Apple launches a U.S.-only music video station, Apple Music TV

Apple is expanding its investment in music with today’s launch of “Apple Music TV.” The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour livestream of popular music videos and other music content, including, exclusive video premieres, curated music video blocks, live shows, fan events, chart countdowns and guest appearances.

The service doesn’t have its own dedicated app, but is instead offered as a new feature within two of Apple’s existing entertainment apps. At launch, you can watch Apple Music TV from within the Browse tab of either the Apple Music app or the Apple TV app. (Accessible via apple.co/AppleMusicTV).

While Apple Music is a paid subscription service, Apple Music TV will be free to users in the U.S., the company says.

To kick off its launch, Apple Music TV today began with a countdown of the top 100 most-streamed songs ever across all of Apple Music, based on U.S. data.,

During brief tests of the new service, we found it to be a fairly basic (if uncensored) experience. The video stream only offered artist and song details at the beginning, instead of as the music played. It also didn’t take advantage of the integration with Apple Music to offer additional features to paying subscribers — like being able to favorite the song or add it to a playlist, for instance.

The stream would stop when the Apple Music app was closed, as it didn’t support background play.

Image Credits: Apple

There also weren’t any on-screen tools to share what you were watching via a social media post. You had to dig to find the “share” button under the three-dot, “more” menu. This would give you a link to tweet, but wouldn’t pre-fill it with text or hashtags, like the artist name or song.

While listening, you could stop the livestream and then return after a short pause. But after a bit, the stream would disconnect and the thumbnail of the paused music video reverts to the placeholder Apple Music TV image. When live, the text and icons will be shown in red. They revert to white when you’ve disconnected, as a visual cue.

Despite its simplicity, Apple Music TV gives Apple an immediate new home for its music-related original content, which over the years has included exclusive interviews, concert films, and more. It also provides Apple with another advantage with it goes to negotiate with artists for their premieres, as it introduces additional platform for reaching an artist’s fans — not only with the premiere itself, but by offering artists blocks of airtime leading up to their next debut that they can use to promote their releases.

The new station can also leverage content produced for the Apple Music 1 (formerly Beats 1) radio station, as it goes about running these promotions.

For example, on Thursday, October 22, Apple Music TV will promote the upcoming release of Bruce Springsteen’s “Letter to You” with music video blocks featuring his greatest videos, plus as exclusive interview with Zane Lowe, and a special livestream fan event.

Fridays, meanwhile, will focus on new music. This Friday, October 23, at 9 AM PT Apple Music TV will showcase two new exclusive video premieres – Joji’s “777” and SAINt JHN’s “Gorgeous.”

Apple Music TV’s biggest advantage, of course, is the fact that it’s freely accessible to millions of Apple device owners.

But it may struggle for traction as it lacks the features that make other livestream fan events or premieres engaging — like group chats or direct interactions with creators.

Instead, it’s more like a traditional TV broadcast — even MTV-like — compared with other online destinations where artists today connect with fans and promote their albums, like YouTube, VEVO, or more recently, Facebook, which just this year launched music videos.

Apple didn’t say if it planned to expand the new station outside the U.S.

Apple is extending some Apple TV+ subs through February 2021 for free

Apple told me today that it will be extending Apple TV+ subscriptions that are set to end November 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021 through their billing date in February of 2021.

The basic situation is that Apple gave away a free year of Apple TV+ to new device purchasers last year and those are all set to end in November. Apple knows everyone is still looking at a tough winter ahead filled with COVID-related restrictions so it’s bumping those subs out to February.

Monthly users whose subscription start date is before November 1st, 2020 also get a deal, with a $4.99 credit (the cost of an Apple TV+ subscription) appearing for November, December and January 2021. You do not have to do anything to receive the credit and users will be getting emails notifying them of these extensions/credits.

And, of course, if it gets to hold the total sub number steady through Q4 of a tough economic year, so much the better, right?

Apple TV+ had a bit of a slow burn start, with a big sub onramp in the form of devices and some high-profile launches that were tempered by early reviews of their marquee programming. But people warmed to the shows over time. 

I believed at the time that it was a bit of natural sugar crash happening. 

