Apple TV 4K (2021) review: much better remote, slightly faster box

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the new Apple TV 4K. It looks the same as Apple’s first 4K streaming box introduced in 2017, and the day-to-day experience doesn’t get much better when compared to that device. The biggest improvement is undoubtedly the redesigned second-generation Siri Remote that comes bundled with the new Apple TV 4K, but you can purchase it separately for $59.

Those who have long been the praises of Apple TV will love this updated hardware better. Now you have Wi-Fi 6 for faster and more powerful wireless performance. (The Gigabit Ethernet jack remains on the back for a wired connection.) Apple also supports Thread, a smart home networking protocol. finally It’s relatively small now, but it’s widely supported across the industry. The biggest internal change of the latest models is the upgraded chipset. Apple has moved from A10X Fusion to A12 Bionic. But the A12 is far from Apple’s latest and greatest silicon. It first appeared on the iPhone XS line in 2018 and is still in use on entry-level iPads and iPad Minis now. It’s an improvement, but it doesn’t change the game for Apple set-top boxes.

Apparently, Apple TV 4K is indistinguishable from its predecessor. What pays little attention to itself on a TV stand is still a black box that doesn’t have the same explanation. I want Apple to get rid of the glossy dust magnet side, but we’re not so lucky. The company is sticking to its traditional set-top box form factor, although many of its competitors have moved to more discreet HDMI dongles that are usually not seen behind TVs.

There were also more subtle technical improvements that weren’t advertised, but this is the type that video enthusiasts might notice. Apple is said to have solved most of the black problem in Dolby Vision content. HDTVTest Vincent Theo. However, as Apple TV 4K in 2021 still doesn’t support bitstream audio pass-through, the company hasn’t been able to address all the needs of home theater enthusiasts. However, we are still checking essentials like Dolby Vision, Atmos and HDR10.

The tvOS software experience is the same between this Apple TV 4K and its predecessor. Both menu navigation and Siri voice search give you extra speed, and the app seems to load faster than before. However, the difference is often insignificant. The 2017 Apple TV 4K is still going well today in terms of performance. The reason is that tvOS is very stylish at this point and doesn’t lower the viewing experience of in-face ads or sponsored content.

The Apple TV’s home screen is still the default grid for apps.

The Apple TV’s home screen is still the same old grid of apps, and Apple is committed to integrating TV shows and movies from numerous services, and encouraging you to use the Apple TV app to find Apple TV. Plus original. Ted lasso We’ll be back soon in case Apple doesn’t already have enough of that message in your brain. The Apple TV app is great and good at recommendations (if you don’t find anything on Netflix), but it hasn’t changed much except for the Apple TV Plus section and it feels pinned in place.

Thankfully, Apple has evolved and added tvOS elsewhere in recent years with new features like multi-user support, Apple Fitness Plus, and HomePod home theater audio. Speaking of which, the new Apple TV 4K lets you play audio through any HDMI device through the original HomePod. I don’t have Apple speakers to try this myself, but early reports suggest that ARC audio works fine for video content. However, if you try to play games using the HomePod as a speaker, the latency can hinder the transaction.

Another new trick in tvOS, which is also available on older Apple TV devices, is the automatic correction feature that uses the iPhone’s camera to process the color patterns on the screen and adjusts the image to look as cool as possible. This doesn’t actually change the TV settings. Apple TV is optimizing its own picture settings and you can see the difference by switching between this calibrated “balanced” result and the default. Most high-end TVs give you instant accurate settings, especially in movie or retouch mode, but the fact is that Apple’s features can lead to improvements. Often produces a warmer image. If you’re serious about the picture quality, it’s a good idea to do some legitimate corrections to get the best results from your TV’s various inputs.

The 2nd generation Apple TV 4K looks the same as the first model.

As before, the second-generation Apple TV 4K can serve as a hub for HomeKit accessories. Having a hub allows you to remotely control these devices when you are outside your home. When are At Home, you can use voice commands on your Apple TV 4K to quickly access smart home gadgets or display a camera feed on the screen. Apple has also included Thread, a wireless communication standard developed specifically for the smart home, in the new Apple TV 4K, allowing Thread devices to become a hub for connecting and accessing via the Internet. Threads should provide a more reliable connection and faster response times between devices that support the protocol. Apple has also built it into the HomePod Mini and is the basis for the upcoming multi-platform Matter standard. However, other tricks that were once selling points for Apple TV, such as AirPlay, can now be found on many smart TVs and even Roku devices.

