Several years back, I gushed about the Apple TV.
Well, not gushed, exactly. But I definitely went on about how much I really liked the device, but had serious reservations about its role and efficacy in the enterprise, or in the classroom.
A few years later down the road, how do I feel?
Well – some things have improved significantly with the Apple TV, some things have not, and some things leave me shaking my head in frustration.
Apple TV has only one video / audio output port, and that is HDMI. This is not a con, in and of itself.
So, why then, do I place this at the top of my “ugly” list?
Because their HDMI implementation is so damned picky. Don’t have the “right” HDMI cable? No picture. Your HDMI device doesn’t “negotiate” its signal the way the Apple TV “likes?” No picture. Using a splitter or adapter to convert the Apple TV’s HDMI output to DVI or VGA? Some work; others don’t.
If you have a Gen 2 or Gen 3 Apple TV, odds are you have less problems with this particular gripe. However, if you are in the throes of rolling out Gen 4s (which we are), more likely than not you will have an issue working with legacy implementations, like Smart Boards and Projectors. We certainly are, and are staring down the prospect of having to run new HDMI cables in place of / addition to our legacy VGA cable runs to our projectors. That, or continue to search for an HDMI-to-VGA adapter that will work with our systems. So far, we’re still looking.
The other “ugly” thing? A USB-C cable (not included) is the only way to connect directly to the device for configuration. Now, for the vast majority of tasks, you don’t need to connect a USB-C cable. However, we use Enterprise Authentication and RADIUS to connect to our wireless network, so we needed a USB-C cable in order to use Apple Configurator.
But, if you go to an Apple Store, you will find that (a) they don’t make a USB-C cable, and (b) they usually don’t stock them. I tried three Apple Stores in NYC (and one in Jersey). Look: if you’re going to support an emerging standard, support it. We wound up buying one from Amazon, but you should take care – because not all USB-C cables are created equally; some shoddy cables have bricked the PCs to which they have been connected.
The software for the Gen 2 and Gen 3 Apple TVs would allow you to “hide” elements (apps) from the main menu – very good. Further, you could hide poster art for Movies, TV shows, and Music from the main menu, which is a must for use in environments like Elementary and Middle Schools, where you don’t necessarily wish to display risqué poster art before impressionable young minds.
Gen 4 Apple TVs don’t come pre-installed with Apps; rather, you install apps from the App Store – an improvement.
However, what Apple Giveth, Apple Taketh Away. You can no longer hide Movie Posters (or any App Preview Art) if it is available on the menu; and you can’t remove Apple Movies, Apple TV Shows, or any of the Apple preloaded apps.
The only workaround – for now – is to move Movies and TV shows to the second row of the main menu, so that at least the previews don’t pop up the very moment you start the device.
… And, The Beautiful
There is much to really like in the Gen 4 devices:
- The new remote. Rechargeable, track pad, Siri. While text input is still no joy, compared to the old Apple TV remotes, this is a huge step forward.
- App Store for the Apple TV. As I mentioned above, there are only a handful of pre-loaded Apple apps (Movies, TV Shows, Settings, App Store). All other apps – YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc. – are loaded through the App Store.
- BEAUTIFUL animated screen savers.
- The ability to load profiles Over the Air (OTA). Remember where I complained above about the lack of an included USB-C cable? Well, the ability to load profiles (usually used to preload network credentials, MDM certificates, and restrictions) over the air means that you have one less reason to connect directly to the device, or even to use Apple Configurator at all.
On Balance – Better – But Not Perfect
On balance, the Gen 4 Apple TVs are an amazing consumer device. For the classroom, they still have some tweaking to do to make them a great solution, out of the box.
That said, in the classroom and in the Enterprise, they can work very well.
But you should be prepared to expect curveballs and allocate your time for implementation and deployment appropriately.
I’d love to hear your experiences / war stories. Hit me back in the comments below.