This long-awaited update to the ageing 2015 Apple TV comes against the backdrop of more consumers getting interested in 4K and HDR content as well as the key cheaper rival devices that we’ve named above. The price aspect isn’t important if you’re an Apple fan – the Apple TV provides the best streaming experience
If you’re just getting interested in High Dynamic Range (HDR) picture technology, then the short explainer is that it will give you higher contrast, more vivid colours, and brighter images – if you team it with a compatible TV.
The new box goes hand-in-hand with a new initiative from Apple to provide free 4K HDR versions of movies you’ve previously downloaded in iTunes. That’s quite a move and means you won’t have to re-purchase the movies you bought from Apple previously.
An accompanying TV app is rolling out now - check your iOS updates! It means you can search and launch TV from whatever source you choose. Netflix and Amazon Video are now both supported on the platform, though Amazon Video is a recent addition.
Apple TV 4K features and specs
In terms of 4K HDR support, the Apple TV 4K has it all with HDR10 and Dolby Vision supported, although bizarrely there’s no support for Dolby Atmos audio. The new box comes in two storage options: 32GB and 64GB (note that the 2015 Apple TV remains available in its 32GB capacity).
Apple has recently raised the size limit for apps permitted on the box to 4GB, so if you’re thinking of having this as a micro-console then you might want to scale up to be on the safe side. Naturally the Apple TV 4K upscales HD video to make it look better on 4K displays.
In the US, coverage of live sports has been enhanced to deliver tailored content – you can now see live scores and be notified of exciting moments in games that the Apple TV thinks you might like (although personally we don’t want any distractions when watching TV). Hopefully, this will make it to the UK in the near future.
Like its predecessor, the Apple TV 4K can be used as a hub to control your HomeKit devices, but the ease with which an iPhone or iPad syncs with the Apple TV is impressive. Naturally, you can also access your iCloud-synced photos and videos on the device. Watching your Apple Photo Moments on Apple TV almost makes it worth the investment alone. The experience is great for communal viewing and reminiscing.Apple has used this update to tweak the Siri Remote slightly. There’s now a white ring around the Menu button, to help you more easily find where to put your finger to see in the dark.
Aside from the ring around the Menu button the remote is unchanged and still charged by Lightning (there’s a cable in the box). Talking of cables in boxes, the Apple TV 4K doesn’t come with an HDMI cable, so you will need to buy one if you don’t have any spare.
The Apple TV remote is comfortable to hold, with a tactile, brushed feel and rounded edge. The touch- sensitive pad at the top registers the slightest quiver, and clicks to register an input. It definitely has a premium feel. The Siri support is welcome – it isn’t the very best for picking through movies, but it is great for going across to the Settings app or entering passwords instead of having to scroll through with the remote.
Apple TV 4K performance
The interface has been redesigned for 4K, while everything zips along quite snappily – it uses the same Apple A10X Fusion chip as the iPad Pro does. Naturally, image quality depends on the TV you’ve connected it to but generally the pictures look sublime, with everything from the interface to the screensavers upgraded to pack in more pixels. We tested our Apple TV 4K with the Hisense N5700 and the aerial-view screensavers in particular look exceptional.
Screen mirroring is instant and works so well. It makes it really easy to share content on the big screen.
The Apple TV 4K is the perfect partner for the latest high-end TVs, with the ability to instantly detect what kind of display is on offer and calibrate the output accordingly. While other devices and boxes often require a bit of configuration to get the best picture, the Apple TV 4K doesn’t.
However, there is a drawback with this and that is that the Apple TV will always go for the highest refresh rate possible. If your TV supports 60hz HDR10 yet only 30Hz Dolby Vision this basically means that you’ll get the HDR10 version, even though Dolby Vision may give you better HDR. Apple is introducing a ‘Match frame rate’ option in the Settings app with tvOS 11.2, but there is no release date for that yet.
Having Dolby Vision supported alongside HDR10 is a nice move and means gives the Apple TV 4K. It’s a real shame that Dolby Atmos isn’t supported, but it will surely come in a future update.
The Apple TV 4K is designed to function as a music player (it’s great with AirPlay obviously) and a basic console too, but while it’s fun to play games on the Apple TV 4K, it’s a bit of a niche play.
If you’re interested in getting superb quality 4K HDR video and you’re invested in Apple’s ecosystem of devices, then the Apple TV 4K is almost a must-have even though it is significantly more expensive than its rivals. No 4K? Then this isn’t the box for you – check out the standard Apple TV.
The speed of the interface great and it’s an obvious choice – although it does need Amazon Video support. It’s pricey but it’s slick, works well with your iOS device and the range of content is good (although it could always be better). Highly recommended.
Liked this? Check out the best streaming boxes