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No, I’m Not Getting the New Apple TV—At Least, Not Yet. Here’s Why.

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Apple’s Tim Cook introducing the new Apple TV. Source: digital trends.com

When Apple recently unveiled their latest version of the Apple TV set-top box, I was thrilled to see it labeled, “Apple TV 4K.” Finally, this box, along with the iTunes video content it will stream, can support the super-high resolution of 3840 x 2160 (it’s called “4K” because “3.84K” is a little awkward, so they just rounded up). I was all set to order one to connect to my 55″ Sony 4K TV; but then I saw this video from The Verge, which made me change my mind. Take a look:

If you can’t watch the video right now; or if you have, and you want to know more of my take on the issue, please read on.

HDR is H.A.R.D.

The most obvious reason for me not to invest in a new Apple TV comes from the TV I have. It’s a 2013-era Sony BRAVIA Ultra HD TV. It is indeed capable of 4K resolution, but it came out in that brief window of time before the introduction of High Dynamic Range (HDR) on 4K TVs. My set doesn’t support HDR, and I’m pretty sure that’s not something that can be added with a software update. One of the key selling points of the Apple TV 4K is HDR, and I’d be throwing money away on a feature I won’t get to enjoy on my current TV.

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A simulation of the difference HDR can make. Source: 4k.com

Not Ready for Amazon Prime Time

As of this writing, Amazon, one of the most prominent 4K streaming content producers, does not yet have an app on the Apple TV. Now, Apple has promised that such an app is forthcoming; but until it is available, I don’t need to buy a new box. I can watch The Tick (among others) in 4K on my TV’s built-in, albeit clunky, Amazon app.

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Reason enough for an Amazon Prime membership. Source: Forbes.com

YouTube… Don’t You?

As mentioned right off the bat in that Verge video, YouTube is not yet available in 4K on Apple TV. As they explain at the very end of their video, this is due to the compression method YouTube (a division of Apple rival Google) employs. Hopefully, the two tech giants will come to an arrangement to allow 4K, HDR YouTube content via Apple TV. Until they do, if YouTube in 4K is your “must-have” feature; and if it isn’t built in to your TV like mine, then you should probably get Google’s $69 Chromecast Ultra, so you can beam that 4K content from your computer or mobile device.

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The petite, unassuming Google Chromecast Ultra dongle. Source: Google.com

Nothing But Netflix

Now, the leader of the streaming pack, Netflix, will indeed be offering 4K, HDR content on day one with the new Apple TV. I’ve always been able to count on their 4K content, even on my non-HDR (or as it’s known, SDR for “Standard Dynamic Range”) TV. True, I had to upgrade my Netflix account to their Premium plan to get Ultra HD (another term for 4K) content, but it was only $2 more a month for the enhanced picture. But here’s the thing: I already get Netflix in 4K on my TV, with its built-in app, just like how I get Amazon Prime. So, again, I have to ask: what does the purchase of the Apple TV get me that I didn’t already have?

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A small sample of Netflix’s 4K content. Source: androidpcreview.com

iTunes Movies in 4K! No, Not That One… Sorry, Not That One, Either…

iTunes was always going to be the “killer app” for Apple TV. It’s Apple’s hardware and software working together, as opposed to those earlier examples of shoehorning other services into a rival’s device. And yes, Apple did indeed announce the upgrading of their film library from HD to 4K… but not their entire film library.

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“If an HD title in your library is released in 4K HDR, it automatically updates for free.” That’s currently a pretty big “if.” Source: Apple.com

Some titles haven’t been mastered in 4K at all, so they may never get such a release. Some are in the process of remastering; so again, patience will be rewarded with more titles.

But then there’s the House that Walt Built.

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Looks good, right? Just imagine it in 4K! Source: YouTube.com

As the Verge video pointed out, Disney content is not currently available in 4K on iTunes. It’s not too big a surprise that they’re dragging their feet—they were also late to the DVD game back in the late 90’s. But frustratingly, other competing services like VUDU do indeed have Disney titles in 4K—notably, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, the first Disney/Marvel movie to get a home video release on 4K.

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If you want to stream Guardians 2 in 4K on your Apple TV, you’ll have to do it on VUDU. And if you already had it on iTunes, sorry–that’ll be another $24.99, please! Source: hd-report.com

I have Guardians 2 on iTunes, thanks to the digital copy included with my blu-ray purchase. I was hoping Apple would upgrade the HD title to 4K; because while my blu-ray did include a 4K disc, I don’t have a 4K disc player. My reasoning was, why get a disc player, when the AppleTV will give me the same movie in 4K, without my even having to get off the couch to insert a disc?

