The Apple TV 4K is the streaming box we’ve been waiting for. It brings together the excellent interface from the 2015 model and the long-awaited ability to watch movies and TV shows in 4K and HDR. And perhaps most important, it seriously drives down the cost of digital 4K releases. Sure, competitors like Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV have had 4K/HDR capabilities for years, but Apple’s pricing model makes the format more accessible to consumers. While it’s not quite perfect, the Apple TV 4K is a solid step beyond HD video.
- 4K/HDR content looks great
- Aggressive pricing for 4K/HDR films
- Wide variety of apps
- Needs more third-party 4K/HDR support
- Video processing goes overboard
- No Dolby Atmos
The Apple TV 4K packs in almost everything the last model was missing, and its push towards making 4K releases cheaper is noble. But there aren’t many third-party apps supporting the new format at launch, and Apple also made some curious decisions that might make some serious home theater enthusiasts hold off.
At first glance, it’s tough to tell the new Apple TV apart from its predecessor. They both have the same boxy plastic design, with glossy sides and a matte top. There are a few small differences, though. The new model is raised up slightly to expose air vents, which helps to keep its faster processor cool. It also doesn’t have a diagnostic USB-C port on the back — instead it features an HDMI port, an upgraded gigabit Ethernet jack, and a power connection. Consumers likely won’t notice the omitted USB-C port, since it’s mainly used for IT administration.
Not much has changed on the remote either. A small ring around the menu button is the only noticeable tweak. That helps you hit the button easily in the dark, and it’s also a tactile way to let you know you’re holding the remote correctly. The buttons for heading back to the home screen, Siri voice control, play/pause and volume controls haven’t changed at all. Its motion control capabilities are still intact, as well, but you’ll mainly be using that for games.
Software and Setup
Setting up the Apple TV 4K was pretty simple: Just plug in your WiFi credentials, enter your iCloud account, and you’re good to go. If you have an iOS device nearby, you can also hold it near the Apple TV during setup to transfer all of your settings. The entire process took just a few minutes when I used my iPhone 6S.
Apple’s tvOS platform hasn’t changed much, but the company did add a new feature called “One Home Screen,” which lets you sync up your apps and their layout across multiple Apple TVs. It worked flawlessly as I transitioned away from my previous-gen Apple TV (though I did have to manually enable it before I unplugged that model). You’ll still have to log into all of your streaming services, but One Home Screen at least saves you the trouble of finding all of your apps and organizing them.
For the most part, tvOS still looks like a slightly blown up version of the iOS homescreen. It’s an interface that’s beginning to show its age, but it’s still more attractive than Roku’s and the Fire TV’s. The entire UI is also rendered in 4K/HDR, something that no other set-top box is doing yet.