Apple TV (3rd generation) review - a bargain at just £59
Video outputs: HDMI 1.3, Networking: 802.11n (dual-band), 10/100 Ethernet, Dimensions: 23x98x98mm, Streaming formats: AirPlay, Internet streaming services: Netflix, Sky Sports NowTV, YouTube, plus others via apps
We first reviewed the then-new Apple TV (3rd generation) back in 2012. Since then the software and available services have changed massively, effectively making it a completely new product. Throw in the recent price drop to £59 (down from £99 at launch) and we thought it was past time that we revisited this product.
It's worth making it clear that this isn't the latest Apple TV anymore, with it being superseded by the far more powerful Apple TV (4th generation) last year. The new device is far more flexible with a proper app store that lets you add apps you want from a huge range, including games. That said the 3rd gen device covered here has all the basics covered, such as Netflix and AirPlay.
In addition, the new device will set you back a fairly hefty £129, which is more than double the price of the 3rd gen device at £59. Even then, this isn't the cheapest media streamer you'll find. The Google Chromecast is only £29 cheaper, but it requires a smartphone, tablet or computer to get any content to play on it; the Apple TV is a standalone streamer, so you won't have to reach for your phone every time you want to pause your programme. We’ve gone into more detail on the two streamers in our Apple TV vs Chromecast article.
Build quality, hardware and size
Despite being a few years old, the Apple TV 3rd gen is just as gorgeous today as it was when it launched. Measuring 100mm square and sitting 23mm high, it’s a tiny little box that you’ll have no problems placing discretely next to a TV.
Round the back there are all of the ports that you could possibly need with a 10/100Mbit/s Ethernet port, HDMI and optical S/PDIF outputs. There’s also a micro-USB port in the rear, although this is just listed as being for diagnostics.
Most people won’t need to use the Ethernet port, as the Apple TV also has dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, so it can connect to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.
Apple hasn’t needed to change the hardware inside the Apple TV since launch, as it’s perfectly capable of dealing with the simple interface and playing Full HD (1,920x1,080) video. In fact, the only reason to change the hardware would be to support 4K, but given the general lack of content and the slow uptake of TVs, there was little need.
Setup and control
The Apple TV is controlled via the incredibly simple remote. Made from aluminium with responsive controls, it’s one of the best remotes you can get. It has a four-way cursor pad for navigating through menus; a central Select button; a Menu button and Play/Pause. The Menu button also navigates back through menus, while the cursor pad is used to rewind and fast-forward through content. There’s not even a power button here, as the Apple TV powers down automatically when it’s not in use (you can send it to sleep manually using the Settings menu); any key will wake it.
Apple also has the Remote app for iPhone and iPad, which lets you control your Apple TV from your phone or tablet. The advantages of the app are that it works over Wi-Fi, so you don’t need line of sight, which you do with the IR remote, and when you search for content you can use the iOS on-screen keyboard to type faster.
Setting the Apple TV up couldn’t be easier. You just plug in the soft-touch power cable (it powers on automatically) and hook it up to your TV via HDMI. Apple doesn’t provide an HDMI cable in the box, although it sells a soft-touch model that matches the power cable, if you really care about that kind of thing; any cheap cable will do, as expensive HDMI cables do not make a difference. The first screen you see prompts you to set up your network and enter your Apple ID and password, after which you’re taken to the home screen.
Apple TV has one of the simplest interfaces of any media streamer and the appearance hasn’t really changed since launch. On the home screen you get large icons for all of the available services, so navigating to the one you want is incredibly easy. The top row contains Apple services (more on these later) and is locked, but you can hold down the Select button on the remote to re-order the other services, placing the ones you use most higher up the list.
Apple TV runs a version of iOS, which has been perfectly optimised. It’s smooth, never slows down and shows other people how it really should be done. Even a few years on, there’s nothing that quite comes as close to the simplicity and slickness of this interface.