I mean, the logic seemed sound…

I consulted this list of iTunes 4K titles, posted on 9/15/17. Of those 163 titles, I only have TWO ready to upgrade:

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Source: iTunes

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (Ultimate Edition). Candidly, I’m not planning on rewatching this one, in 4K or otherwise. I barely made it through the whole thing the first time, in good old fashioned HD.

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Source: inflightdigitalmovies.com

Deadpool. A personal favorite. Its availability in 4K on iTunes is one good thing about Fox, not Disney, owning Marvel’s Merry Mutants.

Author’s note: The list I linked includes The Hangover, Star Trek (2009), and X-Men: First Class. In each of these cases, the films listed were not available to me in 4K; but their sequels (The Hangover Part IIStar Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond; and X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse) were. Interestingly, Apple has apparently not deemed The Hangover Part III worthy of a 4K release.

For the record, my iTunes movie collection is relatively small. As of this writing, I have 57 digital titles; of those, 28 are Disney, including Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. Take away the two I listed above, and that leaves 27 titles not yet in iTunes’ 4K library. So until I can get more than two movies–only one of which I even want to watch— upgraded to 4K, the “iTunes in 4K” aspect isn’t a huge selling point.

Conclusion

So you see, regardless of whether my 4K TV is ready for it, this new Apple TV just isn’t ready for me. Until they get Amazon, YouTube, and a more comprehensive iTunes library (ahem, Disney) in 4K, there’s just no point in upgrading from my 2015-era, 4th-generation Apple TV. Maybe I’ll buy that 4K disc player, after all. I can think of at least one movie I bet would look Groot—I mean, great— in 4K!

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I often make that very same face when hooking up clients’ equipment. Source: giphy.com

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My Panic AT&Tack

My father, like many of us, has embraced the streaming video revolution. He has discovered the joys of binge-watching series and films on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Unfortunately, his viewing habits have been hamstrung by that bane of binge-watchers: a slow internet connection. Upon a recent visit, I took it upon myself to examine that connection, and to pursue faster alternatives. As you’ll see, no part of this process would turn out to be easy.

4K, Okay?

My parents subscribed to AT&T for land-line phone service, and for “high-speed” DSL internet service. In real terms, “high speed” DSL tops out at 5 megabits per second (mbps). In fairness, according to Netflix, this is fast enough to stream in “HD quality.” However, my dad has a newfangled 4K TV set, and Netflix is one of the first few content providers to offer 4K “Ultra HD” content. DSL’s speed limit means he wouldn’t get his money’s worth on that TV; he’d need at least five times that speed to get the full resolution. So I had a mission: find a faster connection so he could watch his Netflix in 4K.

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Netflix’s early UltraHD 4K content. Today, it’s much more than nature and Underwoods. (Source: techradar.com, click image or this caption for their article on Netflix in 4K)

In addition to their AT&T account, my parents subscribe to Time Warner Cable for television service. I, myself, use TWC for television and also for high-speed internet, so I called upon my experience in recommending that provider—well, not that provider per se, but the speeds they could offer. As of this writing, TWC’s fastest package is 300 mbps, a whopping 60 times the top speed of AT&T’s DSL service. Before adding internet service to their cable package, we did the legwork and bought a cable modem capable of those speeds, and then we connected it to the incoming cable line, so that when TWC activated the service, they’d be ready to go. Oh, if only it were that simple.

An Unfortunate Coincidence

I swear, I think the AT&T DSL modem saw this new, faster interloper, and asked, in its own way, “What’s she doing here?!”

Before even calling AT&T to discuss discontinuing DSL service, their modem jumped into a “panic mode” of its own, blinking red and green lights– and not in a festive, Christmas way. A call to AT&T would confirm this modem was failing, and that the only course of action would be to replace it outright. My folks weren’t quite ready to abandon DSL service altogether in favor of cable internet, so this meant a trip to the local AT&T store to pick up a new DSL modem.

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Pictured: a non-working AT&T DSL modem. Yeah, that’s about right. (Source: att.com)

“Let’s try this one. Ok, now let’s try this other one.”

Racing in to the AT&T store the next morning, I engaged in the ritual familiar to many of us: I was greeted by an employee with a digital clipboard. This employee took my name, and let me know that I was now in line to be helped by the next available store employee. Bear in mind, I wasn’t trying to add (or remove) service; I just wanted to buy a new modem. The previous day, Best Buy had made the process of purchasing a new cable modem fast and easy, with streamlined “in and out” service, as well as a healthy selection of cable modems from various brands; some with built-in wifi, some without.

