Archive for the ‘AppleTV’ Category

The Apple TV 4K Device is a Deeply Flawed and Frustrating Product… for Me

Pictures are so broken on Apple TV

About 12 years ago, in 2006, I had what at the time felt like the biggest technological change in my life. I switched from a PC to my first MacBook Pro. Switching computer operating systems at the time seemed like a massive chasm to overcome, but I did it and I’m glad I did. My main motivation was that I was tired of all of the errors that I was getting from PCs and all my friends with Macs just kept saying pretty much the exact same thing, “it just works.” After hearing that enough I broke down and made a decision that it was time for a change.

Over the last decade, that first decision has brought dozens of new Apple products into my life. Every three years or so I’d upgrade MacBook Pros. I bought a Mac Mini for the kitchen which I upgraded to a nicer iMac latter. I bought a high end iMac to edit my photos on for my home office. I bought a Cinema Display as a second monitor. I spent the night in line overnight to buy the very first iPhone. I bought the iPhone 3g, the iPhone 4, 5, 6s and most recently the 10. I’ve bought iPads, MacBook Pros and iPhones for my wife and kids. I always buy Apple Care. Apple iCloud storage, movies, tv shows, airpods, the list goes on and on.

I haven’t added it all up yet, but I’d say over the past decade I’ve easily spent tens of thousands of dollars on Apple products.

I feel like at some point I’ve just about purchased every product as a good Apple consumer is supposed to… except maybe the watch. The watch feels stupid to me. If I want to know what time it is I can just look at my phone. I haven’t worn a watch in 20 years. I don’t need an uncomfortable thing strapped to my hand and my health is good enough that I don’t need to constantly run ECGs or have someone notified if I fall down and can’t get back up (which hasn’t happened once yet in the 50+ years I’ve been on the planet).

Unfortunately for me though, it’s the Apple TV which I’ve always been the most excited about and which has also unfortunately frustrated me more than any Apple other gadget I’ve ever owned. I’ve bought every version of the Apple TV as they’ve been released dutifully. Giving Apple my hard earned money for the promise of something great, the ability to watch my photos in my living room — and it’s been a completely frustrating experience along the way.

I’m not sure exactly why I’m writing this blog post about Apple TV. I haven’t blogged in a while. In part it’s probably cathartic for me. In part I feel like I’m giving up on photos tonight and hope that maybe someday someone will Google one of my error codes and have a better answer. Maybe someone will read it and have some suggestion that I haven’t considered. Maybe someone will suggest a better way to watch photos on a TV.

My most recent problem revolves around the new Apple 4k TV. Of the six Apple TVs in my house I have two connected to Vizio 4k TVs. Of course I upgraded to the 4k Apple TV because what’s the point of having a 4k TV without a 4k device.

For the most part over the life of the AppleTV product photos have been frustrating. I have a large library of images that I want to play on my Apple TVs. I use home sharing and point my iTunes to a folder of images and ask for my Apple TVs to stream those images. (File >> Home Sharing >> Choose Photos to Share with Apple TV…) Frequently my AppleTVs lose their connections to my iTunes library and the only way to get the photos to play again is to quit iTunes and relaunch it. I frequently would have to restart the Apple TVs. The Apple TV in the living would be working but then the one in the attic couldn’t connect. The one in the attic would work but then the one in the bedroom wouldn’t connect. It was a constant exercise of frustration. I set all of the Apple TVs to update automatically and I’d constantly check for updates to apply them manually.

About a year ago I spent several weeks working with Apple Engineers. They sent these trace packet things to me by email and I’d do different things, run the logging software and send them log files. After several weeks and many log files I did get an answer back about a year ago that Apple engineers had found a problem related to my Apple TVs constantly disconnecting from home sharing and that a fix would be coming. They couldn’t tell me when but said that it was an issue on their end and to keep checking for updates. So at least I wasn’t totally crazy and at least there was hope… kind of?

Although this was a frustrating way to use my AppleTV, the payoff of being able to relax on the couch and watch my life’s work, my photos that I love so much, while enjoying a glass of wine was such a high payoff that I put up with it… until, unfortunately now, with the latest dreaded TVOS12 update.

Last week I updated all of my Apple TVs to TVOS12. On my non-4k Apple TVs, it’s the same sad, frustrating experience of having to restart Apple TVs, restart, my iMac, restart iTunes, constantly to get them to work. But when they do work it will play my photos for hours. Unfortunately on the two 4k Apple TVs photos crash 100% of the time. Usually within 10 seconds, but sometimes I can get them to play for 20 seconds or 45 seconds or maybe even 2 minutes before it crashes. But they crash 100% of the time. I’ve spent at least 20 hours trying to fix my photos over the past week (including a good 3 hour phone call last night with an Apple Care tech) but nothing seems to work.