That proved out over time as The Morning Show ended up winning Apple TV+ its first Prime Time Emmy award. 

Total award nominations for Apple Originals now number 114, with 35 wins. 

And, by the way, Ted Lasso is one of the more clever and humane shows currently streaming at the moment. Please go watch it. It’s a well-acted melange of sport, non-toxic masculinity and heartfelt drama.

Also, as a quick note, if you were a day-one purchaser of an iOS device last year, it’s possible that your free year is actually ending October 31. But don’t worry, you’re covered in this offer, too. 

Here are the particulars of the deal for easy copying and pasting:

  • If your Apple TV+ subscription ends on November 1, 2020 through January 31 of 2021 Apple is extending the free year to your sub date in February of 2021.
  • This means that the yearly subscriber extension applies to people who subbed prior to January 31, 2020.
  • As an example, if your sub was set to end November 15th 2020 then your first billing date would now be February 15th, 2020.
  • If people signed up for yearly subs without a new device purchase during that same date period they will also get free through February 2021.
  • If you have signed up for a monthly subscription before November 1st, 2020, you’ll get a $4.99 credit per month. 
  • The new device program where you get a year free will still continue.
  • Customers will get emails about this.

The new Chromecast adds a remote and the new Google TV interface for $49

It’s been a while since Google gave its Chromecast line a proper bit of love — perhaps not surprising for a fairly mature device now marking its seventh year. At today’s big Launch Night In event, however, the company’s bringing the popular TV dongle a much-needed refresh by way of Chromecast with Google TV.

The new version of the streaming product looks pretty similar to its predecessor, though the perfectly circular shape has been stretched out in something more oblong, dangling off the end of an HDMI cable. The biggest change from a hardware standpoint is the addition of — reportedly — the product’s most requested features: a remote.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Long and slim (perfect for wedging between the couch cushions), the remote features a navigation wheel surrounding a selection button up top and devoted buttons for YouTube and Hulu. There’s also a Google Assistant button and a microphone flanked by the power and input buttons, which allows for voice control. It runs on a pair of AAA batteries, included in the box.

The other big addition here is Google TV. I’ve detailed the offering here, but the short version of it is that it’s a new interface from the company designed to offer a more streamlined viewing experience. It pulls together into a single spot movies, TV shows and live television programming — similar to what you get with something like Fire TV and Apple TV.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new dongle can support 4K HDR video at rates up to 60 frames a second. It also supports Dolby Vision, the company’s image optimization format. The system supports 6,500 apps and live and on-demand TV from 85 networks, as well as key streaming services like Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix and, of course, YouTube. Peacock support is on the way — as is support for Google’s Stadia gaming offering, which is set to arrive in the first half of next year.

The dongle is available for sale in the U.S. starting today, priced at $50. Customers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the U.K. can pre-order it today, as well.

Here’s everything Apple revealed at its September hardware event today

Apple announced a ton of new devices and features today at its September hardware event, but no word on its upcoming iPhones. That’s expected later in the month, maybe next.

In case you missed Apple’s hour-long keynote, here’s everything that was announced — including some things you might have missed.

Apple Watch

One of Apple’s big announcements is the new Apple Watch Series 6, priced at $399. The new wearable comes with a new Apple S6 silicon chip with an always-on energy-saving display. It also lands with a blood oxygen sensor.

Apple also announced a newer low-cost wearable, Apple Watch SE, which it priced at $279.

Family Setup: The new Family Setup option lets families stay connected, even when some members of the family don’t have an iPhone. It also comes with a family tracking feature, which lets parents make sure their kids have checked into school or sports practice, for example.

Fitness+: Apple is launching a new fitness subscription, landing at $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year. The service is available from inside the Activity app, and takes aim at in-home fitness services, which have taken off in part because of the ongoing pandemic. But so far, the fitness market doesn’t seem too flustered by the move.

Solo Loop: You can now get a Solo Loop for your Apple Watch, a single band that drops the standard clasp in favor of stretchy silicon. It comes in seven colors and a range of sizes.

The new Apple Watch Series 6 arrives September 18.

