Apple has just released its latest Apple TV streaming box, called Apple TV 4K. It’s not the company’s first 4K-capable box, but it’s easily its best. I’ve been testing the new transmitter ever since 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 it’s your first Apple box, or should you upgrade? keep reading
Apple TV 4K: What’s new?
There’s a lot.
First, it is better than the latest model. More importantly, it is cheaper. Better and cheaper is a rare combination, but this device ticks both boxes. This is the third generation 4K model and it has arrived much sooner than many expected. Four years passed 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 the previous one. There are two versions: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi and Ethernet, and only the latter includes an Ethernet port.
Storage has increased compared to before: 32GB and 64GB models are now upgraded to 64GB and 128GB storage levels. This is good if you plan to download games. It doesn’t make that much of a difference if you want Apple TV just for movies, since movies are routinely streamed instead of residing on the hard drive.
There is a new processor, the A15 Bionic chip, which is what was 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 (although not the iPhone 14 Pro).
And now there’s support for HDR10+ that wasn’t on the last model, plus continued support for 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, this is a definite plus.
Another change: the otherwise identical Siri Remote (I’d say the best remote for any TV-related device) now recharges with USB-C, not Lightning.
Apple TV 4K: Design
There is very little difference in design between the new Apple TV 4K and the old one. It’s a bit smaller in all directions, but that’s about it. The previous model had the Apple logo followed by the letters “tv”, but the new one has kept things simple by opting for just the Apple logo. The bottom no longer has the Apple logo either.
You may find it disappointing that Apple TV hasn’t changed its design significantly in a 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 hide the box out of sight.
It’s a bit smaller and lighter but then again, when it’s out of sight, you won’t really know.
Apple TV 4K: Siri Remote
This is the same as last time, except for the charging fix that switches to USB-C instead of Lightning. Note that a USB-C cable is not included with the Apple TV 4K, but who are you kidding? You have a lot of those around the house, don’t you?
The fact that the controller hasn’t changed isn’t a bad thing: it’s fantastic. Usually for Apple, there are hardly any buttons on board, but a highly intuitive interface makes it easy to do everything you need.
Scrolling through the video is especially satisfying by rotating your thumb around the touch-sensitive wheel, though annoyingly it doesn’t work with all streaming services. There’s a power button that will turn your TV off too, with a long press, and the Siri button is on the right edge. That’s where you press on the iPhone as well, so there’s a logic to this. Unlike the iPhone, you can’t say “Hey Siri” to summon it. You have to push the button.
Still my favorite use of Siri on the remote is to ask, “What did she say?” The video replays the last 15 seconds of video, with subtitles, which then automatically turns off again. Apple only. Later this year, Siri will be able to recognize the voices of individual users, which should be a useful update.
This remote was arguably the biggest upgrade on the last Apple TV box, and it retains its position as an exceptional controller. Note that it’s limited to gaming, and in many cases you’d be better off connecting a PlayStation or Xbox controller.
Apple TV 4K: performance
The A15 Bionic chips provide great power efficiency, apparently using 30% less electricity than the last Apple TV 4K, which was powered by the A12 Bionic. That was already a powerful chip, but nothing like this.
It also means there’s power to be used for gaming, where faster chips mean better, smoother graphics. This smoothness also means a better experience when simply scrolling through checkout menus, for example.
The addition of HDR10+ is welcome, assuming your TV supports this format. Many do, so if your TV doesn’t support Dolby Vision, this could make a significant difference in the picture quality of supported content. Amazon Prime Video like HDR10+, for example.
One thing that will come later is fast media switching. Right now, if you’re switching between content with different frame rates, you get a black screen. It’s not for that long, but it can seem endless. With Quick Media Switching this should be almost instant. I have a feeling this will be one of those features that you didn’t know you needed but are reluctant to do without once you’ve tried it.
Apple TV 4K: verdict
It’s far from the cheapest streaming box on the market, and some rivals, notably the brilliant Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, come very close to doing a good job for less than half the price. But the simplicity of the sensational Siri Remote, the elegance of Apple’s interface, and the breadth of games available through Arcade and for purchase are enough to put Apple ahead.
Then add the excellent addition of HDR10+ and the significant price drop – unusual for any manufacturer, but especially Apple – and the Apple TV 4K is hard to beat.