If I try to stream photos on my iMac to my 4K Apple TVs the photos crash. If I try to stream photos on my MacBook Pro to my 4k Apple TVs the photos crash. If I try to stream photos on my home network to the 4k AppleTVs the photos crash. If I create a hotspot with my iPhone with just my MacBook Pro and one 4k Apple TV photos crash.

If instead of pointing home sharing to a folder, I import all the photos into Apple’s Photos app on my iMac (I hate the Apple Photos App on my iMac) and share from there instead still photos crash.

Every time after the photos crash there is a brief error message on the screen for about 1 second that reads “No iTunes libraries available. Home Sharing lets you stream content from your computer’s iTunes library to your Apple TV. To access your iTunes library, turn on Home Sharing on your computer and use the Apple ID. Retry.”

That message disappears and brings me right back to the main home sharing page on the Apple TV.

I’ve made sure that the photos that I want to share are all on the internal hard drives of the devices I’m trying to stream. I even upgraded yesterday to the new Apple OS Mojave, in the hopes that this might fix things. I’ve turned my Comcast router on and off.

The bottom line is there is simply nothing that I can do to make photos work on my 4k Apple TVs since updating to TVOS 12. And, of course, Apple will not allow you to roll your OS on your Apple TV back to a previous version so there is no getting out of TVOS 12 hell. I did a reset of the entire device back to factory settings, but instead of resetting it back to the factory setting from when I bought it. It reset it back to the factory settings for TVOS 12.

The Apple Tech I spent hours on the phone with yesterday suggested that I take my Macbook Pro and my 4k AppleTV into the Apple store and set an appointment to show them there. I had an appointment this afternoon at 2pm to do just that, but after only getting three hours of sleep last night trying to troubleshoot my Apple TV I just couldn’t go through with it today. It’s just too much, too soon.

In the meantime it looks as though I wasted $200 each on some useless Apple hockey pucks, but maybe at some point I’ll regain the strength to try again, or maybe someday, somewhere I’ll find an answer on how to make these devices stream photos for me again.

Or maybe like I ditched Windows back in 2006, it’s now time to ditch Apple again and maybe go find something that you know, “just works.”

Needless to say, your 4k AppleTV may work flawlessly and perfectly for you. This is my personal experience though and it’s my blog and this is what the experience has been like for me.

I made a video of this problem here. If anyone does have any constructive advice I’d love to hear it. Thanks.

Update, October 7, 2018, I am still struggling with photos not working on the Apple TV and trying to get them to perform consistently. One thing I have found that helps, at least temporarily is to turn off home sharing on the Apple TV unit. Next turn home sharing back on. Next reboot the Apple TV. Next try to launch photos. Typically it fails here and crashes. Keep trying to launch photos until it works. It may take 4 or 5 times. I’ve found a few times now that if I repeat that process in various forms photos will not crash immediately.

Update, October 14, 2018, I am still finding photos crashing all of the time. I have tried a new sequence though that will sometimes get photos playing for a few hours. Step 1: log out of iCloud on the Apple TV. Step 2: Log out of iTunes on the Apple TV. Step 3: Log out of Home Sharing on the Apple TV. Step 4. Restart the Apple TV. Step 5. Turn on iCloud (enter password). Step 6: Turn on iTunes/App Store (enter password). Step 7. Turn on Home Sharing (enter password). Step 8 (important): Restart the Apple TV again. Step 9. Launch photos.

I find that if I do that sequence photos do not crash immediately. It is only a matter of time before they crash again but it can sometimes last several hours.

Thoughts on YouTube TV

YouTubeTV

I’m currently on day 3 of my 7-day free trial with YouTube TV and I’m very torn about what to do and if I should continue it or not. I think that the only way to justify the $35/month charge is if I actually use it to cut the cord with Comcast for my TV content.

Pros

1. I *LOVE* that YouTube TV is now available on Apple TV. This is my biggest beef with Comcast. Because Comcast wants to sell you dumb cable boxes at $10/month on all your TVs, they make using Apple TV very difficult. Not only does Comcast not have a TV app for Apple TV (even though they falsely advertise watch TV anywhere at anytime) but they make you reauthenticate over and over again on all the individual content apps from people like CNN, CNBC, HBO, Showtime, etc. Having to reauthenticate over and over and over again is a huge pain. At present I’ve got 7 Apple TVs in my home and it would be nice to watch live tv on every one of them.

2. I could get rid of the ugly Comcast box that sits in my living room and I would also no longer need to toggle between inputs on that TV when using it. I would be able to get rid of one more remote control.

