CES is where tech companies get together to show off not only their upcoming products, but concepts too. There's always been one notable absentee, with Apple sticking to their own event cycle for announcements. That used to take the form of Macworld and the WWDC with ad-hoc events as required. 2009 was the last time Apple attended Macworld and we now have the annual September iPhone event. This year, they not only had something to offer, despite still not being there, and they posted a billboard opposite the Las Vegas Convention Centre touting their privacy model.
What is the Apple TV?
The original model shipped in 2007 and from what I remember, it not only resembled the original Mac Mini (or the original Time Machine) but had an interface that was shared with the Mac OS media interface, Front Row.
With the current generation, the Apple TV platform is far more mature with it's own App Store and it's always had excellent integration with the iTunes store too. It's been over a year since the Apple TV 4K was released and slowly but surely movies have been ported from HD to 4K. Owning a 4K movie is one thing, getting it onto a TV is another. It requires the Apple TV itself or cables and if you have a newer mac, then direct HDMI-to-HDMI is not an option.
At £179+, the Apple TV is not cheap but I've found it to be the most convenient way to watch any type of stream service and with AirPlay (for mirroring and casting) it's been invaluable. The app based approach is just a bonus. Sadly, the 3rd generation Apple TV went more than a couple of cycles without an update, and it seemed that the demand was for an actual TV with Apple's services built in. The Apple TV 4K was Apple's answer and whatever the price point would have been for an actual display, I'm sure it wouldn't have been as attainable as the set top box approach. But this all changed at CES 2019.
Apple + Samsung, Sony, Vizio & LG
AirPlay 2 will be available on all compatible models meaning you can stream audio to multiple devices as well as casting your content to a TV without a hub. HomeKit support will come with Sony, Vizio and LG models, but not with Samsung ones, I expect due to their competition in the home automation market. Apple only offer the architecture, whereas Samsung also offer hardware. Siri will also be available on the devices, so it will be interesting to see how you trigger the assistant. As they'll be classed as HomeKit devices, using your phone is the obvious way but the Apple TV remote is a thing of beauty and simplicity.
I had assumed the TVs themselves could be used as hubs but it appears that they'll be classed as accessories. You'll be able to create scenes that control TVs to turn on or off as required. Sounds fun, but if they're not a hub, then that means you still need an Apple TV, HomePod or a charged iPad at home to bring it all together.
If your content lives within iTunes, then you'll get access to Apple Music, your movies and podcasts. Samsung say:
With AirPlay 2 support, Samsung customers will be able to effortlessly play videos, photos, music, podcasts and more from Apple devices directly to Samsung Smart TVs, including QLED 4K and 8K TVs, The Frame and Serif lifestyle TVs, as well as other Samsung UHD and HD models.
It's sooo convenient for anyone with an iPhone, iPad or Mac to throw photos up onto your TV without having to install an app, they just need to be on your wifi network. This is going to be a great feature, but one feature that works really well in the iOS ecosystem is photo streams and without a dedicated Photos app, it doesn't look like that will be coming to these third party offerings. Not that I use it often myself, but it has the potential for offering great screensavers and means you can stream a video directly rather than streaming a streaming.
Perhaps the lack of a Photos app is a good thing. I've no doubt that these manufacturers want to know what you're watching and have the ability to identify what's on the TV without much effort. Having access to iTunes probably makes this easier, but that's far less invasive than having access to your photos. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out. I know
Will it work? Or last?
I've used AirPlay for well over 6 years without any issues so I'm not sure if I can confidently say AirPlay 2 is more stable. Certainly seems to connect quicker when using the Apple Remote app. If Apple own the experience, then it will at the very least work.
Convenience is important, we were jumping between our TV's own apps and the Apple TV for content before we got the 4K version. A first world problem for sure, but having a unified experience makes consumption easier. Having a YouTube app alongside an iTunes app will surely make for a good experience but from experience, either Samsung's interface is just slow or underpowered. I'm looking forward to the reviews and I really hope the experience is what it could and should be.
If you'd like to know more, iMore and The Verge have good coverage on everything we know about what's coming to non-Apple TVs this year.
Vizio announced that their 2016 models with SmartCast would be updated to support HomeKit and AirPlay 2.
Dan at MacRumors put together a video to show AirPlay 2 a& HomeKit integration for a Vizio SmartCast TV. It looks promising and brings the convenience that only an Apple TV could before now. Screen mirroring wasn't working, but it's all still in beta.
Apple now have a list of all HomeKit compatible TVs on their website.
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