Apple is ready to flip the switch on for its latest Apple TV. A little more than a month after its first preview, the redesigned set-top box has gone on sale, with the first orders arriving later this week.
Here's what you need to know about the new Apple TV.
How do I get the Apple TV?
The Apple TV went on sale this week at Apple's online store. You have a choice between the 32GB model ($149) and the 64GB model ($199). The larger capacity is a better choice if you're planning to use your Apple TV as a gaming device or download plenty of apps; if you see the device more for streaming music, movies and TV shows, 32GB should be enough capacity.
Apple says the first models should arrive starting this Friday, Oct. 30. That's a noteworthy date since it's also when 9to5Mac reports the Apple TV will go on sale in Apple's retail stores, if you prefer to pick up the device in person.
Wait a minute. Wasn't there already an Apple TV?
Yes, Apple introduced its first set-top box back in 2006, with the last update coming three years ago in 2012. While the Apple TV has undergone some design changes up until now, it's primarily been a way to download movies and TV shows from Apple's iTunes Store, while also providing access to streaming content from Netflix, Hulu and others via channels on the Apple TV.
And that older Apple TV model is sticking around. You can still buy it for $69. But the newly available Apple TV takes quite a different approach.
So what's new about this version of Apple TV?
Let's start with voice controls: The new Apple TV has them, based on the Siri voice-powered assistant from Apple's iPhone. This version of Siri won't talk back to you — Apple doesn't think that fits in with a living room experience — but voice search will help you find programming to watch on your Apple TV using natural language.
For instance, press and hold the Siri button on the revamped Apple TV remote and say "Find me movies directed by David O. Russell." You'll get a list of movies from that director, not just from iTunes but from all sources on your Apple TV like Netflix and Hulu. You can then fine tune your search by saying "Just show me the ones with Jennifer Lawrence," and Siri will pare down the results to collaborations with that director instead of listing Jennifer Lawrence's entire filmography.
Voice controls will do more than just search with the new Apple TV. You'll also be able to skip forward and ask Siri to jump back 15 seconds by asking "What did she just say?" whenever you miss any bits of dialogue. Other Siri voice controls let you look up weather, stock data and sports scores, access your Apple TV settings or turn on Enhanced Speech to boost dialogue and soften other sounds like background music.
Will the Apple TV still have channels?
They're called apps now, and to hear Apple tell it, they're central to the new Apple TV. You'll get the same programming-centric apps you've seen before on Apple TV — Apple is touting offerings from Netflix, Showtime, HBO and Hulu among others on its website. But because Apple has put out a tvOS, just about anyone can create an app that can run on your TV via Apple's set-top box.
For instance, an Airbnb app will let you plan trips from the comfort of your couch by browsing through accommodations on your TV screen. At its Sept. 9 press event, Apple also showed off an app from Gilt that lets you do a little home shopping and another from Zillow to check on real estate listings. But the real benefit to opening up Apple TV to developers will come in the form of games.
Wait. I can now play games on an Apple TV?
Yes, though we'll have to see how many developers embrace tvOS to get a feel for just what kind of gaming platform the Apple TV will be. For now, Apple's website is touting shooters like Manticore Rising, platformers like Rayman Adventures and puzzle games like Shadowmatic to give you a flavor of what to expect from games on the Apple TV. There are also a few console-grade titles headed to the box, such as Disney Infinity 3.0 and Guitar Hero Live. Based on demos at the Sept. 9 event, the Apple TV will also support multiplayer gaming, though that will require having extra controls on hand.
How will I be able to control games?
The included Apple TV remote — which we'll talk more about in a bit — will double as a game controller since it has a clickable trackpad in addition to buttons. Apple says its set-top box will also support MFi-based controllers, and third parties such as SteelSeries are already offering controllers like its Nimbus. There's also a guitar-shaped Guitar Hero Live controller built for the music game that's coming to the Apple TV.
How about other content?
As with previous Apple TV models, you'll be able to beam pictures onto your TV from your iCloud library. The new set-top box ties into Apple's Apple Music streaming service. And you'll continue to be able to use AirPlay to beam content from your iPhone, iPad or Mac to an Apple TV.
How can I control the Apple TV?
As noted above, there's a new remote that's substantially more powerful than the rather spartan controller that shipped with earlier Apple TVs. In addition to buttons for controlling playback and talking to Siri, the remote includes a trackpad for easier scrolling and searching. If you've ever had to painstakingly tap out a search query using the old Apple TV remote, you'll immediately embrace the ability to scroll for what you're looking for. That trackpad is also clickable for selecting content and controlling apps.
The remote — officially called a Siri Remote — ships with the Apple TV, but if you'd like an extra remote for gaming or to replace a lost remote, it costs $79. Apple also sells a Remote Loop wrist band aimed at gamers for $13.
How does the Apple TV compare to other set-top boxes?
When Apple first detailed plans for the new Apple TV, we compared it to other leading set-top boxes including the Roku 3, Fire TV and Nvidia Shield. In the subsequent weeks, both Roku and Amazon announced new versions of their set-top boxes that support 4K streaming, something Apple's product doesn't do. The Nvidia Shield also supports 4K content and is geared more toward gamers than the Apple TV is at this point, even with the promise of developers churning out Apple TV-friendly games.