It’s a new game!

Michael Heiss, our US correspondent, brings us up to speed on the latest Apple products after its 'Spring Forward' event... and the football.

Main image: The new Apple TV 4K’s form factor is the same as the current models, but the remote is all new. Source: Apple

Even over here in the United States, there has been much in the news this week about the uproar over the formation of a “European Super League”. Literally as I write this on Tuesday evening, US Pacific Daylight Saving Time, the game is changing, and it appears that much to the relief of many, the Super League plan seems to be on hold.

While many will say that is good news, in one respect that is too bad. Now we’ll probably never find out if AFC Richmond would break away from EPL and join in the fun. Wait. HUH? AFC Richmond, has your US Correspondent confused with a team from “American football” with what the rest of the world knows is “real” football?

Take a step back and view this in the context of Tuesday’s major event in the tech and home systems market: Apple’s “Spring Forward” product presentation.

Yes, there was a veritable plethora of important new announcements. Starting with pre-orders in the last week of April, depending on the product, and with availability in the second half of May, there will be quite a few things that will cause Apple eco-system partisans to empty their virtual piggy banks.

A unique color adjust feature is a novel addition to the feature set of the latest Apple TV 4K. Source: Apple

First up is an all-new iMac, powered by Apple’s own M1 chip. It features 24”, 4.5K display, and a 1080p camera. Audio sports a six-speaker audio system, Dolby Atmos playback and a three-mic, mid-field array with beamforming technology to improve intelligibility and minimise feedback. Six colours will be available, with matching colour coordinated keyboards and mice. The starting price will be £1,294 for the 7-core model and £1,499 for the model with an 8-core M1 chip.

On the portable side, there are two new iPad Pro models. The model with an 11” screen will start at £749, but the focus is likely to be on the 12.9” model that starts at £949. The latter is the first tablet with a miniLED-driven display for significantly improved image quality. Add £150 to the price of each size and you add 5G cellular capability. Of course, the pricing can increase considerably as you increase the memory and storage capacity.

Long rumoured, the Apple AirTag is now a reality as Apple’s take on a lost object locator. At £29 each or £99 for a four-pack is will be a strong contender to the likes of Tile, albeit at a higher price.

But let’s get back to our main question of the day. What is the connection for all of this to football, and who the heck is AFC Richmond? In case you didn’t know, that is the fictional EPL team in the highly popular and award-winning “Ted Lasso”. It has drawn comparisons to the takeover of Chester City F.C as their manager by the American football coach Terry Smith in 1999 and the Ted Lasso character was partially inspired by Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp.

At the start of the Apple event fans were pleased to find out that Ted Lasso will have a second season, premiering on July 23rd. Then, what better way to watch a series on Apple TV+ than on a new Apple TV 4K.

That’s correct. After a very long wait, Apple will finally replace the current Apple TV 4K that dates to 2017. Visually and dimensionally, it looks identical to the current, and now discontinued model, but to see what all the excitement is about you need to look under the hood. Perhaps a bit techy, but never-the-less important, the changes deliver significant advancements in streaming presentation.

The current, Gen. 5 model’s A10X Fusion processor will be updated to the A12 Bionic. That is a major improvement that benefits both video processing adding Dolby Vision with 60fps/High Frame Rate (HFR) playback to the current HDR capabilities. Apple is working with streaming service providers across the globe to release content with HDR/HFR, and iPhone 12 owners will be able to use AirPlay to stream content shot with Dolby Vision at 60fps. For those displaying new flat panel sets at retail or in showrooms, this gives you an added tool for showing your own custom demo material.

There are two other very important connectivity upgrades that may well enable the new Apple TV to have a shelf life equaling the close to four-year gap between the current fifth and the new sixth generation model. First, the Wi-Fi has been upgraded to Wi-Fi 6/802.11ax to go along with the Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth 5 that was added with the previous model.

The new Siri remote replaces the square touch pad with an easier to use circle arrangement and the thicker depth of the new Siri remote allows for placement of a Siri button on the side. Source: Apple 

Even more noteworthy, the new Apple TV 4K can output content via an HDMI 2.1 port. While still a rarity among external streaming products, this addition further insulates the user from any forthcoming changes to content distribution that require the newer, higher level, video connectivity. It will be interesting to see if Apple’s continued expansion of its Apple streaming game service takes advantage of the features of HDMI 2.1.

One final new feature made possible by the A14 Bionic chip in combination with the light sensors in recent iPhones running iOS 14.5 or later is an automatic, app-based, colour balance process. You place the iPhone close to the screen and it reads the image for comparison to “industry-standard specifications”. The video output is then adjusted for optimal colour accuracy and contrast. It will be key, however, to remember that this does not eliminate the need for a baseline calibration of the display, itself. The correction is applied within the Apple TV 4K, so it obviously cannot adjust the image from other external or internal sources.

Last, but certainly not least, the new Apple TV 4K will come with a new and totally redesigned remote. From an appearance standpoint, the black top face is replaced with the silver colour of 100% recycled aluminum case.

While the current Siri remote is elegant, many have problems with it due to the very slim form factor and too-smooth touch pad surface. Finally, those concerns have been addressed. The new remote is just a bit thicker so that it will hopefully be easier to hold. The added thickness also allows the Siri button to be moved to the side of the unit so that it is easier to find in a dark home theatre environment.

Most obviously, the button layout is also different. The square touch surface has been replaced with a round approach, outlined with an outer ring circle. That not only helps the user contain their finger more precisely within the sensor area, but the ring has four directional dots in the cardinal directions and can act as a scroll wheel. Combined, this will make it demonstrably easier to navigate and control.

The other buttons on the remote have also been repositioned. A TV power on/off button has been added in the upper right corner, and a mute button has also been added.

Putting this all together, the new, 6th Generation, Apple TV 4K keeps its place in the higher high-end of the market. Those hoping for a less expensive Apple TV will be disappointed. At £179 for the 32GB model and £199 for the 64GB model, it certainly doesn’t compete on price with Fire TV, Chromecast and Roku. That said, particularly for anyone invested in the Apple ecosystem this new product will likely be a “must have”. Pre-orders begin on April 30th, with product availability set for the second half of May.

If you don’t feel the need to replace your current Apple TV but hunger after the new remote, it will be available separately and will work with the 5th Gen Apple TV 4K and the 4th Gen Apple TV HD. That latter unit will continue to be available, repackaged with the new Siri remote.

There you have it. When was the last time someone was able to combine news about the latest doings in both real and fictional football and the latest in Apple products? I am very much looking forward to the new Apple TV 4K. As with the other new models, pre-orders are either April 23rd or 30th, depending on the product line, with all scheduled for delivery in the second half of May.

It will be an interesting season for both football and Apple. Let’s see who the champion will be!