At this point, you’ve probably read a million reviews of the new Apple TV. I know I have. I’ve read about it, listened to multiple podcasts about it, and watched numerous videos. So, you’re probably asking yourself by now:
“Why do I need to read yet another review?”
Well, dear reader, there is a huge problem with most other Apple TV reviews out there. Almost every single one of them is a US-based review, which mainly seem to focus on services and functionality that are only available in the States.
But here’s the thing — Apple products are indeed available outside the US. Shocking, I know. So instead of re-iterating some of the things that have already been covered, I’m going to focus my attention of what it’s like using using the new Apple TV not only outside of the United States, but outside of mainland Europe as well.
You see, I’m no usual foreign correspondent. I’m not based in the UK, nor Europe at all.
I’m located in New Zealand — and I’m here to share with you my tale of woe…
I got the new Apple TV as soon as it became available online (we don’t have physical Apple Stores in New Zealand). It turned up, beautifully packaged as only Apple can do, near the end of October.
First things first, I love the redesigned interface. I have the third-generation Apple TV now relegated to the bedroom. The looks are light-years ahead, far more in keeping with current iterations of iOS and OS X. The initial set-up was a breeze, and I had absolutely no issues at all using my iPhone 6 Plus to expedite the process. It was seamless, and a much better experience compared to the 3rd-gen set-up.
That’s where the improvements ended for me.
Siri is not yet available in New Zealand. Not really that surprising mind you, as we didn’t get Siri on iOS initially either. Honestly, we’re a tiny bunch of islands at the arse-end of the Pacific (seriously, next stop from us is Antarctica), with a population just over 4 million. We’re just not high up on the list when it comes to market-based priorities.
Talk to us about sheep though, or dairy products, and we’re your people. Not hobbits mind you. We wiped those guys out the last time Peter Jackson left the country. Have they not heard of shoes? Seriously, unhygienic.
And, as Siri will attest, the Australian accent and the New Zealand accent are quite different, so much so that Australian Siri has big issues understanding us. And even still today, New Zealand Siri takes someone calling my name, “Hey, Sarah!”, as an occasion to activate herself.
Ok, I get it, we can’t have Siri yet. Understood. But that keyboard…
Us New Zealanders are forced to use that wonderful 25-character line of text to spell out anything-and-everything we want — including basic search. Pressing the Siri button on the remote just brings up that ever-so-joyous line that has you swiping left and right on your remote as though it’s some damned Olympic sport.
You lot in that other hemisphere just have to deal with the text-based input when you’re setting apps up. For us it hangs around like someone the cat has dragged in. It’s horrible.
If Apple brought back the grid-like approach of the 3rd-gen input arrangement, they’d be virtually indistinguishable for us.
But wait, there’s more!
Let me introduce you to the wonder that is modern international distribution rights for television show content.
We have never had TV shows available in iTunes in New Zealand. Forget Amazon Prime, that’s not even remotely here yet, with no hint of arrival. And Hulu is just a pipe-dream. The only visual content we can purchase on iTunes are films. And days or weeks behind the US. Ant-Man just became available to rent on the 2nd of December here in NZ via iTunes. If you wanted to rent that, of course …
There is literally no way to legally purchase & download TV shows online in New Zealand. None.
If we want to do this legally, we actually have to purchase physical DVDs or Blue-Rays, like animals.
And up to 2015, our options for TV streaming weren’t much better. We didn’t have Netflix until a few months ago, and as such, the dominant media orgs here had no real motivation to produce. What they did offer on-demand was extremely limited, and the majority, if not all, were standard-definition.
Things have improved slightly since the arrival of Netflix, but the streaming service of the biggest media organisation in the country; Sky, is still standard definition only, for instance.
And it gets worse…
Netflix New Zealand can’t broadcast House of Cards. That’s right, they can’t broadcast their OWN SHOW. The reason for this is that they had previously licensed distribution rights to one of the broadcast TV networks here. So because this network effectively owns it, they control how it is distributed. This gets to the core of the problem regarding international distribution rights.
International media companies will bid and win the option to show US television shows internationally. But, due to the way international media law works, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to see it. If a multi-jurisdiction company owns the rights, but decides not to distribute it in your area, another company can’t show it, because legally the first company owns the rights for your area. Confused yet?
Add in the fact that you have loads of these media distribution companies, with varying jurisdictions, you can see how it gets hella-complicated, hella-fast.
This isn’t really Apple’s fault though. This is just the media landscape us smaller countries live in, a combination of legacy international laws not dealing with a 21st century media context, and no incentive for anyone to really do anything about it.
The logical outcome, as you’ve probably guessed, is that illegal downloading of TV shows is pretty prevalent in New Zealand. And if you’re technically savvy enough, location blocking via VPN or DNS arrangements affords you the ability to pay & subscribe to services like Netflix or Hulu as a US subscriber. This is a bit of a legal grey-area, as technically the individuals involved are paying for these services, and by doing so, they circumvent international media distribution laws.
What this means is that many of the video streaming services that you’re used to in the US, and that are gradually coming to the new Apple TV, simply aren’t available to us here, and won’t be anytime in the near future. Cord-cutting is still a jury-rigged affair here.
This extends to services like Showtime & HBO, which while available as channels via a single monopolistic satellite television provider here in New Zealand (you guessed it, Sky), their apps aren’t, because their television programmes are licensed to Sky, and so are only available via Sky’s streaming service, which isn’t very good, and not available yet via the Apple TV.
Even if we had the Showtime & HBO apps available for download on the new Apple TV in New Zealand, there would be no cable provider to sign in through, and signing up for the streaming-only service isn’t available here (unless, of course, you use one of those VPN/DNS options).
Aside from Plex, there is currently a grand total of ONE additional mainstream broadcast streaming service available on the new Apple TV that isn’t available in older models. And that’s a streaming service that you could AirPlay from your Apple device to an Apple TV anyway.
That means there is effectively zero difference between the third and fourth generation Apple TV in terms of video streaming.
Not Apple’s fault, but all the same, it’s highly frustrating.
Gaming is a different story. There’s tons available in the tvOS App Store, and I suspect the games available here in New Zealand aren’t too different from the games available in the US. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a gamer.
As to the bothersome noise regarding the Apple TV not supporting 4K, we don’t even have normal video streaming services sorted out here, so can you possibly guess how much I care about the lack of 4K? Talk to me when piracy isn’t forced as a mainstream media option here.
So, why did I purchase the new Apple TV to begin with?
To put no finer point on it; the future.
Simply, and solely, due to the tvOS App Store, the fourth generation Apple TV can only get better over time, and it will.
We’ve all heard the rumours of Apple getting the US networks together to be able to provide the first real comprehensive streaming service online, and how that’s been delayed. And delayed again. While that’s moot & trivial for us over here, it’s an academic exercise of interest to see if it could be done.
Because if a company with as much leverage as Apple can’t eventually pull this off in the US, they certainly won’t be able to deal with international media distribution rights.
Even so, what Apple has built thus far is a mere possibility. If the future of TV is indeed apps, and all the amazing flexibility they provide, then maybe, just maybe, what we are seeing is a glimpse of that future, when location really won’t matter anymore.
And that’s a future I can get behind.