3. I would save money (I think?) I’m not so sure on this one just yet. I’m currently paying Comcast around $328/month for their triple play service. When I called them about cancelling TV they said they’d still charge me $65 for highspeed internet (up to 250MB) another $50 for unlimited usage, another $99 for the upgrade to 1 gig service (which has never really been at 1 gig, usually at 500MB to 800MB at best), and another $44 for phone with long distance (I’ve wanted to cancel the house phone for years but can’t sell this idea to the wife yet). So that’s $258/month before all the fees and extras, so $70 less — but once you add in all those miscelaneous fees and Showtime and HBO, I might be pretty much already at where I’m at today in terms of cost. I need to get the fine tip pencil out and do the exact math, but I’m not sure the savings would be as much as I’d hope for. I wish Google Fiber or somebody else would offer service in my area (Oakland, CA) in order to compete with Comcast, but at present it seems that Comcast is the only high speed provider in my area. ATT Uverse offers service but at only 50MB that speed is too slow for me.

4. Skipping commercials with the app on AppleTV using YouTubeTV seems easier than skipping them with the Comcast remote.

5. I like the YouTube TV interface better than the Comcast interface. I like that I don’t have a bunch of stupid channels getting in my way in the guide. Comcast won’t let you hide channels in the guide and it’s always seemed dumb to me that I’m constantly having to navigate around shopping channels, foreign language channels, unsubscribed pay channels, etc, that I’ll never use. While I haven’t used the app on my phone or laptop much I suspect that Google’s nice clean interface is better there too.

6. I like that YouTubeTV offers me an unlimited DVR.

7. YouTubeTV has the Warriors which I’d want on my TV package here in the Bay Area.

8. Up to 6 people in my family can use it and with four kids our family has exactly 6.

9. I feel much more favorably towards Google than Comcast generally speaking. Google seems to care more about their users than Comcast does and if given the choice I’d rather my money go to Google than Comcast. I’d love to be able to stick it to Comcast.

Cons

1. The biggest con (and frankly probably a deal breaker for me) is that I’ve read that YouTube TV will replace your DVR’d shows after a few days with on demand versions that don’t let you skip commercials on that version. Other than live sports, CNBC and some live news, I simply refuse to watch commercials. If this is true and my DVR’d content only lasted a few days per show, this would unfortunately probably kill the deal for me. I haven’t confirmed this myself yet, but I’ve read this in other places and in comments on blogs about YouTube TV.

2. I think YouTube TV broadcasts in 720p. AppleTV now has 4k capability. I’m blown away at how good some of Netflix 4k content looks and sounds on my 4k TV. I’m not sure what Comcast broadcasts in but on some of the content it feels like the Comcast version still looks a little better than the YouTubeTV version.

3. While YouTube TV does have a pretty strong lineup (all the major networks, strong sports, AMC, FX, etc.) it is missing CNN. I’m a little bit of a cable news junkie and would worry only being able to watch Fox News each night might move me too far to the right. Of course since every single night these days over and over again CNN is just Trump/Russia on repeat, I might not miss it so much after all. 😉

There are some other minor channels like TNT, Spike, etc. that I could live without but which are nice to have from time to time. Comcast has way more networks (most that I never watch, but once in a blue moon I just might).

4. YouTube TV still doesn’t exempt you from ads on YouTube. YouTube has a paid service called YouTube Red that lets you skip ads on YouTube. It sort of feels to me like this should be bundled in for free when you are paying $35/month.

5. I think I like Comcast’s voice controls better. If I say “CNBC” into my Comcast remote it just smartly tunes the TV to CNBC. With the Apple TV it seems like even when in YouTube TV if I try and use Siri on the remote it doesn’t limit it to YouTube TV. And when I say CNBC into my Apple TV it launches the CNBC app which stupidly takes me to a menu page rather than to CNBC where I want to watch live. From the menu screen I then have to navigate to watch CNBC live.

Anyways, these are my initial thoughts. I’ll probably cancel YouTube TV before the 7-day trial ends unless someone else can convince me I shouldn’t. Appreciate anyone else’s thoughts on the new service vs. Comcast.

Update: I cancelled YouTube TV earlier this week. Unfortunately I did it on day 8 instead of day 7 of my free trial so I’m stuck with the service until March 8th and had to pay $35. Oh well, I should have paid better attention to my trial. Maybe someday if they give you a true DVR and not one that replaces your recordings with on demand that don’t allow you to fast forward adverts I’ll be back. 🙂

The 4th Generation AppleTV is a Flawed and Frustrating Device

*Disclaimer: Many of the problems of the 4th generation AppleTV are problems by the app creators for the device. Further, cable companies and content providers in many cases are likely disincentivized to make AppleTV a good or smooth experience. Cord cutting certainly hurts the profitability of cable companies and content providers are probably paid more by cable/satellite than AppleTV. I do understand that Comcast is directly responsible for much of what is broken on AppleTV. That said, I believe that Apple could do more to ensure that app creators fall into line. As the largest publicly traded company in the world, Apple has unique clout, an enormous amount of cash, and should bear more responsibility for a solid end user experience.

