When Steve Jobs was counting his last days in 2011, there was a lot of chatter about what Apple would do next. He had just announced the iPad, which represented a hattrick of hits — after the iPod and iPhone. The obvious next step for disruption was the television. The so-called Apple “TV” that he even admitted to Walter Isaacson in his seminal biography Steve Jobs, released days after he died in October 2011. Back then, Apple did have a product called the Apple TV, except that it wasn’t a television. It was more of a set-top box and is, fundamentally, the same product even now.
Current CEO Tim Cook called the Apple TV “a hobby”. More than a decade later, it isn’t a phenomenon like the iPhone, though it is now a little more than a hobby. In 2019, Apple got into the video streaming game with the launch of Apple TV+, which is now home to some Emmy award-winning shows best experienced through the Apple TV set-up. In 2022, Apple TV also showed signs of finally becoming serious about gaming, which could scare the bejesus out of Sony and Microsoft.
Apple has also been getting good at audio. Of course, the AirPods have been there since 2017, but it also launched the HomePod speaker that year. Generally, across its hardware products, HomePods’ audio has been shockingly good. It may have been panned for its lack of smart home functionality—when compared to the Amazon Echo and Nest Home—as a smart speaker, but one cannot begrudge its sound. It isn’t just the best-sounding smart speaker; it is up there with high-end audio brands such as Bose, a household name.
Since 2020, Apple has been trying to revive its HomePod strategy with the HomePod Mini, which has been very successful. With the launch of the Mini, many even went for the older HomePod—which sounds sublime—because of murmurs that it would get discontinued (as it did, in 2021). But then, just weeks ago, Apple relaunched the old HomePod with a slightly tweaked design, revamped internals and better smarts.
But the magic isn’t there in the standalone Apple TV or HomePod — things start to happen when you pair both with a great screen. It starts reaching something that Steve Jobs might have envisioned.
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The Apple home theatre
It goes without saying that this is a solution for Apple fanatics. It truly works. The new Apple TV is powered by the A15 bionic chip, which is the same as the one used in iPhone 14. The A15 bionic chip has astounding computational capabilities. It also means that it is very adept graphically; it can handle intensive graphics that rival at least something like a PlayStation 4 or even a Nintendo Wii. It even supports the new PlayStation dual-sense controller that works with the ever-increasing library of games on Apple Arcade. Thanks to Dolby Atmos, its computational pipeline also allows for incredible spatial audio.
As a software platform, tvOS has it all — Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, Voot, Jio Cinema, YouTube, Zee5, Apple TV+ — whatever you throw at it. All packed in an elegant interface that will be lightning fast in most situations compared to a smart TV interface. This system shines through even better if you have a great screen, but the TV is not ‘smart’—like those old Plasma TVs with spectacular picture quality.
Using the iPhone, the new Apple TV can even calibrate your TV’s screen to have more accurate colours using the faceID camera system. That’s how good it is.
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A stellar sound system
But then, what are most smart TVs also lacking these days? A good sound system. With the addition of the new HomePod, you can get a powerful stereo system that supports spatial audio. It natively also works with Apple Music and sounds about the same as the original HomePod with slightly newer generation hardware.
Even though Apple has reduced the number of tweeters and microphones and used the S7 System-in-Package (SiP) chip instead of the newer A series Systems-on-Chip (SoC), this represents a decent update for someone looking for a wireless speaker with great sound. Thankfully, even though this S7 is basically an Apple Watch chip, it responds to Siri faster than the older HomePods and is generally better. For smart home usage, it also supports the “matter” standard, which means it works with an assortment of “internet of things” appliances.
If you have one of the older HomePods, you cannot enable stereo by adding one of the new ones. This quirk happens because all three HomePods, including the Mini, are on a different silicon processor architecture and aren’t the same speaker, creating issues for stereo audio.
I have used two pairs of the 2018 HomePods, a pair of HomePod Mini and a single set of the new 2023 HomePod. It creates a home-theatre system after pairing them with the latest Apple TV. This system propels my projector, and it is a devastating Home Theatre system that sounds incredible. It is primed for the current India-Australia Test series and the latest episode of Star Trek: Picard.
Sure, these are not very smart systems, and that’s because of the locked-down nature of Apple products and the imitations of Siri, but if you care about the efficacy of the hardware, for around Rs 80,000, you can get two HomePods and an Apple TV, which will be the ultimate Apple update for your screen.
Sahil Mohan Gupta is Editor, Technology at Acko Drive. Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)