Until recently, my 4th generation app-ified Apple TV hasn’t really been any more or less useful than my Roku 3 and Fire TV. And, for some, its launch without Apple’s rumored television service has been a significant disappointment.
However, I was recently turned on to Channels ($15) – a new app which streams live television from any HDHomeRun network tuner, So you can pipe both linear television and streaming services all through the same input and interface (although, as of yet, without universal Siri search). While this will naturally appeal to cord cutters with an antenna, those very same HDHomeRun OTA models now map clearQAM (for those with providers that still deliver, like FiOS) and, of course, there’s the HDHomeRun Prime for digital cable via CableCARD.
Channels features a clean and easily navigable interface, populated with rich guide data, and streams reliably in my limited testing. But what really makes things interesting is the Channels 1.4 update that just dropped… with a 30 minute video buffer! Meaning you can pause your appointment television while you hit the head. Or build up a 20 minute buffer to skip all the commercials in a 60 minute show. Or flip back to catch that bit of dialog you missed. Most impressively, you can scrub to and fro across the entire buffer via Apple’s sometimes-finicky touchpad — and, having played with a pre-release version the last few weeks, I can tell you it’s buttery smooth.
While not a full fledged digital video recorder, the Channels video buffer provides a whole lot of utility… and I suspect the developers will ultimately tap into the upcoming HDHomeRun software DVR platform to also pipe recordings into Apple TV.