AppleTV 4K (2021) + HomePod Minis – Good Idea? | Entertainment Upgrade

It’s time for a home entertainment upgrade. As an Apple user, I, of course, gravitated towards Apple’s offerings. So, I got myself the new 2021 AppleTV 4k and two HomePod Minis. Should you follow my lead? Let’s talk about it.

Here’s how today’s video is going to go. First, we will quickly run through the HomePod and AppleTV’s setup process. Then, I will give my thoughts on each of Apple’s bullet points along with some other key points. Finally, we will end with my final thoughts on this duo. So, let’s get into it!

Setting up the HomePod Mini and AppleTV is so uniquely Apple. Power up the HomePod using the included 20-watt USB-C power adapter and attached USB-C cable, then wait for it to start up. Now, tap your iPhone on the speaker, and you will get a little card that pops up at the bottom of the screen that will direct you through the setup process. You will start by adding the HomePod to HomeKit, aka the Home app, by assigning it to a room in your house. Then, they give you some information on how the HomePod can recognize the different voices of everyone in your home. Up next, confirm you want to use your AppleID account to configure the HomePod. Lastly, hover your phone camera over the top of the HomePod. Just like that, the HomePod will configure itself. 

The second HomePod has a similar setup. However, I want to set up these speakers in a stereo pair. So, when I add my second speaker to the same room, I get asked that exact question. Saying yes will automatically configure this HomePod Mini with the same setting as the first one and pair them as a left and right speaker.

With the HomePods set up, it’s time to switch gears and take a look at the AppleTV. So, I plug the power cable into the wall and the HDMI cable, purchased separately, into the TV. After booting up, it’s time to travel through the wizard, choosing my region and language. Once again, the AppleTV setup asks if I want to use my iPhone to finish faster. Well, of course. So, once again, I tap my iPhone on the AppleTV, and a card appears where I can finish the setup process. 

The setup process of each of these devices is so simple. There is no connecting to WiFi or Bluetooth, no signing into accounts, or repeating yourself. Just tap your iPhone, click yes, and you’re done. 

Now, let’s discuss Apple’s bullet points for each of these products starting with the HomePod Minis. 

When you go to Apple’s website for the HomePod Mini, you are immediately greeted by some short statements. 

First of all, it has “Room-filling sound.” This statement needs an asterisk. There is a limit to the size of the room the HomePod Mini can fill. More on that later.

Next, the HomePod Mini has “An intelligent assistant.” Sure Siri has come a long way, but I wouldn’t refer to her as intelligent. I find she still struggles to follow basic commands. And, personally, I don’t use voice assistants all that often. 

Next, it can “control your smart home.” Yes, it can, if you pay the premium for HomeKit enable smart devices. Hopefully, that will all change with the release of the Matter standard later this year. You can learn more about that in the link below. The HomePod, like the AppleTV, can also serve as a home hub. This makes your HomePod act as a router for all of your HomeKit devices. So, if you want to change the temperature on your HomeKit thermostat while you’re on the go, your iPhone will connect to the HomePod, and the HomePod will send your request to the thermostat. This keeps your smart devices from having to communicate with cloud services and talk through the internet directly.

Lastly, the HomePod is “Private and secure” This is something I can confirm. Apple advertises that it works in the best interest of its user’s privacy with features like on-device processing and end-to-end encryption. For example, if you have a HomeKit Secure Video Camera, the HomePod will manage the image processing, such as facial recognition and package detection.

The next feature highlighted is the continuity between all of your HomePods. Features like intercom let you make an announcement to all of your HomePods at the same time. You can stream audio to all of your HomePods at once, or you can tell Siri to send audio from one speaker to another. 

But, really, the highlight feature of the HomePod is how simple it is to control your speakers from your Apple devices. AirPlay 2 compatibility makes sending your audio from your Apple device to the speaker so much easier without dealing with Bluetooth. Or, if you have an iPhone with a U1 chip, like an iPhone 12, you can tap your iPhone on the speaker to send whatever you’re listening to that speaker. 

