The television in my bedroom does not have a cable connection. For over a year, I’ve solely relied on Google’s Rs. 3,000 Chromecast and my old, non-smart LCD TV to consume all the content I desire. The Chromecast is great for playing YouTube videos, watch pictures taken from your phone on the big screen, heck we even use it to stream presentations in the office. All that for Rs. 3,000 is a steal. But I recently spent about four times that amount on an Apple TV 4th Generation, and I can tell you the return on investment is four times as much. Here’s how using the Apple TV to do the same thing that I used to do using the Chromecast, is much, much better.
1) Physical Remote, Instant Control
One reason why the Chromecast is so cheap is because you’re expected to use your phone as a remote control. Say you want to play a YouTube video, you have to open up the YouTube app on your smartphone like you normally would and choose a video. Once the video starts playing, provided your Chromecast and phone are on the same WiFi connection, a ‘Cast’ button appears on the top, using which the video starts playing on the TV, and your smartphone screen now shows the control buttons in place of the video.
Now guess what happens when you get a call on your smartphone. Because the incoming call screens on most smartphones tend to freeze out the interface, you can’t do much about that video playing on the TV. All you can do is either the cut the call, or take it and then ask the person to hold as you try to multitask back to the YouTube app to pause the video.
This has been one of the most harrowing experiences of using a Chromecast that thankfully is solved for me with the Apple TV 4th Gen. Because of the bundled remote with dedicated play/pause and volume buttons, there’s now an easy way to control internet media the way you would when you’re say, playing a DVD via a DVD player.
Not just that, having a remote with physical buttons that are perceptible by touch means you don’t have to look down at your phone when you want to do simple things like scrub the video ahead a little. Plus, controlling anything via the Chromecast had this half-second delay, which the Apple TV doesn’t have makes a big difference.
Side Note: Newer Chromecast firmware updates have enabled HDMI-CEC support. Meaning if your TV is HDMI-CEC compatible, the TV remote can control the playback of media playing via the Chromecast. But reportedly, this has been an inconsistent experience, i.e it doesn’t work with all apps and all TVs.
2) A True Gaming Console
The Chromecast is an inexpensive device because it has modest hardware that’s good enough to ‘cast’ audio-visual content in upto 1080p HD resolution. The Apple TV 4th Gen on the other hand has the same hardware of last year’s iPhone 6 (i.e Apple A8 chip) with 2GB of RAM (Chromecast has 512MB). It also has 32GB or 64GB of on-board storage. This enables the Apple TV to run high-end, full-fledged apps and games like iOS devices do. All this, paired with the physical remote that also has motion sensors, and you’ve got yourself a potent gaming console. I’ve had a great time playing Asphalt 8 on the big screen, or even a game of tennis like I would on a Nintendo Wii, using the Apple TV Remote.
The Chromecast too has a selection of games but they’re more, shall we say, simple? Sure, you could technically play on the big screen using screen mirroring, but the laggy experience leaves a lot to be desired, especially when playing games like Asphalt 8, that require an immediate response time. And god forbid if you’re mirroring a high-end game on a budget Android phone.
Bonus: Apple TV also officially supports third party Bluetooth game controllers. Meaning you can play all games with more precise control with controllers like this one.
3) Choice of Audio Source
Apple TV 4th Gen has Bluetooth, so you can pair an audio device wirelessly to route the audio of whatever is playing on the TV. My old TV doesn’t have Bluetooth, meaning I had no chance of using a pair of bluetooth headphones for private listening when using the Chromecast. Now, when the Bluetooth audio device is turned on and in range, it automatically pairs to the Apple TV and starts playing the audio via that.
4) One Remote Control
The Apple TV is able to read and store the IR codes of your TV remote’s volume controls. Once configured, using the volume buttons on the Apple Remote changes the volume on your TV directly. This is immensely helpful as you don’t have to keep juggling between different remotes and tweak different volume controls. Also, considering every video you play will have a different default volume level, a single point of control comes in handy. Newer TVs that are HDMI-CEC compatible also can turn on and off directly with the Apple TV Remote, so there’s no need to keep the TV remote handy at all.
Although not yet compatible with Apple TVs configured with an Indian account, Siri holds the potential for radically changing how we interface with the TV (and it’s already plenty easy with the touch remote). Where available, you can ask Siri to show you movies by their title, the people behind it (“show me all movies by Christopher Nolan”), or any other way you please (“show me all movies released in 2012”). You can even control playback, by say asking her to “forward the video by 2 minutes” or saying “what did he/she just say?” to rewind.
I think I’ll rest my case — if you want to break away from the handcuffs of preprogrammed television, the Apple TV 4th Gen is the best experience available, with a lot of potential that remains to be tapped with future software updates and services like Netflix, that are coming to India soon.