Apple iPad

Next up, the iPad. Apple said it’s refreshing the iPad line-up with a new fourth-generation iPad Air. The new slimline iPad Air lands with a 10.9-inch 2360×1640 resolution Retina display and replaces the Lightning port with a USB-C cable. The new iPad Air comes with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor embedded in the power button, and a new 12-megapixel, 4K-capable rear camera.

New A14 Bionic chip: Apple unveiled its new, super-fast five nanometer A14 Bionic chip, landing in the new iPad Air. It’s packed with close to 12 billion transistors, 40% up on the previous iteration of chips, and has a 16-core neural engine for apps that rely on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

New colors: Apple has two new colors on top of the existing silver, space gray and rose gold to now include green and sky blue.

New eighth-generation iPad: The new eighth-generation iPad got a refresh, too, packed with an earlier A12 Bionic chip, giving the iPad a much-needed performance boost.

Apple One

With an Apple subscription for TV, music, games, as well as iCloud storage charges, Apple is rolling its subscriptions into one place under its new Apple One plan. There are three tiers — one for individuals, another for families, and the top-tier includes the full package of Apple’s subscription services.

iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 14, and tvOS 14

Apple said its long-awaited software updates will arrive tomorrow — September 16. That includes iOS 14 for iPhones, iPadOS 14 for iPads, watchOS 14 for Apple Watch wearables and tvOS14 for Apple TV boxes.

And iOS 14 comes with new privacy and security features, a new and improved Maps, a redesigned Siri and a new in-built translator app.

No word yet on macOS Big Sur, Apple’s next desktop and laptop operating system. A release date is expected out in the next few weeks ahead of the holiday season.

Apple said to soon offer subscription bundles combining multiple of its services

Apple is reportedly getting ready to launch new bundles of its various subscription services, according to Bloomberg. The bundled services packages, said to be potentially called ‘Apple One,’ will include Apple services including Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, Apple News+ and iCloud in a number of different tiered offerings, all for one fee lower that would be lower than subscribing to each individually.

Bloomberg says that these could launch as early as October, which is when the new iPhone is said to be coming to market. Different package options will include one entry-level offering with Apple Music and Apple TV+, alongside an upgrade option that adds Apple Arcade, and other that also includes Apple News+. A higher-priced option will also bundle in extra iCloud storage, according to the report, though Bloomberg also claims that these arrangements and plans could still change prior to launch.

While the final pricing isn’t included in the report, it does say that the aim is to save subscribers between $2 and $5 per month depending on the tier, vs. the standard cost of subscribing to those services currently. All subscriptions would also work with Apple’s existing Family Sharing system, meaning up to six members of a single household can have access through Apple’s existing shared family digital goods infrastructure.

Apple is also said to be planning to continue its strategy of bundling free subscriptions to its services with new hardware purchases – a tactic it used last year with the introduction of Apple TV+, which it offered free for a year to customers who bought recently-released Apple hardware.

Service subscription bundling is move that a lot of Apple observers have been calling for basically ever since Apple started investing more seriously in its service options. The strategy makes a lot of sense, especially in terms of helping Apple boost adoption of its services which aren’t necessarily as popular as some of the others. It also provides a way for the company to begin to build out a more comprehensive and potentially stable recurring revenue business similar to something like Amazon Prime, which is a regular standout success story for Amazon in terms of its fiscal performance.

The Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box makes any home theater a bit more theatrical

Philips has steadily expanded its Hue line of smart lighting products to cover the entire home, inside and out. But while the ability to remotely control your lighting, including adjusting color, intensity and brightness is great, one of its more recent products focuses more on how to turn all those connected lights into a dynamic, at-home interactive entertainment experience. The Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is a relatively simple device that sits between your video sources, including things like game consoles and the Apple TV, and your television, enabling synced light shows that can take advantage of a wide range of Hue products.

The basics

The Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is at core an HDMI switcher, offering four HDMI inputs and a single HDMI output.  Signals from your input devices (ie. Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, PS4, etc.) go into the box, and are passed through to the TV, with switching happening automatically depending on which device is most recently active (you can also change them manually with the app and with voice controls).

The Sync Box supports a range of modern quality standards for display and audio, and even more recently thanks to a firmware update released by Philips earlier this year. It supports 4K 60Hz resolution, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision standards, as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound. It also supports HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.2 compliance for copyright protection.

