AppleTVSept15Apple still didn’t materialize a long-rumored iOS-based television set at a much-hyped press conference Wednesday, but the company didn’t take its eye off of the big screen. Instead it unveiled a next generation Apple TV set-top-box, bringing more iPhone-like functionality to the living-room screen, including greater power and speed, a redesigned user interface, Siri voice commands and searches, and its broadest range of apps and games.

Not discussed for the new TV-add-on product, however, was the ability to stream 4K Ultra HD (to say nothing of 4K with high dynamic range), even though 4K video capture was a key new element added to Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6SPlus smartphones announced at the same press conference.

More on Apple’s newest Apple TV box after the jump.

The new Apple TV will go on sale in November in two configurations: a 32GB version for $149 and a 64GB version for $199. The current Apple TV will remain in the lineup at a $62.10 street retail.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the new device was optimized to take advantage of the growing volume of quality television programs. The new and improved Apple TV is designed to help users more easily find that content and interactively engage with it using a new remote control and in addition to various iOS devices.

“We believe the future of television is apps,” Cook revealed at the company’s live-streamed press conference from San Francisco. These apps are enabling people to search for what they want to watch, when and where they want to watch it and interact with it “in powerful new ways,” he continued.

One of those ways is by expanding the device’s video gaming capability, which is enabled by a new OS (called tvOS) and a more powerful 64-bit A8 chip, which speeds up device interaction. The unit also includes the latest 802.11ac wireless technology, and a remote with built-in gyroscope and accelerometer. It wirelessly connects to the device via Bluetooth 4.0, eliminating the need to point it at the screen  to execute commands.  The remote, with a glass-top surface that makes swiping on the touch control slick and quick, enables more console-like game play using motion and gestures.

The system will be equipped with a built-in app store, through which Apple is encouraging third-party developers to create a wide range of television-based experiences, from couch shopping to new and improved Netflix and HBO applications. But, no mention was made of Apple’s internet TV subscription service, which is expected to arrive sometime in the next year.

The inclusion of Siri gives the devices a greater iPhone feel and enables users to command it to search for programs by a favorite actor, or theme in order to quickly call up a list of options ready for immediate playback. Unlike the system that exists today, where users have to search and open every app to find relevant content, Siri has been designed to deeply search though content apps and offer multiple options on a single screen.

Siri will also make content suggestions when fed questions like, “what’s good to watch with kids.”

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Touch interaction through the remote makes it easy to move through shows on screen to find selections. Once a streaming program begins, users can click and swipe to advance to a particular moment in the program and then skip backward several seconds.

The touch-screen enabled Apple to eliminate many buttons and menus, making it easier to use the device and watch TV.

Cook said users will also have the ability to personalize apps to make the TV experience “better than ever before.”

As with previous versions, Apple TV will also offer access to photos and music, with Apple Music.

As for the new gaming capability, Apple point to gaming developer Hipster Whale, which showed the exclusive version of its “Crossy Road” for Apple TV, offering multi-player gaming that lets anyone with an iPhone or iPad jump into the action for cooperative or competitive play.

In addition, Apple said the Disney “Infinity” game, previously only available on consoles, will be coming to Apple TV, as will Harmonics’ (Rock Band) BeatSports for AppleTV, which uses hand motion through the remote to swing, swipe, tap and click in time with music.

Not to be out done, Major League Baseball revealed it will offer baseball fans with the new Apple TV “a fantastic way to follow all the action.” The MLB app will provide schedules with highlights right up front in Full HD 60fps, and one-click access to live data with sync and pitch tracking, a split screen to watch two games at one time, and the ability to zoom in to watch big play.

Meanwhile, e-commerce retailer Gilt revealed it has developed an app for the Apple TV that will allow shopping for the latest fashions from the comfort of the home. Gilt said it provides discounts of up to 70 percent off using a virtual fashion show that makes shopping “cool, faster and more exciting.”

Apple said it will make the Apple TV API available to developers to create a wide range of apps, like those on the iPhone, and the new OS will allow cross-platform use.

By Greg Tarr

 

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