I have a big fancy Vizio 65” 4K HDR TV in the living room. My guiding principle on TVs is I won’t buy a TV that I can’t move myself. Problem is, they keep making them larger, but thinner and lighter. So over the decades that limit keeps getting pushed up: 27” CRT, then 37” LCD, then 42”, then 55”, then 65”. But at this point the bezel is basically nonexistent and my arms are only so long, so I think I’ve hit the permanent limit. Besides, I can quit whenever I want.

I have a few entertainment devices hooked up to it, all controlled by a Harmony remote setup:

  • Apple TV 3rd generation (2012)
    • YouTube content, mostly pop science/engineering videos, and watching grown men and women play video games
    • Streaming my ripped DVD collection from a 6 year old Mac Mini in the office
  • Xbox One S
    • Gaming, mostly Hitman these days
    • Twitch (again, watching grown men and women play video games for my amusement)
    • 4K Blu-Ray player
  • Xbox 360
    • Previous generation games, when I feel the desire
  • Wii U
    • Super Mario Maker, plus the previous Wii games I have

When Apple announced the Apple TV 4K a few weeks ago, I decided to order it. I never got the 4th generation because it didn’t really offer anything I needed beyond my current use case. However, the few UHD Blu-Ray titles I’ve bought have come with iTunes codes, so I’ve got them downloaded to my Mac Mini to be served to the Apple TV (albeit at 1080p), and Apple announced they will be upgrading purchased 1080p titles to 4K, so I figured I’d give it a shot and pre-ordered it.

I watch a lot of YouTube content, usually in short bursts of 10-20 minute videos between doing other things, so the YouTube experience is important to me, more than movies or gaming. Here’s a summary of the experience of the YouTube app on the older 3rd generation:

  • Home shows a changing array of videos YouTube thinks you may like, and is generally good at this
  • Subscriptions shows latest video activity from channels you subscribe too, as well as a list of channels
  • My YouTube shows your view history, your videos, your playlists, etc

When watching a video, you have several actions available:

  • Left/Right to rewind/fast forward.
  • Select to pause/unpause. While paused, it shows you a menu of the Up Next video and a few Related videos, the ability to thumbs up/down the video, and to go to the video’s channel.
  • Up/Down to show video position, along with basic information about the video (title, channel, views, release date). Down is quite useful: when you press it, the seek bar is divided up into about 15 hash marks, and you can go left/right to quickly seek to a general point in the video.
  • Back to exit out of the video.

Now, here is how I discovered it works on newer models, including the Apple TV 4K:

  • Home, Subscriptions and My YouTube generally look and work the same as before.
  • Left/Right will still rewind/fast forward, but I rarely use those as it takes too long and can be inaccurate. Mind you, I’m talking about using a Harmony remote here, not the touchpad remote which comes with it, which seems to be a slightly better seeking experience.
  • When you press Select to pause, the video menu is completely missing. No way to browse related videos, or go to the video’s channel. While paused, you can use left/right to go back/forward a fixed 10 seconds, no matter the length of the video.
  • When you press down, the hash mark navigation no longer exists. Instead it now shows you the title and screenshot (no release date or view count), and “Visit this video on your computer or laptop and click the flag icon to submit a claim” followed by the video’s URL. What?

The lack of hash mark navigation is annoying but I could have lived with that change. But the lack of the Related menu is a deal breaker for my use case. First of all, it’s useful to find, well, related videos. If you let a video run to the end, it will go on to the next related video, but that’s not always what I want to watch.

But more importantly, most YouTube videos have about 30 seconds of junk at the end which I don’t want to watch. On the 3rd generation, once the content portion of the video was done, I could press Select to pause, then immediately go to the next video or pick a related video, or go Back. With the 4K, my only options are to go Back, or wait until the end for whichever video YouTube has chosen for me.

So for my primary use case, the YouTube app is basically broken, removing half the features I use. Funny enough, the primary reason I bought it (4K iTunes purchase upgrades) is also broken, or at least not what I expected. Turns out you can’t download the 4K movies, only stream them from the Internet, which can be hit or miss. And I’ve already got the 4K Blu-Rays, so I may as well watch them with a consistent experience via the Xbox One.

And so ends the journey of a launch day Apple TV 4K. It spent a week traveling from Hong Kong to my front door, then a few hours later from my front door to the Apple store a few miles away. The five year old 3rd generation Apple TV will continue to be my primary multimedia source, until 1) YouTube improves its app, 2) it dies, or 3) planned obsolescence forces me to upgrade.