You will need not only Hue colored lights, but also a Hue Bridge (the second-generation, rounded square version) to ensure that the Hue Sync Box is more than just a particularly expensive HDMI hub, but it does that job very well, too. If you do have Hue products, like the Hue Play light bars that can easily mount on top of your TV stand or to the back of your TV itself, or the Hue Signe multi-colored floor or table lamps, then you can use the Sync companion app to ensure your lights reflect what’s going on on screen – for any video that plays through the box from any source.

Image Credits: Philips

Design and performance

Why would you want this? Well, mostly because it looks really, really cool. Hue Sync has already been available as a software feature for you to use with video played back on Macs and PCs, when used in combination with a monitoring tool, but that has a lot of limitations, including not being able to work with official Netflix apps and Netflix in the browser. The Sync Box eliminates any potential roadblocks and also means you can use regular streaming and gaming sources without having to run a media center PC.

The box itself is relatively large, but that seems like it’s mostly to accommodate the multiple HDMI ports. It’s very short, despite being about twice the surface area of an Apple TV, so it should be very easy to integrate into your existing home theatre setup, whatever that entails.

Setting up the Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is very easy, and requires only installing the app and pressing the sync button on your Hue Bridge when instructed to do so. As mentioned, you can plug in up to four sources and the box will switch between them automatically when you use an input device, or you can also manually change the input (and rename them) using the app. The app also allows you to tweak the intensity, brightness and responsiveness of the light, making it more subtle or more extreme, depending on your preferences and your activity. A ‘Game’ setting, for instance, sets it to maximum intensity and responsiveness for a more dynamic effect befitting fast-paced interactive content.

Image Credits: Philips

I found that the lighting was extremely good at mimicking the colors and brightness of a scene, especially if you take the time to accurately set up the position of your Hue lights for a dedicated “entertainment area” in the official main Hue app. It’s an effect that, when used in its most subtle settings, can basically fade away but still provide genuine enhancement for the watching experience, making it feel more immersive. At its maxed out settings, it’s much more noticeable, but still something that basically fades away into the background over an extended period of use, in a good way.

Especially since the firmware update, the Hue Play Sync Box has proven a fantastic addition to my home theater setup, providing an extra bit of flair to every TV watching experience. It’s obviously more effective in dark rooms, but it really seems to especially complement high-quality OLED screens that produce vibrant colors and true, deep blacks.

Bottom line

The Hue Play HDMI Sync Box is a bit of an extravagance at $229.99, but it definitely adds to the overall home TV-watching experience, for movies, streaming, and for gaming. The four HDMI inputs mean you can also use it to add more ports to your TV, if that’s something you need, and the recent updates mean you’re not going to sacrifice any video quality while doing so.

 

Apple and Oprah to debut a new interview series, ‘The Oprah Conversation’

Apple is expanding its relationship with media mogul Oprah Winfrey. The company announced today its plans for a new series, “The Oprah Conversation,” which will feature timely discussions between Oprah and “newsmakers, though leaders and masters of their craft” across a range of topics. The first few episodes will focus on conversations around race, given recent events like the BLM protests.

The series, which was filmed remotely during the pandemic, will begin on July 30 at  4 PM PST with an episode titled “How to Be an Antiracist,” which will see Oprah and bestselling author Professor Ibram X. Kendi talking with book readers who are on a journey to learn how to become anti-racist. This episode will then be followed by a two-part interview with athlete, commentator, activist and creator and host of “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” Emmanuel Acho on August 1.

Oprah will also converse with Equal Justice Initiative founder and bestselling author Bryan Stevenson later in the series.

The show’s format will include Oprah speaking with guests, but will also incorporate audience engagement, like viewer questions.

Image Credits: Apple; Episode 101 with Oprah and Kendi

This is the third series that Oprah is now doing for Apple, having launched “Oprah Talks COVID-19” in late March, and “Oprah’s Book Club” last year, as part of her multi-year agreement with the company. Another show, produced in partnership with Prince Harry and focused on mental health, has yet to arrive. Oprah also participated in Apple’s documentary series, “Visible: Out on Television.”