The video stream on Apple TV 4K still offers great quality, but some of the frustrations mentioned almost four years ago still remain with tvOS today. Apple has long enabled the box to match the dynamic range and frame rate of content playback, but not all apps have taken advantage of this. So if the default setting in your video settings is Dolby Vision with Dynamic Range Matching enabled, you will still encounter situations where SDR content is not attractive due to forced HDR processing. (Even if it’s very obvious that 4K files are being streamed, there’s a weird bug in the new Apple TV 4K where some movies show up as “HD”.) You’ll get the best results if you set tvOS to SDR by default with matching enabled. There is. But this won’t turn YouTube into HDR.

Live TV integration with Siri has at least ESPN, but the list of providers and apps is very small. I’d love to see tvOS offering deeper support for live TV apps like Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Hulu, along with Live TV beyond what’s included in a single login.

One argument often made by Apple TV owners to support the premium cost of hardware is that they appreciate Apple’s strict privacy policy. A new app tracking transparency feature recently introduced in iOS is also present in tvOS. The number of apps requesting tracking permission is amazing. I feel like I’m on this platform more than any other app, and a pop-up appears asking if the app has permission to track me on other apps and websites.

Here is a sample of the streaming app I’ve shown so far.

  • alphabet
  • AT&T TV
  • CNN Go
  • Comedy Central
  • Discovery plus
  • ESPN
  • Now fox
  • FX now
  • Hulu
  • Nat Geo TV
  • Paramount Plus
  • Sling tv
  • TBS
  • TNT

In my experience, Apple doesn’t sync the preferences chosen between iOS and tvOS with regards to ATT. I am getting a prompt again About all the streaming apps you’ve already seen on iPhone. It’s pretty much the same thing Apple wants to highlight how common tracking and data sharing has been among popular streaming services.

The new Apple TV 4K is equipped with an HDMI 2.1 port, but I can say that Apple is not taking full advantage of the potential of that upgrade. If you’ve been following the hype of next-generation consoles last year, you know that the latest Xbox consoles and PlayStation 5 support high frame rates of up to 120 fps. Meanwhile, Apple TV 4K is the best at 60fps HDR. Apple is still considering this “higher frame rate”, and it gives sports, nature documentaries, and other videos that were originally shot at higher frame rates noticeable fluidity. (YouTube now supports 60fps even on Apple TV 4K.)

However, those 60fps ceilings are a shame for playing games on the platform. No one realistically expects the Apple TV 4K to come in contact with or near the latest home consoles, but 120Hz can still make a difference in the responsiveness of titles that use simple graphics. When it comes to gaming, it’s worth noting that the new Siri Remote can’t be used as a controller like the old one. Now you need to use a third-party gamepad. The latest Xbox and PlayStation controllers are supported (including haptics), and tvOS is also compatible with a variety of other controllers. If you really want to play games on your Apple TV, this is an overall improvement.

Apple has now redesigned the Siri Remote, which is bigger and much easier to use.

The new Siri Remote was covered in its own review, but since it comes with the Apple TV 4K, here’s a summary: Very good. The larger, thicker design is easier to handle (and harder to lose), and the circular D-pad proves more intuitive to many who are embarrassed by the trackpad on the old remote. The middle button lets you move your thumb to navigate in the same way, but if you like the large gesture area of ​​the original Siri Remote, you may feel that this feature is more limited. Overall, I think Apple has taken absolutely the right steps to change the design. Much simpler to use.

One feature we hope the Apple TV 4K offers is spatial audio for AirPods owners. It seems like being able to have a private surround sound bubble can be an instinctive experience when looking at the biggest screen at home. I have a technical problem and I know that Apple TV doesn’t have the same sensor as iPhone or iPad, but I hope Apple can bring spatial audio to the platform someday.

Apple TV 4K is expensive, but it offers the best streaming experience.

If you have the original Apple TV 4K, there is no reasonable reason to upgrade to the new one. Wi-Fi 6 is great to have, and Thread may one day turn out to be important for smart homes, but not now. Otherwise, you’ll get a slightly faster experience than the previous box could do. You just need to buy a Siri Remote and call it for a day.

However, if you are using an older product or a very expensive Apple TV HD, the offer is always the same. For a fraction of the Apple TV 4K price, you get a very good 4K streaming device. However, it does not provide the same user experience or stable performance. Or, some apps may not support Dolby Vision or Atmos to the same level as on Apple TV. The Apple TV 4K is still expensive, but it’s also the best streaming experience you’ll find in a single box. This is especially true if you are firm in Apple’s ecosystem. Does this new hardware feel like a real upgrade or big leap forward to the 2017 Apple TV 4K? No really. But at least they got remote rights.

Photograph by Chris Welch / The Verge


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