Apple has just released its latest Apple TV streaming box, dubbed Apple TV 4K. It’s not the company’s first 4K-capable box, but it’s by far the best. I tested the new streamer right after it was announced, putting it through its paces. It’s faster, smaller and, keep the first page, cheaper.
So should you invest in it if this is your first Apple box, or should you upgrade? Continue reading.
Apple TV 4K: what’s new?
There are plenty.
First, it’s better than the last model. More importantly, it’s cheaper. Better and cheaper is a rare combination, but this device ticks both boxes. This is the third generation 4K model and it arrived much earlier than expected. It was four years between the first and second 4K models, but only two years between the second generation and this one.
The new model is smaller and lighter than before. There are two versions: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi and Ethernet, only the latter including an Ethernet port.
It has increased storage over the previous one: the 32GB and 64GB models are now upgraded to 64GB and 128GB storage tiers. That’s good if you plan to download games. It doesn’t make as much of a difference if you want Apple TV just for movies, as those are regularly streamed rather than residing on the hard drive.
There’s a new processor, the A15 Bionic chip, which is the one first seen in the Apple iPhone 13 Pro and now in the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus. In other words, a humble TV box is now as powerful as the latest iPhone (but not the iPhone 14 Pro).
And there’s now support for HDR10+ that wasn’t in the last model, plus continued compatibility with 4K (obviously), Dolby Vision, high frame rate HDR and Dolby Atmos. If your TV already supports Dolby Vision, this benefit may be less useful, but if it doesn’t – Samsung TV owners, I’m looking at you – it’s a definite bonus.
Another change: the otherwise identical Siri Remote (I’d say the best remote for any TV-related device) now charges with USB-C, not Lightning.
Apple TV 4K: Design
There’s very little design difference between the new Apple TV 4K and the old one. It’s a bit smaller in every way, but that’s about it. The previous model had the Apple logo followed by the letters “tv” but the new one has simplified things by opting for the Apple logo alone. The underside no longer has an Apple logo either.
You might think it’s disappointing that the Apple TV hasn’t changed its design significantly in a very long time. Fair enough, except you have to remember that this is a box you’ll probably never see. Since the remote connects via Bluetooth, there’s no need for a line-of-sight connection, so you can keep the box out of sight.
It’s slightly smaller and lighter but, again, when it’s out of sight you won’t really know.
Apple TV 4K: Siri Remote
It’s the same as last time, except for the charging arrangement switching to USB-C instead of Lightning. Note that there’s no USB-C cable included with the Apple TV 4K, but, who are you kidding, you have plenty of those around the house, don’t you?
The fact that the remote hasn’t changed isn’t a bad thing: it’s fantastic. Typically for Apple, there are hardly any buttons on board, but a very intuitive interface makes it easy to do everything you need.
Browsing through video is particularly satisfying when you twirl your thumb around the touch wheel, though it doesn’t work with all streaming services. There’s a power button that will also turn your TV off, with a long press, and the Siri button is on the right edge. It’s also where you tap the iPhone, so there’s a logic to that. Unlike the iPhone, you can’t say “Hey, Siri” to summon it. You have to press the button.
My favorite use of Siri on the remote is always to ask, “What did she say?”. The video replays the last 15 seconds of the video, with subtitles, which it then automatically turns off. Only Apple. Later this year, Siri will be able to recognize individual user voices, which should be a useful upgrade.
This remote was arguably the biggest upgrade from the last Apple TV box, and it retains its position as an outstanding controller. Note that it is limited for games and in many cases you are better off connecting a PlayStation or Xbox controller.
Apple TV 4K: performance
The A15 Bionic chips are highly energy efficient, apparently using 30% less electricity than the latest Apple TV 4K, which was powered by the A12 Bionic. It was already a powerful chip, but nothing like it.
It also means there’s power to be used in games, where faster chips mean better, smoother graphics. This fluidity also means a better experience when just scrolling through menus on the box, for example.
The addition of HDR10+ is welcome, provided your TV supports this format. Many do, so if your TV isn’t compatible with Dolby Vision, it could make a significant difference in the picture quality of compatible content. Amazon Prime Video like HDR10+, for example.
One thing that will come later is fast media switching. Currently, if you switch between content at a different frame rate, a black screen appears. It’s not for that long, but it can seem endless. With Quick Media Switching, it should be almost instantaneous. I have a feeling this will be one of those features you didn’t know you needed, but are hesitant to do without once you experience it.
Apple TV 4K: Verdict
It’s far from the cheapest streaming box on the market, and some rivals, in particular the brilliant Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, come close to doing just as good a job for less than half the price. But the simplicity of the sensational Siri Remote, the elegance of the Apple interface, and the breadth of games available through Arcade and to buy are enough to put Apple in the lead.
Then add the excellent addition of HDR10+ and the significant price drop – something unusual from any manufacturer, but especially Apple – and the Apple TV 4K is hard to beat.
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