Unfortunately for Apple, Oprah’s multi-year deal is overlapping with a pandemic which has shut down TV production leading to the launch of these “filmed remotely”-style series.

Oprah’s COVID series, for example, was quickly put together in reaction to the health crisis and used lower production values, making it a first of its kind on Apple TV+. Before its arrival, Apple TV+ content had been highly produced and offered in 4K. But those initial experiments in remote TV production made further shows like this new series possible.

While much of Apple TV+ content requires a subscription, “The Oprah Conversation” will debut exclusively on the service for free on Thursday, July 30, Apple says. After the first free episode, the remainder of the series will require a $4.99 per month Apple TV+ subscription to view. The Apple TV+ service is available across devices, including Apple’s own, as well as select smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

Apple TV+ to release Tom Hanks naval drama ‘Greyhound’ on July 10

Tom Hanks’ “Greyhound” is the latest movie to skip theaters and head straight to streaming — in this case, to Apple TV+. Deadline reported last month that Apple had picked up the film, which now has a release date of July 10.

Sony had previously pushed back the movie’s release multiple times, most recently settling on June 19 (Father’s Day weekend).

Of course, those plans were scuttled by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting theatrical closures. Although theaters are preparing to reopen with new social distancing measures, with Warner Bros’ “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan” scheduled for release in July, it remains to be seen whether moviegoers are ready to return.

Meanwhile, studios have taken different strategies for different films — delaying some, accelerating VOD/streaming releases for others and either skipping theaters for their own streaming services (in the case of Disney) or selling films to streamers (in the case of Netflix and “The Lovebirds”). Sony went the latter route, with “Greyhound” going to Apple.

Aaron Schneider directed the film, while Hanks wrote the screenplay based on C.S. Forester’s novel “The Good Shepherd.” He also stars as a first-time Naval captain during World War II who has to protect a convoy of 37 ships from Nazi U-boats.

Apple was already working with Hanks on “Masters of Air,” a World War II series executive produced by Hanks, Gary Goetzman (who also produced “Greyhound”) and Steven Spielberg.

Original Content podcast: Apple’s ‘Amazing Stories’ is thoroughly unamazing

It’s been two-and-a-half years since the news first broke that Steven Spielberg would be rebooting his ’80s anthology series “Amazing Stories” for Apple’s then-unnamed streaming service.

Now, after some behind-the-scenes drama, “Amazing Stories” has launched on Apple TV+, with the first two segments currently available. The first, “The Cellar,” is a time travel romance, while “The Heat” is a combination ghost story/murder mystery/sports drama.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, it’s hard to tell exactly who this show was made for. Both of the episodes aired so far get pretty goofy, as if the show was made for kids — but they also move into surprisingly dark territory. Both start with familiar setups, then take some surprising twists and turns, but the results aren’t very satisfying.

In the end, it was hard for any of us to muster any enthusiasm for watching the show’s remaining three episodes.

You can listen to our full review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple . You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:44 “Amazing Stories” review
25:50 “Amazing Stories” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: ‘Mythic Quest’ is a likable comedy with a single standout episode

There’s plenty to like about “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” a new series on Apple TV+ — its sympathetic-but-critical portrayal of the video game industry, its goofy-but-likable characters and a couple of big surprises that come at the end of the season.

But what really stood out to us — as we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast — was a single episode, “A Dark Quiet Death.”

Without getting into spoilers, it’s probably safe to reveal that the episode mostly stands apart from the rest of the season, telling a self-contained story about two characters (played by Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti) who, after they create a quirky horror video game that turns into a surprise hit, discover that success isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Where the rest of “Mythic Quest” is a broad comedy (with the aforementioned likable characters and surprising plot), “A Dark Quiet Death” is more of a drama that quietly — but agonizingly — portrays the tensions between commerce and art. And if we have a criticism, it’s that the episode’s achievement can make the rest of the show feel a little silly in comparison.

We also discuss Anthony’s interview with the creators of the show and how “Mythic Quest” might have been shaped by the involvement of video game company Ubisoft. And before we begin the review, we react to this year’s Oscars.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:27 Oscars discussion
17:54 “Mythic Quest” review
50:31 “Mythic Quest” spoiler discussion