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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 February 2013 Issue  Volume 14  Number 2

Product Evaluations

Apple TV 3rd Generation: Apple Maintains Accessibility Excellence

In the United States, it is currently very difficult to find an accessible platform for viewing television programming. With Apple TV, Apple has provided an accessible way for users who are blind or visually impaired to access content on their television. Apple TV uses your Internet connection to provide you with access to the wide range of titles available from the iTunes Store as well as providing access to Netflix, Hulu+, YouTube, and more. It is important to note, however, that Apple TV does not provide access to standard cable or satellite programming. Programs are either purchased from iTunes individually or accessed from a subscription service, such as Netflix.

Since the AccessWorld evaluation of Apple TV 2nd Generation in April 2011, Apple TV has seen numerous software updates in its 3rd Generation. I will evaluate the changes to the interface of Apple TV since the last review as well as the accessibility of the latest software.

Unboxing and the Physical Description of Apple TV and Apple Remote

The Apple TV box contains the Apple TV unit, a power cable, an Apple remote, and setup instructions in standard print. Apple kindly provides these setup instructions in an accessible PDF format on the Apple Support Manuals page devoted to Apple TV. You must also have an HDMI cable to connect Apple TV to your HDMI-equipped television or monitor.

The Apple TV Device

The Apple TV unit takes the form of a flattened cube measuring 0.9 by 3.9 by 3.9 inches and weighing 0.6 pounds. The top of the device is smooth and flat with a glossy inlay of the Apple logo with the letters "TV" next to it. The front and sides of the device are glossy and house the infrared receiver. The back of the device contains the Ethernet port, the power adapter port, an HDMI port, and an optical audio port, which are all easily discerned by touch. The bottom of the device is slightly convex and contains an image of the Apple logo in a flattened circular area.

The Remote

The Apple remote is a flattened, narrow rectangle of aluminum. The top contains the buttons for controlling the Apple TV, and these lie close to the front edge of the remote. The first button is a large circle that serves as arrow keys. The circle is raised away from a concave "Select" button in the center. Below are two buttons: "Back/Menu" on the left and "Play/Pause" on the right. The "Back/Menu" button is concave, and the "Play/Pause" button is convex for easier identification. The back contains the battery compartment, which looks like a raised circle with a vertical line indented into the center. This disc can be turned like a screw to reveal the battery in a circular hollow beneath it. Overall, the remote was easy to navigate and use because of its low number of buttons and their clear differentiation from each other.

Setup

Once you have connected Apple TV to your television and a power outlet, you must find the HDMI input channel that it is connected to. Note that the accessibility of this process will depend on your television manufacturer. Once you are on the correct channel, you will be prompted to set your language and wireless network. Initially, VoiceOver is not activated, but if you wait a few moments, a voice will explain how to activate VoiceOver with your remote. To do this, you press the "Play/Pause" button three times in quick succession. VoiceOver describes the location of this button in its instructions for activating it, so even if you have never used the Apple remote before, you can easily find the button. From this point, VoiceOver will explain what you must do on each screen. When you use the arrows to navigate among the options available, VoiceOver will read them. Overall, the setup process is extremely accessible and easily accomplished by a person who is blind or visually impaired.

User Interface

The interface on Apple TV 3rd Generation has changed since the last evaluation in the April 2011 issue of AccessWorld.

The Main Menu

After you have finished the initial setup process, the first item in the main menu will be highlighted. The main menu consists of a grid of icons. The first row of icons contains the main items: Movies, TV Shows, Music, Computers, and Settings. When one of these icons is highlighted, associated content pops up in a navigable bar at the top of the screen. For example, if you highlight the TV Shows icon and arrow upwards, you will find yourself in a row of icons that display the most popular TV shows. If an icon does not have associated content (for example, the Settings icon), the top of the screen remains blank, and you are unable to navigate to it. Certain icons, such as Music and Computers, have descriptions of their function that appear in the bar at the top of the screen. These are read by VoiceOver after a moment of waiting.

There are three rows of icons below the top row. VoiceOver recognizes these as a separate list from the top icons because it reports their position (for example, 4 of 13 icons) without taking into account the icons in the top row. Likewise, VoiceOver only alerts you to five icons when you are in the top row. Associated content does not appear for the icons below the first row. You can change the order of the icons beginning in the second row by highlighting an icon and holding down the "Select" button on your remote. Voice Over will announce that you are in Moving Mode, and as you move about with the arrows, VoiceOver will announce what position you have moved the selected icon to. Icons move by switching places with the icon in the direction that you pressed. You can drop the icon by pressing "Select" again, and VoiceOver will alert you that you are out of Moving Mode.

Application User Interface

Apple TV applications have almost an identical user interface. Applications contain vertical lists of options that can be selected. These lists always appear as bright text on a black background. When displaying content, Apple TV displays a large icon grid. This grid is different from the main menu. Each row of icons is a separate category of content, and you can cycle through it by pressing the left and right arrows. To change categories, you move upwards and downwards. When entering data, Apple TV always uses the same keyboard with minor changes. The keyboard appears as a grid of letters in alphabetical order with numbers and symbols positioned after the letters. The keyboard can be adjusted by arrowing to tabs above the character grid. These tabs allow you to change the letters to capital letters as well as view a grid of symbols that are not displayed in the main alphabet grid. You can also change the alphabet grid from tab to tab by pressing the "Play/Pause" button. To the right of the grid, you will see a "Submit" button if you are entering login credentials or search results if you are searching for content. The search results are in a column and update instantly as you type. When you select a piece of content, you are provided with the details of that content as well as icons for interacting with the content (for example, playing or purchasing it). Often, the applications will provide you with a list of content that is related to the content you have selected. Video playback is full screen, and you are able to play, pause, fast forward, or rewind the video or audio. If you exit from content playback, playback stops and your position in the content is lost. This occurs for all applications except for the Internet Radio application. Radio stations will continue to play until you attempt to play another piece of content.

