Cutting the Cord: Apple TV shining bright

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Apple is buffing up its Apple TV set-top box in hopes of making it a more popular choice for cord cutters.

The purveyor of iPhones and iPads is playing catch-up in the Net video streaming device competition. But some Apple TV advances announced last week could give it a boost.

One of the latest additions to the 6,000-plus Apple TV apps: Sling TV, the live-streaming service that bundles channels such as AMC, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, HGTV, TBS and TNT for $20 monthly. Sling just added Comedy Central to that basic package. (You can add more channels, including new additions such as BET, Cooking Channel and MTV, in $5 programming packages.)

Sling TV and several new features are only available on the fourth-generation Apple TV released in October 2015 ($149 for the 32-Gigabyte model, $199 64GB). That hardware refresh helped Apple gain on competitors such as Roku. However, it still lags behind, as Roku was in about 30% of broadband homes with a streaming device in 2015, compared with Apple’s 20%, according to market research firm Parks Associates.

Improvements in Apple’s tvOS operating system make artificial intelligent assistant Siri a better content caddy. You can now universally search a larger collection of apps and channels, including Bravo, CBS, Disney, ESPN, Food Network, PBS and Syfy, and Siri will peruse more than 650,000 movies and TV episodes for you.

You can now also search YouTube — it’s not part of universal searching — by simply saying, “Search YouTube for surfing videos” or whatever.

And Siri has gotten sharper so your searches can be less specific and more wide-ranging. On stage at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, iOS software guru Eddy Cue used the example “Find high school comedies from the Eighties.”

Siri will also take you straight to a channel, if you offer a command such as “Siri watch ESPN 2,” the AI will boot up WatchESPN.

Also coming this summer is an improved iOS app that gives your iPhone or iPad the same abilities as the Siri Remote that comes with Apple TV, including Siri voice search, keyboard input and controller support for some Apple TV games.

Another feature in the works for this fall, Single Sign-On, will make life simpler for pay-TV subscribers who have TV Everywhere apps constantly needing authentication. The idea is that a viewer will log into one pay-TV app, such as Fox Now, and all other TV apps that require authentication would also be approved.

Nice touches like that — and an ever-smarter Siri — can help Apple TV connect with more Net TV lovers.

“Cutting the Cord” is a regular column covering Net TV and ways to get it. If you have suggestions or questions, contact Mike Snider at msnider@usatoday.com. And follow him on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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