Wednesday, 4 November 2015

started with a mouse and ended with a telly

PB040109.jpg its only a keyboard
I re-accessorised my iMac recently, by moving to the new generation keyboards and mouse, plus updating the home's Apple TV to the new type. It all started because of a broken mouse on a PC, so I needed to 'trickle down' a component.

Keyboard first.
It's a keyboard after all, this time with a slightly lower profile than the old one. There's both a lower rake on its slope and also the keys themselves are slightly thinner. I didn't expect it, but it took me a day or more to get used to the lower pitch. They've changed a few of the graphics on the keys and removed the old 'option' symbol, replacing it with the word 'option'. The main advantage is that I won't need to keep a box of spare batteries in an adjacent cupboard for their all too frequent replacement. The new keyboard is rechargeable using a lightning connector which is included in the box. When connected it makes the keyboard seem kind-of old-school.

Magic Mouse II
This was my original reason for visiting the store. There's so little cosmetic difference that I thought I might have accidentally picked up the wrong unit. Even the box omits the II from the labelling. Inside it is the newer unit, with only the inner leaflet really giving away the difference. I'll be rotating the older mouse onto a work PC where the mouse had broken, but where I only use it occasionally when I'm doing presentations or similar. It's surprising how many PC people are still freaked by a mouse with 'no buttons' - "How do you use it?" etc.

Like the keyboard, this is a rechargeable unit, although in a moment of sheer obstinacy Apple have decided to make the charging point underneath the mouse guaranteeing that you can't use the mouse whilst charging. It would look so 'attached' wouldn't it? I decided not to get the trackpad unit. I'm very happy using a trackpad but a long time ago I realised that I still prefer a mouse if I'm doing something fiddly like drawing boxes or graphics.

Apple TV 4
I've come through the generations of Apple TV, although back in the early days I preferred to use a Mac mini as a TV device rather than the earliest and similar sized TV units. Nowadays the boxes are smaller and the main problem is more one of commercial rights. All the non-linear TV providers are in competition with one another and find ways to limit each others' programming.

Frankly, for general TV viewing the Sky TV box still seems to have the best EPG, at least in terms of broad usability. The Apple box is therefore an extra unit, although with Airplay it gets increasingly used to view things that have first been selected on a laptop and can be flipped onto the telly.

Our main television is also hooked up to an Onkyo media system, which has about 7 HDMI inputs and a couple of outputs, so the buttonage count from all of the remote controllers is probably at least 500.

That's why we use a single Logitech Harmony as the controller for everything - television, Sky, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Spotify, iPlayer etc. plus some domestic chores like the fire, the central heating and mood lighting. If it sounds complicated, its not, because all of the options are programmed into the single handset and can be selected with options like 'Watch TV', 'Watch DVD', 'Fireplace' and so on.

When I said one handset, we actually have two - that's the full version with a small touch screen and the even simpler version which is more button based. I'd almost forgotten that once it is set up it can also be operated from an iPhone - although we never seem to do this. The clever part is that the Harmony is wireless rather than infra red, so can be used without pointing at the relevant devices. It also blasts out infra red from its hub, which can easily cover the area of all the TV devices.

Back to the Apple TV, the new handset is a small unit, albeit slightly larger than the old one. That's because it too has a touch capability now, as well as Siri support. My main trepidation was whether the new Apple would still work with the Harmony, but fear not, I plugged in the new Apple TV and then tried the Harmony buttons and everything still works fine. It's just that I had to reprogram a lot of password settings for the varied services before the Apple TV would work properly again.

Have I used the Siri function? I tried it and discovered the problem of licensing. I was in Netflix and said "Skip backwards last three minutes" or something similar. It started asking me about which team between Atlanta and Chicago or something - "Epic Fail" I think they say. It wasn't even trying to work with Netflix. Next I said "Interstellar" as a quick test to see what it would do. It immediately stopped the Netflix TV episode I was watching and took me to the Apple iTunes Store to ask me if I'd like to buy a copy of the Interstellar movie that I already have in my iTunes DVD library. So no, the Siri function needs a lot of work to make it usable. I like the idea of voice activated multi devices, but we've still got a way to go before we can say "Open the pod bay doors, Siri."

I think I can safely put the new remote controller away with all of the other ones unless I want to use it for gaming and instead rely on the Harmony for routine control.

As for Amazon, it doesn't even come up as an option in the TV's App library, although I've installed the youtube, vimeo and flickr which were embedded on the old TV3 but are App options on the TV4, as are a selection of games.

Briefly mentioning the games support, we're not really a gaming household, so I'd describe the games we do use as 'light entertainment' rather than grimy shoot-em-ups and drug cartel based car chases. I tried a simple platform game that involved making a bright red crab bounce up through various lily pads using the Apple TV handset in portrait mode as the controller. It works well and is sufficient to keep the telly gaming-friendly without needing clutter up the living space with piles of Xboxes and Playstations. I'll be looking for the inevitable family-friendly quiz program and some sort of karaoke as we approach the festive season.

So overall views on the three devices:
  • The mouse was needed as a replacement for something that had failed - aside from charging, it works the same and is still my 'mouse of choice' for any device.
  • The keyboard was an impulse addition, and apart from the battery saving is sufficiently similar to the prior one to be unremarkable.
  • The Apple TV 4 keeps the living room current and provides future potential through the extra programmability. I'm more interested in the 'home' services aspect than specifically consuming iTunes content. It also gives me the older unit to move to another area where I can use it as a service on another TV.

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