VoiceOver Performance

VoiceOver on the Apple TV is simple to control and allows someone who is blind or visually impaired to access the device in its entirety. VoiceOver will read what item you highlight with the arrows, and will read any associated content if you wait for a moment. VoiceOver will also read text on a screen that is not navigable. For example, when you are updating the device's software, you will be presented with a status alert with options you are able to select. VoiceOver reads the text and, then, reads the option that is selected. This is also true for edit fields and content descriptions. The only area in which VoiceOver does not speak is during video playback. VoiceOver reads the title of radio stations and audio podcasts, but when fast-forwarding or rewinding, VoiceOver does not speak.

VoiceOver can only be activated with a keystroke during setup, which is accomplished by pressing the "Play/Pause" button three times. After setup is finished, VoiceOver can only be enabled or disabled from the Accessibility Menu in Settings. You can set the "Back/Menu" button to act as a shortcut to the Accessibility Menu so that VoiceOver can be activated and deactivated quickly and easily. This also removes the need to memorize menus if you would like to activate VoiceOver without sighted assistance. VoiceOver does not have any keystrokes to perform specific tasks. All of the information that you need to use Apple TV successfully is given automatically using only standard controls. A keystroke to silence speech or to reread a message that cannot be navigated to would be useful as you currently need to exit a screen and reenter it to have a non-navigable message read a second time.

Applications

Apple TV comes with many applications preinstalled. At this time, it is not possible to download extra applications. The following are the applications on Apple TV with a brief description of each:

  • Movies: Purchase or rent movies from the iTunes Store.
  • TV Shows: Purchase TV Shows from the iTunes Store. You can purchase individual episodes or complete seasons.
  • Music: Use iTunes Match to access your music library from iCloud.
  • Computers: Use Home Sharing. You will need an Apple ID to do this and have Home Sharing activated on your Mac or Windows computer running iTunes.
  • Netflix: Stream content from Netflix. Netflix is a service that allows you to stream many TV shows and movies for a small monthly fee. You must be subscribed to Netflix to use this feature. If you are not subscribed to Netflix, you can obtain a one-month free trial within the application. After this point, you will be charged for Netflix Internet streaming if you do not cancel your subscription.
  • Hulu+: Access content from Hulu+. Hulu+ is also a service that provides access to streaming movies and TV shows. You must be a Hulu+ subscriber to use this application, and you can obtain a one-week free trial if you are not a Hulu+ subscriber. You will be charged after the week of free access unless you cancel your subscription.
  • Trailers: Stream movie trailers for free. You can also view show times for your local area.
  • YouTube: Access videos from the popular website YouTube.
  • Vimeo: Access Vimeo content, which is a video sharing website similar to YouTube.
  • Podcasts: Access many podcasts for free. You are able to add podcasts to your favorites for easier access.
  • Radio: Access thousands of Internet radio stations.
  • WSJ Live: View content for free from the Wall Street Journal, including videos created by the Wall Street Journal as well as live streaming podcasts.
  • Photo Stream: Using iCloud, you can view your pictures in your Photo Stream album. Pictures can be automatically uploaded to iCloud from an iOS device or transferred to iCloud from a computer. The iCloud service is free Internet storage that is tied to your Apple ID.
  • Flickr: View images from the Flickr Internet photo storage service.
  • MLB TV, NBA, and NHL: Watch archived and live games with a subscription to their respective services and view standings and scores for their respective leagues for free.
  • Settings: Adjust your settings for your Apple TV. This is where you can activate VoiceOver as well.

Airplay and Remote Application

Apple Airplay allows you to play content from an iOS device through Apple TV. This process is accessible, and VoiceOver on Apple TV will read the content that is being streamed from your iOS device. Using the Remote application on an iOS device, you are able to control Apple TV as if your iOS device is a remote. This is useful when you enter text as you are able to use the keyboard on the iOS device instead of the alphabet grid on Apple TV itself. Establishing a connection is easily done for both of these processes. Airplay requires only that your iOS device is on the same wireless network as your Apple TV and that both devices are running appropriate versions of their operating systems. The Remote application requires that your iOS device is on the same wireless network as your Apple TV and that you have the same Apple ID registered both in the Remote application and on your Apple TV. Apple TV 3rd Generation comes equipped to use the Airplay process, but you will need to have iOS 4.3 on your iOS device to use this capability.

Low Vision Access

At this time, there are not any extra options to make Apple TV accessible to users who have low vision. The icons are very high contrast with dark spaces in between, and lists of options are bright with a dark background. Messages that appear on-screen are likewise bright text on a black background. This can be useful for a person with low vision as they are able to determine how many options are available on any given screen.

The Bottom Line

Overall, Apple has delivered a powerful product with nearly full accessibility. The lack of keystrokes when using VoiceOver makes for a very slight learning curve so that users who are blind or visually impaired can learn to use the device within minutes. Keystrokes for muting speech and rereading messages would be beneficial but are not necessary for your successful use of Apple TV. Likewise, the addition of VoiceOver feedback during video playback would be beneficial for determining if a video is loaded and how much time has passed when rewinding or fast forwarding. However, these are minor issues that are easily accommodated. We commend Apple for continuing to provide excellent accessibility to their products and would highly recommend Apple TV 3rd Generation to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Product Information

Product: Apple TV 3rd Generation
Price: $99
Available from: Apple
Phone: (800) 692-7753

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Copyright © 2013 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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