I purchased 4 new AppleTVs last year when Apple launched the new 4th generation AppleTV. I have also owned each previous generation of the device. With each release I’ve been hoping for something more and with each release I’ve been let down and disappointed by my experience with AppleTV. While AppleTV may offer the best solution available today, it’s a shame that it is still such a flawed and frustrating device.

AppleTV-5
AppleTV-3
AppleTV-2

1. My number one issue with AppleTV at present is that it feels like the content companies are at war with the device. Many of the content companies have created apps for the new AppleTV but these apps still require you to maintain a cable/satellite subscription. I am actually fine with this. I don’t mind paying the cable company to access content on my AppleTV. What annoys me though is what a miserable experience it is trying to actually consume your cable subscription content on AppleTV.

The basic way that content apps on the AppleTV allow you to access their content is by authenticating with your cable subscription. When you launch the app it asks you to go to a website with your phone or computer. Once you are there (each content app has it’s own unique approach) you are required to enter in your cable TV credentials and a code from your TV screen to “activate” that content. Having to do this multiple times for multiple apps on multiple AppleTVs is a drag. With my four AppleTVs it took me over an hour to authenticate all of the content on all of the devices. It should not be this difficult.

If consuming cable paid content on your AppleTV were as easy as spending an hour authenticating 50 times, even that might be ok. The problem with AppleTV though is that these content apps make you re-authenticate over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. When you are tired at the end of a day and just want to turn on HBO and watch Vinyl, it’s a drag to be jolted with the reauthentication screen yet again. It boggles my mind that my AppleTV and Comcast cannot find an easier way to verify that I indeed do pay and am entitled to consume the content. I’m sure Comcast makes it hard on purpose (it feels like you have to reauthenticate content every 48 hours or so), but Apple shouldn’t let them get away with that.

2. If the reauthentication were not bad enough, some of the content that I get through my cable provider that I want to watch the most is not even available. AMC is probably my favorite network for content right now (Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead) and there is no AMC app for the AppleTV.

Apple TV is a Flawed and Frustrating Experience

3. Watching live TV is difficult. While there are apps (like CNN and CNBC) that let you watch live TV, it’s a pain to get to this content. With my Comcast X1 remote I just press and button and say “CNN” into the remote and instantly CNN comes on. When I press the mic button for Siri on my AppleTV app and say “CNN” I get a message on my screen that says “I’m sorry, I can’t do that here.” Even if I say “CNN Go” and get to the app, it still won’t let me watch live TV with Siri. I have to manually go through the menu process to watch TV (and many times once I go through all of this I’m just prompted with yet another requirement to reauthenticate for the 75th time).

AppleTV-6

4. Streaming content on AppleTV is a crappy experience. The other night I decided to watch a Bruce Springsteen documentary on the River on HBO on my AppleTV. While watching the show locked up at least 10 times. Sometimes it would take five minutes or more for content to resume streaming. While it’s tempting to blame my ISP for this issue, it should be noted that HBO plays flawlessly on my cable TV box and I have the fastest available internet speed available at present in my neighborhood. Content streams just fine to my computers, it only has freezing issues with my AppleTV.

AppleTV-4

5. Photos are boring on AppleTV. I have hundreds of thousands of photos that I’d like to consume on my AppleTV, but seeing the same photos over and over again gets boring very quickly. When you point AppleTV to a folder on your hard drive (through iTunes) of photos to share to the device, it will allow you to create a slideshow or use the screensaver for those photos. Unfortunately AppleTV only chooses about 100-200 random photos from the folder selected and just plays those photos over and over and over again. I would love to watch photos on my AppleTV but it needs to truly send me all of the photos randomized in a folder, not just 100 of them.

6. I was hopeful that Flickr would work better on the new AppleTV. On my 3rd generation AppleTV Flickr photos suffered the same limitation. If I had Flickr as my screensaver and pointed it to my 100 faves or more album, it would just recirculate 100 or so of the photos from that album. On the new AppleTV Flickr slide shows have the same limitations and Flickr screensaver does not even work at all.

7. I hate watching commercials. I love the Americans on FX and watch it each week. When I watch it on my Comcast box I just fast forward through all of the commercials with my DVR. When I watch it on AppleTV I can’t fast forward through the commercials, that’s a big drag. Also when commercials play on AppleTV it’s the exact same commercial over and over and over and over again. At least on real TV they mix up the commercials. Having to watch the exact same commercial 5 times in a show is dumb. It makes you hate the product being advertised even more.

For a 4th generation device I expect something better than what AppleTV offers up today. It’s easy to pass the buck and blame Comcast and the content providers for such a miserable experience on AppleTV, but I think that AppleTV also bears some responsibility for ensuring a better experience for their customers who purchase the device.