Adventures with Apple TV

What’s the point of an Apple TV?

Mid last year, I wrote about making my old TV smarter by adding a Chromecast and was very happy with it. Now, I’ve replaced it with an Apple TV. Is it just the lust for more Apple devices that I fell for, or is there a plausible argument to be made for my continued expansion into Apple’s ecosystem? Let’s find out!

Apple TV vs Chromecast

I initially gravitated to the Chromecast because it performed really well for the price. However, in a predominantly Apple Home, there are some downsides to having a cut-down “Google TV” as your television.

  1. Screen Sharing – Chromecast only allows Android devices (natively) and the Chrome browser to screen share. An Apple TV enables this for Apple devices.
  2. Phone as the remote – since the Chromecast doesn’t have a remote, you are forced to use your phone as one. That shouldn’t be an issue but in my experience, the Netflix app on iOS tends to lose connection to the Chromecast after some time. This means having to use the Google Home app or to force close Netflix and re-open to pause or stop the video. Apple TV has its own remote and more reliable remote control on iOS.
  3. Streaming Apps – The Chromecast has no ability to install apps. Everyone in the household needs to have all the streaming apps installed and logged in on their phones so they can cast to the Chromecast. Because Apple TV allows for installing apps, you just need to install them on the TV once and anyone (even visitors) can use them.
  4. Flexibility – Since the Apple TV is it’s own standalone device, it can do things the Chromecast can’t do. One example is easily changing the WiFi network in Settings if I want to stream from my MiFi vs the home WiFi.  I can also install apps like Speedtest to debug any streaming issues.

 

Photo by Li Lin on Unsplash

Other Apple TV features

So, the Apple TV beats out the Chromecast as a streamer. But it can do more:

  1. HomeKit Hub – If you want to build your home automation in Apple’s ecosystem, you’ll need either an Apple TV or a HomePod (don’t use an iPad) to serve as the central brain controlling your home.
  2. Bluetooth and AirPlay – You can connect a bluetooth speaker, AirPods or Airplay Speaker/s to play the Apple TV’s audio.

Now that I’ve fully justified my own purchase:

Shopping List (with costs @ 09/01/2020)

  1. Apple TV 4th Generation (aka Apple TV HD) 32GB –  R1 800 – Second hand via Gumtree (If you thought I was going to pay full retail, we are not in the same WhatsApp group). Only the 4th Gen (HD) and 5th Gen (4K) are currently supported so don’t buy any models before these.
  2. HDMI cable (used an old one) + “figure of 8” power cord (included with Apple TV)

Connection and Basic Setup

The standard way to set up an Apple TV is to simply plug it in, follow the prompts and tap your iPhone on it as per Apple’s instructions. However, if you do that, you’ll see this:

Uh, what gives? It appears that Siri isn’t supported in South Africa on Apple TV. What artificially segmented region nonsense is this now?!

After a bit of playing around, here are the steps I took to get Siri working (They may not work for you, if it breaks your stuff don’t @ me, thanks Andre!):

  1. Reset your Apple TV.
  2. Create a new Apple ID in a web browser on your PC (referred to as newID in next steps) with the location set to the US. You’ll need an email account and a phone number that aren’t and possibly won’t ever be associated with another Apple ID (I created a fresh Gmail account and used an SA landline for the verification code).
  3. Sign into your Apple TV with the newID that you’ve just created.
  4. Keep Location Services turned off
  5. Complete the setup and arrive on the Home Screen
  6. Make sure Siri is turned on under Settings > General > Siri
  7. Sign out of newID in Store, iCloud and Game Center in Settings > Users and Accounts > Default User
  8. Sign in to Store, iCloud and Game Center using your South African Apple ID.
  9. If you go to Settings > General > Siri, you should see this:

A greyed out Siri option showing On is what we’re looking for. Also, Siri should be coming up when you press the Siri button on your remote. Winning!

Apps and Games

Once the basic setup is done, time to head over to the App Store. Here are the apps currently on my Apple TV:

Netflix and Spotify are my essential paid streaming apps (and the only one’s I’m paying for!). Apart from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and The Boondock Saints, I have to delve deeper into what Amazon Prime Video has to offer. DSTv, only for Date My Family. A Showmax login would be nice for Legacy, or maybe I can con someone out of their DSTv Premium login 😈. The game of streaming service sharing/trading is what I need to play in 2021! Red Bull TV was a surprise, with it’s in-depth coverage of the currently-live Dakar Rally a welcome treat. YouTube and Speedtest are self explanatory. A few free games round out the Apple TV as a streaming and “gaming” hub.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

HomeKit Integration

The dream is to eventually have a single platform/app that runs my entire smart home. However, I needed to use three apps for their own features:

  • Apple Home – Works at home – perfect integration with iOS and Siri (but only when my iPhone/iPad are connected to the home WiFi)
  • Google Home – Works anywhere – essential to control the Chromecast
  • eWeLink – Works anywhere – needed to schedule lights and set timers (eg. Turn on light at 6pm)

Adding in the Apple TV as a Home Hub allowed for most of the requirements of the Google Home and eWeLink apps to fall away:

  • Apple Home/Siri can be used to control the home from anywhere.
  • Automations can be created to turn lights on/off based on time of day, people leaving and arriving and other sensors at home.
  • Streaming using Apple TV means no need for the Chromecast.

After porting over the automations from eWeLink to Apple Home and removing any requirement for Android compatibility, here’s my new home setup:

How I see the interplay between apps, cloud providers and controlled devices may not and, in some cases, definitely doesn’t reflect reality. I just use it as a handy map. See how I got to this stage by reading these posts.

Post-Implementation Summary

There’s now a more reliable streaming setup on the TV as well as a Home Hub which allows for consolidation of control on the Home app on my iDevices. It’s not enough that my Watch can control my house lights, now my TV can as well! I can’t get over how cool this all is.

Confusingly, “The Fast and the Furious” and “Fast & Furious” are not the same movie.

The Future

Slowly but surely, my smart home is becoming a decidedly Apple Home. With the ability to now remove the dependence on Google Home and eWeLink, I can now focus on HomeKit exclusively. Smart Garage Doors and Gates sound like fun, but may be best left to those living in more secure areas. HomeKit compatible cameras on the other hand…

If you have any questions/would like to share your experience with Apple TV, please leave a reply below. To receive an email when I publish a post, please subscribe. Thanks for reading!

(Featured image (the one at the top of this post) remixed from this photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash)

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