The AT&T store, on the other hand, not only made me wait for the privilege of buying a DSL modem from them; but the modem was not available in other, non-AT&T stores (so much for a competitive market). In stark contrast to the selection at Best Buy, AT&T had two devices: one with wifi, one without. That’s it. I was reminded of the line from The Blues Brothers:

Since my parents had their previous modem connected to a third-party wireless router (namely, an Apple Time Capsule), I took it upon myself—when it was finally my turn for service, of course—to buy the non-wifi DSL modem and rush it back home. Connecting it was pretty straightforward: power cable from the outlet, phone cable from the jack, and ethernet cable to the router. Unfortunately, that was where the simplicity stopped.

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Apple’s Time Capsule (pre-2013 edition). Simplicity on a Spartan level. (Source: desktopreview.com)

Using my MacBook’s “Network Diagnostics” app (a lifesaver when setting up or troubleshooting a network), I found that with this new modem, something wasn’t fully connecting. Below is an image of a similarly-misaligned connection, as shown in MacWorld.

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Apple’s Network Diagnostics app. As you’d imagine, all the lights on the left should be green. (Source: MacWorld.com)

The goal of “all green lights” was eluding me. Again, I reached out to AT&T by phone and they assured me that this time, their modem was passing all of their tests, and that the issue must be with the Apple router. Fine. I called AppleCare.

My conversation with Apple was just as brief. After the standard tests, they were certain that their Time Capsule was in fine working order. If AT&T’s connection was working, and if the router was working, perhaps, they suggested, it was time to reach out to the DSL modem’s manufacturer directly, namely, Netgear.

Netgear tech support was the least helpful of the three I had spoken with at this point, primarily because they don’t take support responsibility for modems sold by AT&T. Frustrated, I decided the easiest way to solve this problem was to eliminate the variables. I returned to the AT&T store, waited my turn again, and exchanged the DSL modem for one with built-in wifi. I removed the Time Capsule from the equation, so everything was handled by AT&T, from the phone line coming out of the wall, to the wireless signal now permeating through the house.

A quick note: when you change wireless network names, you find out just how many devices were set up on the previous network, and now have to be reprogrammed. Some devices are easy to switch, with push-button Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS); but some demand the tedious process of typing in the new network’s password. Making matters worse, the default password printed on the new AT&T modem/router combo was an alphanumeric mishmash, guaranteed never to be memorized, and easily mistyped.

IP Myself

Less than a day into using this new wifi network, the problems returned. Some—but not all—websites were failing to load. Mail was sporadic, if not entirely disconnected. Speeds weren’t even achieving the modest 5 mbps limit promised by AT&T. And during this new—or continued—outage, my parents’ frustration continued to grow. A cliché in the tech support industry is to have the client say, “Things were working fine before you worked on it!” I was flummoxed. What could I have done to hamper their service this badly?

The issues we were experiencing are typically symptomatic of a failure of the Domain Name System (DNS), that system that translates word-based internet addresses (such as my own homewithtech.com, for example) into their proper numerical Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (216.250.121.27, if you were curious—but don’t try entering that into your browser for these reasons: http://ask-leo.com/why_doesnt_accessing_a_site_by_its_ip_address_work.html).

At the end of my rope, I called AT&T tech support yet again. This time, I was put on hold. After about 40 minutes of being told my call was important, I gave up and tried a different tack. Jumping on my laptop, I went to one of the sites that I could still access: att.com, and I engaged in their live chat support system. More and more, I’m recommending that my clients use chat instead of the phone support system, because I find you get the same level of know-how from the operator on the other end; but when typing, you don’t have to overcome the language barriers that tend to obstruct tech support phone calls these days.

The following screen capture shows how the conversation went with AT&T after three modems, four days, and countless headaches:

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AT&T never called. And Alan is my father’s name–it’s easier just to pretend I’m the account holder when speaking with tech support. 

AT&T didn’t resolve the DNS problem before I left town. But they did, in their own way, resolve the tension between myself and my parents. AT&T made it clear, in the immortal words of Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) in the film Good Will Hunting: “It’s not your fault.” And you know, sometimes even the most experienced techie needs to hear that once in a while.

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I would have continued to work with AT&T to resolve this issue, but “I had to go see about a girl.”

Chartering a new course

After getting to the bottom of the DSL crisis, my dad was all too happy to give Time Warner Cable a shot—but that was an ordeal in itself, thanks mostly to the fact that TWC is now Charter Spectrum.

In order to add cable internet service, they would have to build an all-new package, losing many cable channels in the process. I’m too emotionally exhausted from the AT&T trauma to go into every step of that process right now (perhaps in a future blog post), but I’m happy to say, long story short, they got the new cable internet up and running before I left. It was Spectrum’s starter package, 100 mbps, still 20 times faster than DSL’s top speed. And the best part is, I can confirm the Netflix feed now comes in at full 4K quality, with crystal-clear picture.

And there’s nothing better than a little clarity.