Yeah, I know… another Apple TV blog from yours truly.
It’s hard not to write about it, though – particularly when you make the big switch and begin using the Apple TV as your main source of living room entertainment.
I did that a few weeks back, and it has been a fascinating journey. But it has also revealed some inherent issues with the ‘all-in-on-Apple TV’ strategy – particularly if you live in the UK.
This is what I’ve learned so far, what I’d like to see in the future, and why I need your help.
My experience so far
I finally ditched Sky TV last month. For the uninitiated (i.e. anyone who doesn’t live in the UK), Sky is a massive broadcast company that’s owned by Comcast. It has been around for donkey’s years and, bar some cable alternatives, is the most popular way for people in the UK to gain access to as many TV channels as possible.
The problem with Sky is that for all of its technical brilliance and ease of use, it is stupidly expensive. It also has zero tie-in with the Apple TV (more on that later). Given that I’d vowed to dive wholeheartedly into the world of the Apple TV after mercilessly panning it in 2021, Sky simply had to go.
Our TV is now fed just one image signal – that rather lovely 4K HDR feed from the Apple TV. I’ve also signed us up to Now TV (which is, ironically, owned by Sky) and ensured every terrestrial service is represented on the Apple TV Home Screen via their corresponding apps.
Now TV is a streaming service that provides access to many of Sky’s channels, including their entertainment package, Sky Sports, and Sky Movies. It isn’t, however, Sky in the traditional sense. While you can pause and rewind live TV, you can’t record anything. The user experience also leaves a lot to be desired in the wake of Sky’s admittedly brilliant operating system. Scrap that – it’s utterly crap; the Now TV app is buggy, poorly designed, and offers the most useless TV planner I’ve ever seen.
Oh, and the image quality from the Now TV stream is hideous, too. Watch anything featuring a dark scene or black background, and there’s more pixelation than a broken YouTube stream.
Things get a little better when it comes to the aforementioned terrestrial apps. BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and even Channel 5 are all very well represented on Apple TV; their apps are all brilliantly put together and a joy to use.
There is, however, one huge issue with all of this.
Old habits die hard
I’m used to watching TV in the old-fashioned way. For the benefit of anyone who’s young and cool enough to know what ‘Netflix ‘n’ chill’ means (yeah, I know – stop laughing at the back), I’m referring to the process of sitting down on the couch, grabbing the TV remote, and flicking through the channels to see what’s on at that moment in time.
Granted – the frequency of this process has reduced considerably thanks to the prevalence of streamed content and catch-up TV, but there are still plenty of times when I just want to kick back and channel hop.
It’s very hard to do this with my new setup. As noted earlier, Now TV makes it difficult because their app is so poor, but regardless, that only gives me access to a small slice of the channels I might want to watch. If I want to dive into the BBC’s channels, or see what’s on the countless iterations of Channel 4, I have to ‘app hop’.
App hopping is nowhere near as much fun – or as easy – as channel hopping. In fact, it’s an utter pain in the arse.
Apple TV does its best to help out by integrating many of the streaming apps and terrestrial services into the ‘TV’ section of the interface. And it works pretty well; tvOS will surface shows you’re due to watch next, and even do a pretty good job at recommending other stuff you might like. Simply tap the show in question, and you’re transported straight into the corresponding app.
But this still isn’t channel hopping for old farts like me. It is cumbersome and, I think, reveals one big problem with Apple TV in the UK.
The problem with UK TV
In certain parts of the world, you can sign into the Apple TV with your TV provider account details. In doing so, you can then access that provider’s content without having to sign into every channel’s app.
This sounds ideal. It sounds like it might deliver the modern channel hopping functionality I desire.
There’s just one problem. Scroll through the list of countries that have TV providers which are compatible with the Apple TV, and there’s one notable omission. There’s no listing for the United Kingdom. We are absent. Our spot is vacant. We have gone AWOL. The home of Her Majesty the Queen is not on the list.
I knew this was the case before I dived fully into the world of the Apple TV. But I didn’t realise quite how annoying it would be, or how left out I’d feel when I realised that Apple TV owners in the US, Switzerland, Qatar, and Ireland (to name but a few) are able to access what feels like the missing piece of the jigsaw in my current setup.
I have no idea why this isn’t an option in the UK, but I can have a good guess. Between the publicly-financed BBC, multi-conglomerate Sky, and independently owned likes of ITV and Channel 5, the TV industry in the United Kingdom is a complete mess.
I can’t bring myself to blame Apple for this, either. I’m sure they’re continually looking for ways to make headway with the Apple TV in this country, but you can imagine the board room battles and countless red tape they’ll have faced along the way.
I’m sure it hasn’t been plain sailing in other countries, either, but there are an awful lot on Apple’s list who do seem to have worked something out.
All I want is the option for my old style TV viewing habits to return, even if I have to learn a new way to channel hop. At the moment, the experience is a mixture of delight and frustration.
I need your help
If you live in a country where your TV provider is compatible with the Apple TV and you’ve successfully integrated the two, I’d love to hear from you.
What’s the experience like? Am I missing out? Or is it not what you hoped it might be?
Equally, if you have some knowledge of the state of the UK’s TV industry and the way in which it has rendered us lost at sea with the Apple TV, I’d love to hear more.
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