(Pocket-lint) - Throughout the build up to Apple's September special event in San Francisco there was a lot of talk about the new Apple TV being a games console. And the company certainly alluded to its games-playing abilities during the press conference, with talks and on-stage demonstrations from developers including Harmonix and Pixel Toys.
The former is behind the Rock Band series as well as other hugely successful rhythm-based console titles, so is well placed to know what works in a living room environment and what doesn't. It's even developing new game Beat Sports specifically for the platform.
But can the new Apple TV really be a console rival as some have suggested? After all, Android-based consoles have, on the whole, failed miserably. And while the Amazon Fire TV has an expanding line-up of games available, we still doubt they are played much beyond the initial fascination.
Where will the Apple TV succeed where others have tried and fallen by the wayside? We attempt to find out...
Apple TV: The hardware
Technically, the Apple TV has the same 64-bit A8 processor as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus smartphones, but without the M8 motion coprocessor as that's not required in a set-top-box. It is therefore capable of running games in as good a quality as you're used to on the current phones.
It also has Metal technology support, which developers have been using to squeeze graphical performance out of the A8 chip for the last year. And as developers get better at data management, the games have gotten better over that time.
Just look at recent iOS releases, like Unkilled from Madfinger to see how good games can be on the platform.
Its 802.11ac Wi-Fi also ensures that it has speedy wireless connectivity to go with the wired Ethernet connection. And while the HDMI 1.4 output isn't capable of 4K gaming, it's of a high enough standard to output 1080p 60fps graphics if developers manage to squeeze them out of the GPU (unlikely but not impossible).
Where the hardware does let itself down a bit when it comes to being the main living room games machine is in storage space.
The latest top-of-the-range Xbox One and PS4 consoles have whopping 1TB hard drives. The Apple TV tops out at 64GB (with the $199 model, just 32GB for the $149). That means that storage is at a premium for app downloads and it is likely that the same filesize restrictions that apply to iPhone and iPad will apply to games for Apple TV.
The file size limit for iOS applications is 4GB, while triple-A PS4 and Xbox One games can be 10 times that or more. Forza Motorsport 6, for example, is almost 45GB in size.
That said, games like the excellent and graphically impressive Real Racing 3 are very clever with storage management on iOS, fitting within the 4GB limit and also using the cloud effectively. And graphical fidelity is not the be all and end all with games, there are many indie games for consoles today that have been awarded five star reviews yet fit within a couple of Gigabytes.
Apple TV: The controller
One area that Apple has got right when it comes to the Apple TV's gaming potential is in the adoption of Bluetooth 4.0 as the wireless connection standard for its game controllers. This effectively offers similar latency to the DualShock 4 and Xbox One wireless controllers, and therefore there is microscopic delay between pressing a button on the controller and something occurring on screen.
The only issue there is that, while the box supports the same MFi-based controllers as modern iOS devices (after iOS 8 was introduced), only the SteelSeries Nimbus and future devices (a Gamevice controller has also been announced) will offer almost latency-free game control.
Gamepads that are already available for iPad and iPhone connect through Bluetooth 2.1, so have latency of around 100ms, while the Nimbus could potentially get that down to 6ms - a massive difference when you're controlling responsive sprites.
Then, of course, there is the Siri Remote with its accelerometer, gyroscope and touchpad. It is being compared to a Wii Remote and can therefore offer motion gaming control. Considering how motion gaming has gone in the last year or so though, it's probably largely irrelevant to most gamers.
It will appeal to kids and families mind, so not worth dismissing completely.
The final control method available to developers comes in the form of Apple's other devices. Pixel Toys demonstrated how the new 3D Touch technology on an iPhone 6S can be used to enhance its new Warhammer game when used as a game controller. Maybe we'll even see Wii U style second screen abilities in future.
Apple TV: The games
This is the big one. Regardless of the hardware and marketing focus, whether the Apple TV can be considered a viable games console will come down the to most important element; the games themselves. And although we've already established that it cannot possibly compete with the triple-A line-up of the PS4, Xbox One and even the Wii U, several major publishers have announced interesting titles.
As well as Harmonix's Beat Sports, Pixel Toys' Warhammer 40K: Freeblade and Hipster Whale's Crossy Road, all of which were demonstrated during the Apple launch event, Activision has signalled its intention to support the platform.
It will be bringing Guitar Hero Live, Skylanders Superchargers and Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved to Apple TV. And they will be full versions of the games, to boot.
Apple's website also lists the excellent puzzle/RPG game Transistor, Ubisoft platformer Rayman Adventures and Shadowmatic. Of course, what these all have in common is that they are already available on or coming soon to iOS devices. Rayman Adventures is already out in New Zealand, for example, but is yet to make it over here.
These latter titles do prove one thing though; if an existing iOS game meets certain parameters, it will be a doddle for developers to port it onto tvOS and therefore the Apple TV.
Apparently the conditions set by Apple are that existing games - ones not adapted to work with the Siri Remote - must be able to work with an MFi controller as noted above, including the ability to navigate all menu screens using the thumbstick and buttons.Plus, it has to have auto-screen-sleep automatically disabled when not running on a tablet or phone and it must have Airplay support.
As long as those are in force, the game can be ported easily. Considering how many that do meet those criteria already, around 100 or more, we'd expect plenty of free and paid-for games to be available to users from launch day in November. That's many more games than Android TV or Amazon Fire TV has ever had on offer.
Also, it's worth considering that plenty of those games are of the calibre of Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas. All of the Final Fantasy iOS ports also comply with Apple's standards, so the Apple TV can't just be dismissed as a casual gaming device.
Give us a Singstar style game that we can interact with using our phones (or the Siri Remote) as a microphone, and/or a Trivial Pursuit quiz for the whole family and the Apple TV's gaming ambitions look all the more compelling.
However, keeping our feet to the ground for a minute, no matter how many great retro games or family experiences are offered the Apple TV will never be capable of the kind of gaming experiences you will get from the Xbox One, PS4 or Wii U.
What we've discovered here though is perhaps it doesn't need to in order to still steal the hearts and minds of a certain gaming community. The Wii U never really filled the gap left by the original Wii when it came to being the family console - the hub of the living room that young and old could crowd around on occasion.
The Apple TV can fill that role. After all, it's meant to be the central entertainment box anyway and will no doubt be the portal to services like Netflix and NOW TV for many.
Yes, the Xbox One and PS4 can be that too, but both are around double the price of a new Apple TV and if a purchaser doesn't require the latest, most graphically intensive games around, it's a very attractive choice.
So, in answer to the question, can the Apple TV be considered a games console? The answer is yes, it can. But if asked, is it a PS4 or Xbox One killer? It most certainly is not. It's an all-new games console for a very different audience. One that might never have considered owning a games console before.