I think that’s all from the HomePod, now let’s look at why Apple wants you to go with an AppleTV 4K. First, the AppleTV 4K is for “a higher definition of TV,” meaning 4K, like most new TVs sold these days. So, the AppleTV can support all of the latest media standards with “4K High Frame Rate HDR for fluid, crisp video.” A.K.A. The AppleTV will output the content in the highest quality supported by the content itself and your TV. All of this is made possible by the A12 Bionic chip that powered the iPhone XS in 2018. You may think that’s a little old, however, the AppleTV doesn’t need that much power, and that is still an upgrade from the iPhone 7’s A10 that shipped with the previous AppleTV 4K. I don’t what to go too far into the features of tvOS because I want to make a more detailed video on that subject, so here are the basics. You can AirPlay content to your AppleTV from your iPhone, iPad, and Mac, you can pair your AirPods or Beats to listen to the TV through your headphones, you can create multiple users, and there’s a large App Store. 

The highlight of this AppleTV is the much-needed updated remote. Let’s look at the previous AppleTV remote for reference. It’s a black piece of glass, as thin as a couple of sheets of paper and as slippery as a bar of soap. Set it down in the dark while you’re watching a movie, and it will find a way to slither its way into the couch. Not to mention, when you’re in the dark or just not paying attention, you can’t tell which side is the top since both are covered in glossy glass. They tried circling the menu button in white, but that didn’t do any good. Lastly, the touchpad was so imprecise. This new remote is an improvement from every angle. It’s light silver, thicker, has more dedicated buttons like power and mute buttons, the menu button is replaced with a back button, and a D-pad was added over the touchpad for more precise movements.

So, that’s my setup! And what do I think of it? Well, the AppleTV is great! As you can tell, I’m loving the new remote, and I feel at home with tvOS. Would I recommend it to someone else? That’s a tough one. Starting at $179 for the 4K model, it’s pretty expensive for what is essentially a streaming stick. They still have the HD model available for $149, but I’m not sure if I can recommend that either since it hasn’t been updated since 2015, other than coming with the new remote. Ignoring its lack of updates, $149 was expensive for an HD streaming stick in 2015, much less today. It’s also in this weird marketing place, with Apple advertising it as a gaming console, especially since the release of Apple Arcade. However, I don’t think that the gaming aspect is catching on. The AppleTV also lacks the exclusive features it used to have, with the AppleTV app now available on other streaming devices. Even AirPlay is built into most modern smart TVs. So, unless you have the money laying around or you find one on sale, I would recommend going with a Roku. Just make sure you read their privacy policy beforehand, get subscribed to learn more about that.

Would I recommend the HomePod Mini? That’s a hard NO. If you look at all the features, or the lack of them, you will see what I mean. For one thing, Siri is not unique to the HomePod. If I really want to use Siri, I could just as easily talk to my iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, or AppleTV. I have enough devices with Siri built-in. Besides, it’s not like she can play music for me, an Amazon Music subscriber. The only music streaming service she works with is Apple Music. Not that it really matters because I prefer to pick out my own music. Then, the tap your iPhone on your HomePod feature to AirPlay without changing settings on your device is more of a party trick, a hey look what I can do. In practice, if I’m sitting on my couch I’m not likely to get up and tap my phone on the HomePod to AirPlay. Not to mention, that feature only works with iPhone 12 and newer, presumably. Also, in my current arrangement, AirPlay is not a necessity. Besides, my original intention was to set my pair of HomePod Minis as the default speakers for the AppleTV. But unfortunately, those features are reserved for the discontinued full-size HomePod. Which I’m not that upset about. When I did pair the Minis to the AppleTV to watch a movie, they didn’t do all that great. The soundtrack sounded good, but all the voices seemed mulled. They also didn’t get as loud as I had hoped. For instance, I have, what I would think of as, a medium-sized living room. I found the stereo paired HomePod Mini’s a bit too quiet, even at half volume. I had to crank it to at least 75% to be what I think of as a normal listening volume. At that point, things really get distorted. I see the HomePod Mini as a bedroom speaker for an Apple Music subscriber. Long term, I could just as easily get a better soundbar and AirPlay my content to the AppleTV when needed.

**Update: tvOS 15 and iOS 15 on the HomePod Mini now allow you to set your HomePod Minis as the default speaker on your AppleTV. However, my thoughts on the audio quality still stand.

I knew what I was getting into when I purchased the AppleTV, and I love the experience. The HomePod Mini, on the other hand, I was hoping for more. However, it is a three-inch tall ball, so how much could I really expect. That being said, the HomePods were fun to play with, but they were not the missing puzzle piece to my entertainment setup. So, say tuned for part two, where we will learn if a $200 soundbar will be the missing puzzle piece.

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