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Sarah Tew

7 ways Apple TV can get better

Apple's World Wide Development Conference may bring news of improvements to the streaming and gaming box. Here's hoping.

This story is part of WWDC 2020. All the latest coverage from Apple's WWDC annual developers conference.
Now playing: Watch this: The Apple TV is great. Here's how to make it even better

I like the Apple TV a lot. It's one of my favorite streaming media devices, coming in third place on my list after a couple of Rokus and ahead of Amazon's Fire TV Stick.

There's still room for improvement, however. WWDC, Apple's big developer's conference kicking off Monday, provides a great opportunity for the tech behemoth to announce its latest Apple TV upgrades.  

I reached out to Apple but a spokesperson declined to offer any insight into the company's immediate plans for the Apple TV. She did encourage me to watch Monday's livestream, however.

I plan to. Here's what I'm hoping to see when I do.

Amazon Video app

My number one complaint about Apple TV is the lack of a real app for the second-most popular online source for TV shows and movies: Amazon Video. Rumor has it Amazon is finally coming to Apple TV this year, and could even be announced at the WWDC keynote. I'd consider the rumored Vudu app a nice bonus too.

David Katzmaier/CNET

4K and HDR streaming 

Unlike Roku, Apple has yet to dive into 4K streaming, which in conjunction with high dynamic range offers the best quality video from sources like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. To do 4K and HDR would require a whole new Apple TV box, rumored to arrive sometime this year. I suspect that could happen this fall -- not at WWDC -- but you never know.

'Hey Siri' hands-free TV

The first two amount to just catch-up to Roku, but Roku doesn't have anything like Siri, the superb voice-command system that works great on Apple TV. Currently you have to hold down the mic button on the remote, but I'd love the ability to speak a phrase such as "Hey Siri" to get her to "wake up" and listen for a command, without me having to touch the remote. 

To do so, Apple could tightly integrate Apple TV with a new Siri smart speaker, a la Amazon Echo and Google Home. But I'd also like the option to work without one. The new Nvidia Shield offers the ability to "listen" via the game controller, and Apple could enable something similar with its Siri remote. Nvidia's $50 Spot add-on is another path Apple could follow to bring down the price of hands-free voice control. A guy can dream, right?

Better gaming support

Apple TV may not have the hardware to match PlayStation 4, Xbox One or even Nvidia Shield, but it can still get a lot better at gaming. Beyond the myriad casual games it supports now, most of which are designed for phones and tablets, support for more games found on traditional consoles' download stores -- particularly indie titles, arcade favorites and older games -- could be really cool. Last summer Apple took a nice first step in removing the need for games to support the Siri remote, and now it should more strongly encourage developers to make Apple TV versions of their best button mashers. 

Optical digital audio output

The last generation of Apple TV had an optical digital audio output, but Apple dropped it from the new one. I know Apple has an aversion to extra ports, but hear me out. Assuming a new Apple TV gets 4K video, anyone who uses the device with an AV receiver or soundbar for switching will have to buy a new, 4K compatible one to pass it through to their 4K TV. With optical out, found on the competing Roku Ultra, you can keep your older but still perfectly good audio gear.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Remote finder

OK, I admit it, I like Roku's features a lot. And another great one is the little button you press on the top of the Ultra's box that causes its remote to emit a loud beep (or something else, like "Ride of the Valkyries"). Apple's Siri remote is one of my all-time favorites, but it's also super-easy to lose among the couch cushions. Problem solved with a finder button.

Better TV and device control

Right now Apple TV can control your TV's volume and power pretty easily using the touchpad remote, but it doesn't work with every TV. Control of other devices is similarly limited. If Apple really wanted to take over the liming room, it would build robust device control into the box, allowing the little clicker to command as many devices as a Harmony (or a Caavo), complete with an iPhone app and voice integration. 

If saying "Hey Siri, play Manchester by the Sea" caused the TV and/or AV receiver to turn on and switch to the right input, and the movie to start playing on Apple TV's new Amazon app, without me having to touch the remote, I'd like Apple TV even more.

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