The last post on this site, from November of 2017, was about my disappointment with the 4th generation Apple TV. For some reason I was so devastated that I kept all my opinions to myself for months, but after the release of tvOS 11.3 this week I can dump all this garbage on you once more. We finally have frame rate matching on all the models of the Apple TV that Apple currently sells, instead of just the Apple TV 4K model.
I had been using the frame-rate matching feature in the 11.3 beta releases prior to this, and had been quite happy with it’s function. This is one of the features that enthusiasts had been asking for, on a variety of platforms, for a very long time. Amazon’s Fire TV added development settings to change the frame rate a couple years ago, but that never translated to anything that consumers saw. Perhaps it was part of an effort by Timothy Twerdahl, the former head of Amazon’s Fire TV unit that Apple hired to lead the Apple TV team over a year ago, and he’s the reason Apple has added it? Whatever the source of the change is, I’m happy that it has changed.
11.3 also brings improvements to the mode switching to match HDR or SDR content, as well as support for some Sony HDR TV’s that had some issues with the Apple TV prior to this. Josh Centers, at TidBits, detailed some of the issues he had with his Sony TV and Apple TV 4K prior to 11.3’s release. I had initially planned on buying a fancy LG OLED HDR TV and Apple TV 4K, but I’m not really on that kind of upgrade cycle at the moment. Particularly, in light of the inconsistent availability of titles, as noted by Jason Snell here. I’m happy that they’re improving that support for when I do eventually move to it, and for customers who have been buying those TV sets.
I’m less thrilled with the 11.3 onboarding screens that pepper the interface experience now. There isn’t a series of screens you can go through and dismiss, instead they wait to spring on you when you open certain things, or activate certain functions. It’s pretty disruptive to what you’re trying to do since the organic reveal of the completely useless information isn’t in line with what you thought would happen when you were navigating. This also seems to produce some glitches that survived the 11.3 beta and have made their way into the final release. Ask Siri to play something and you might see a flash of an onboarding screen for TV the app, which has an onboarding screen you may not have dismissed yet, and it bounces to black and on to what you had asked to play. You haven’t interacted with that screen, it’s just in the chain of events that got you to the video you’re watching. It’s a little peculiar. One graphical glitch I’ve experienced in the final release is that when I asked Siri for the TV show “Atlanta”, and I selected buying it from the iTunes Store, I was dumped to a black screen. The TV Shows interface was a completely black screen that needed to be force quit. I couldn’t ascertain if the black screen was a failure of some onboarding screen to trigger, or if the glitch was unrelated, since like many tvOS glitches I haven’t been able to reproduce it. Delightful.
Another annoying thing is that 11.3 is still missing AirPlay 2 audio. AirPlay (1) is not always reliable, and lacked modern audio playback features. AirPlay 2 was announced June 5th at WWDC last year to fix that. There’s a WWDC video on AirPlay 2. It is unlikely that there will be an Apple event between April 1st and Apple’s 2018 WWDC event, so it seems like AirPlay 2 will have been announced without a shipping version a full year in advance of when it should have been. Since I don’t desire more glitches in my devices, I’m not going to complain that something that isn’t ready should have shipped, but I will complain that something that isn’t ready shouldn’t have such prominent placement and be touted as part of upcoming products.
There are some audio interface changes though, like dragging down to reveal access to a menu to let you select a HomePod for audio output for your movie or TV show, that you’re watching on your Apple TV. There are three drawbacks for that though.
- Swiping down on the remote doesn’t work so well because that’s where the hole for the microphone is, so my thumb doesn’t smoothly glide over the area and the menu doesn’t always appear. Instead it usually triggers a tap to pause the video.
- The HomePod is a lousy TV speaker. I had theorized that it would be, and fortunately my friend Marko brought one over to my place to confirm my suspicions. This could be different with multiple HomePods using AirPlay 2 for stereo output, but I find that expensive idea based on vaporware unappealing.
- BlueTooth audio devices, and even “special sauce” W1 devices like my Beats X earbuds, don’t appear in that little menu, even if the devices are powered on, unless I go all the way to Settings, and select them there, even though they are visible as an option in Settings. It would be great if I didn’t have to go to Settings to use my earbuds, which I had assumed was the whole point of this quick menu.
Also every time iOS upgrades I have to reset the behavior of the home button, to go to Home instead of TV the app which is mostly useless with the array of services I do/don’t have. Totes adorbs.
While I know people might want to point out that I should just be grateful for the new features that Apple is adding to a product from 2015 when it isn’t the flagship device, and I am grateful for frame-rate matching, it’s not like Apple’s doing that just for me. It’s because they still sell this product from 2015 on store shelves for $150 alongside the flagship.