to the Apple TV to watch on your television.
Apple TV 2015: What new features will the Apple TV have?
One of the big new features is an app store. Apple says apps are the future of TV because apps are the main way we all watch TV these days. The truth is that the old Apple TV couldn't compete with Roku, Amazon and Google's offerings - partly because it was the only one without an app store.
Apple is right, of course. People are used to adding the features they want via apps and now that the Apple TV is more powerful, you can do more with apps, including playing games.
Some will be exclusive to the Apple TV, such as Crossy Road with multiplayer mode. Harmonix - of Guitar Hero fame - has made the new Beat Sports an Apple TV exclusive too.
As well as gaming, music, photos and video, apps will let you do lots of other things on your TV, such as shopping, house hunting, and whatever else developers come up with.
Universal apps can now include the Apple TV. This not only means you only have to buy an app once for all your devices, but that you can be playing a universal game on your iPhone, say, then carry on from the same point on your Apple TV.
Some people thought Apple would launch its own video streaming service, but it appears to be happy to leave that to Netflix. It will be interesting to see whether an Amazon Instant Video app will be available in the app store. It's unlikely. See also: Amazon Prime Instant Video vs Netflix.
The new remote control - the Siri remote - has the rumoured touchpad and a built-in mic (dual microphones, in fact). It charges using a Lightning cable and lasts up to three months between charges.
Just like the Amazon Fire TV, you can use the mic to search for content. This uses Siri, which means the system is already familiar to millions of people.
At the simplest level you can press the Siri button and say "Modern Family" but things get more interesting when you say "Hey Siri, show me that episode of Modern Family that has Edward Norton in it". And the box should highlight the episode in question, ready for you to rent or buy it.
You can also say "Fast forward 23 minutes" which eliminates the need to use playback buttons. A neat touch is that you can ask, "What did she just say" - the video will rewind by 15 seconds and turn on subtitles.
When searching for something to watch it's possible to filter results. For example. you can say "Show me action movies", then "The James Bond ones". You can narrow it even more by saying "Show me just the ones with Sean Connery".
Searching for content using Siri means you get to search iTunes, Netflix and other apps in one go rather than having to launch each one to see if it contains what you're looking for.
The set-top box itself may look similar to the old Apple TV, but the remote's design is quite different. It has a glass surface at the top so you can swipe around as you already do on your phone. It almost turns your TV into a touchscreen, and it's a clever idea. There are three basic gestures you can use:
- Swiping to navigate around the interface (swiping down while in a video displays information about it)
- Tapping to make a selection
- Sweeping (repeated swiping) to scrub through a video. Quick sweeping moves across large amounts of time, while slower, smaller movements allow more precise scrubbing.
As it works using Bluetooth (unlike infrared with the older Apple TVs) you now no longer need line of sight between remote and Apple TV. Again, Apple is catching up with the competition here.
The interface looks much like the old version, but with fewer curves: hard lines are order of the day. It's now called tvOS, too. You can move app icons around just as you can now, to personalise the experience. There are new HD screensavers which are 'exclusive to Apple TV' and will play footage appropriate to the time of day.
One other new feature is iPad-style multitasking that allows you to quickly flip between apps:
New Apple TV 2015 rumours: Design, hardware & specs
The box itself is the same size (10cm by 10cm), but 10mm taller than the current model at 33mm. Contrary to rumours of Silver, Space Grey and Gold models, there's just a black version.
Inside the new Apple TV, is a 64-bit A8 chip and the built-in storage has been increased from the 8GB in the 3rd-gen model to 32- or 64GB to make room for the apps that'll be available from the dedicated App Store.
On the back is a two-pin power connector as usual, an HDMI 1.4 output, a 10/100 Ethernet port if you don't want to use 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and a USB type-C port for "service and support".
Apple's specs don't list any 4K or HEVC capabilities, but that's not to say the streamer isn't powerful enough to support it. Right now, it's 4K capable, but not 4K enabled. The lack of official 4K support will be enough to put some off ordering one.
Apple TV 2015: the competition
The new Apple TV isn't the only product like it on the market, by any means. There are many competing set-top boxes and sticks available, including the Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku Streaming Stick, and more. Google's Nexus Player features gaming capabilities, and even has an optional GamePad controller available to enhance the gaming experience. Apple doesn't have its own controller, but the Apple TV will work with third-party Bluetooth controllers including the SteelSeries Nimbus.
But why has Apple waited so long to update the Apple TV? In the past, the company has described the device as a hobby, but in recent years the popularity of media streaming devices has grown and with it the size of the market. The old Apple TV had slipped behind, particularly in the UK where services like BBC iPlayer, for example, still aren't available.
Amazon's Fire TV was the first media streamer to offer voice recognition, as well as games. The Fire TV Stick is a cheaper HDMI dongle which lacks a microphone in its remote but lets you use an app to get the same effect. This is something that owners of older Apple TVs might be hoping for in an update, but it's likely the hardware isn't powerful enough to support Siri.
Apple TV 2015: rumours that didn't pan out
HomeKit, Apple's smart home system that launched as part of iOS 8, is designed to make smart objects work together with iOS seamlessly as they'll all be built with software that's from the same SDK. It was believed that the Apple TV would be the new HomeKit hub, the central device that allows you to control the HomeKit-based smart objects in your home.
It's still possible this will happen in the future, allowing you to say "Hey Siri, turn off the lights," or even "Hey Siri, put the kettle on."
Then there's that aforementioned Netflix rival that Apple was believed to be working on behind the scenes. Re/code claimed that industry executives said that Apple is in talks with TV programmers about deals that would enable the company to launch such service for the Apple TV. In January and February 2014, job vacancies advertised on Apple's website hinted that the rumours about a Netflix rival might be true. One position, for an Apple TV Content Partner Engineer, says that the new employee will "provide technical support to eternal vendors as they integrate their content."
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Another feature that was rumoured to be coming to the new Apple TV was Continuity, the feature in iOS that lets you move seamlessly between your Mac and iOS device. Continuity on the Apple TV could mean that, if you've been watching a film on your iPad on the way home, the Apple TV could automatically begin playing that movie from where you left off when you enter the living room. That's been implemented with games, but we're yet to find out if the same will be true of apps which let you watch video.