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

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

Apple TV 4K (2021) evaluation: much better distant, slightly faster box

It’s simple to be underwhelmed by the brand new Apple TV 4K. It seems an identical to Apple’s first 4K streaming box launched again in 2017, and the day-to-day expertise of utilizing it doesn’t really feel dramatically better when in comparison with that machine. The most important enchancment is undoubtedly the redesigned second-generation Siri Distant that comes bundled with the brand new Apple TV 4K — however you should purchase that individually for $59.

Those that have lengthy sung the Apple TV’s praises will discover extra to love with this up to date {hardware}. It now has Wi-Fi 6 for speedier, extra strong wi-fi efficiency. (A gigabit ethernet jack stays on the again for wired connectivity.) Apple has additionally inbuilt help for Thread, the good dwelling networking protocol that may ultimately be broadly supported throughout the trade — even when it’s good for comparatively little proper now. The most important inside change within the newest mannequin is an upgraded chipset: Apple has moved on from the A10X Fusion to the A12 Bionic. However the A12 is way from Apple’s newest and biggest silicon; it first appeared within the iPhone XS line in 2018 and remains to be presently used within the entry-level iPad and iPad Mini. It’s an enchancment, however not some game-changer for Apple’s set-top box.

On the skin, the Apple TV 4K is unattainable to tell apart from its predecessor. It’s nonetheless the identical nondescript black box that calls little consideration to itself on a TV stand. I want Apple would have accomplished away with the shiny, dust-magnet sides, however we’re not so fortunate. The corporate is sticking with the standard set-top box kind issue at the same time as many rivals have moved to extra discreet HDMI dongles which might be often hidden from view behind the TV.

There have additionally been extra delicate technical enhancements that aren’t being marketed, however it’s the kind of stuff video nerds will discover. Apple has largely resolved a problem with raised blacks in Dolby Imaginative and prescient content material, based on HDTVTest’s Vincent Teoh. Nevertheless, the 2021 Apple TV 4K nonetheless doesn’t help bitstream audio passthrough, so the corporate hasn’t addressed all of the needs of dwelling theater fans. Nevertheless it’s nonetheless checking off the necessities like Dolby Imaginative and prescient, Atmos, and HDR10.

The tvOS software program expertise is an identical between this Apple TV 4K and its predecessor. Navigating by means of menus and Siri voice searches each include an additional sprint of velocity, and apps appear to load faster than earlier than. However the variations are sometimes marginal; the 2017 Apple TV 4K nonetheless holds up nicely right now when it comes to efficiency. That’s largely as a result of tvOS may be very polished at this level, and it doesn’t cheapen the viewing expertise with in-your-face advertisements or sponsored content material.


The Apple TV’s dwelling display screen remains to be a fundamental grid of apps.

The Apple TV’s dwelling display screen remains to be the identical outdated static grid of apps, and Apple does what it will possibly to steer you into utilizing its Apple TV app, which aggregates TV reveals and films from quite a few providers and can be the place you’ll discover Apple TV Plus originals. Ted Lasso is coming again quickly, in case Apple hasn’t hammered that message into your mind sufficient already. The Apple TV app is ok and greater than competent at suggestions (offered you aren’t on the lookout for something from Netflix), however except for the Apple TV Plus part, it hasn’t modified an entire lot and feels caught in place.

Fortunately, Apple has advanced and added to tvOS elsewhere lately with new options like multiuser help, Apple Health Plus, and HomePod dwelling theater audio. Talking of which, the brand new Apple TV 4K permits you to play audio by means of any HDMI machine by means of the unique HomePod. I don’t have Apple’s audio system round to do this myself, however early studies counsel that ARC audio works high quality for video content material. Nevertheless, latency is likely to be a dealbreaker should you try gaming with HomePods as audio system.

One other new trick of tvOS that’s additionally obtainable on older Apple TV gadgets is an computerized calibration characteristic that makes use of your iPhone’s digicam to course of shade patterns on-screen and modify the picture to make it look pretty much as good as potential. This doesn’t truly alter any of your TV’s settings; the Apple TV is optimizing its personal image settings, and you may toggle between this calibrated “balanced” consequence and the default to see the distinction. The consensus appears to be that Apple’s characteristic can result in enhancements — typically producing a hotter picture — although most higher-end TVs include correct settings out of the box, particularly in cinema or calibrated mode. For those who’re critical about image high quality, it’s value doing a official calibration to get the most effective consequence throughout your whole TV’s numerous inputs.

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The second-gen Apple TV 4K seems an identical to the primary mannequin.

As earlier than, the second-gen Apple TV 4K can function a hub to your HomeKit equipment; having a hub permits you to management these gadgets remotely while you’re out of the home. If you are dwelling, you possibly can shortly entry good dwelling devices or pull up digicam feeds on-screen with a voice command on the Apple TV 4K. Apple has additionally included Thread, a wi-fi communication commonplace developed particularly for good dwelling functions, within the new Apple TV 4K, permitting it to be a hub for Thread gadgets to hook up with and entry the web by means of. Thread ought to result in extra dependable connections and faster response instances between gadgets that help the protocol; Apple additionally constructed it into the HomePod Mini, and it’s the idea of the forthcoming multiplatform Matter commonplace. However different methods that had been as soon as promoting factors of the Apple TV, like AirPlay, can now be discovered on many good TVs and even Roku gadgets.

Video streams on the Apple TV 4K nonetheless ship distinctive high quality, however a number of the frustrations we talked about almost 4 years in the past nonetheless stay current in tvOS right now. Apple has lengthy enabled the box to match the dynamic vary and body fee of taking part in content material, however not all apps have taken benefit of this characteristic. So in case your choice in video settings is Dolby Imaginative and prescient with dynamic vary matching enabled, you’ll nonetheless encounter some conditions the place SDR content material seems unappealing as a consequence of compelled HDR processing. (There’s additionally a wierd bug on the brand new Apple TV 4K the place some motion pictures are being labeled as “HD” — even when it’s very clear {that a} 4K file is being streamed.) Setting tvOS to SDR by default with matching enabled results in the most effective consequence, although YouTube annoyingly doesn’t flip over to HDR should you do that.

Stay TV integration with Siri stays restricted to a frustratingly small checklist of suppliers and apps, although not less than ESPN is there. I’d like to see tvOS provide deeper help for dwell TV apps like Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Hulu with Stay TV past together with them in single sign-in.

One argument that Apple TV house owners regularly make in help of the {hardware}’s premium value is that they admire Apple’s stringent privateness insurance policies. The brand new App Monitoring Transparency characteristic just lately launched on iOS can be current in tvOS. And let me inform you, the variety of apps that ask for monitoring privileges is sort of eye-opening. It looks like on this platform greater than another, I’ve been bombarded with the pop-up asking me whether or not an app has permission to trace me throughout different apps and web sites.

Right here’s only a sampling of streaming apps which have proven it to date:

  • ABC
  • AT&T TV
  • CNN Go
  • Comedy Central
  • Discovery Plus
  • ESPN
  • Fox Now
  • FX Now
  • Hulu
  • Nat Geo TV
  • Paramount Plus
  • Sling TV
  • TBS
  • TNT

In my expertise, Apple doesn’t sync up your chosen choice between iOS and tvOS with regards to ATT. I’m getting the prompts once more for all these streaming apps after already having seen them on my iPhone. It’s virtually like Apple needs to emphasise how widespread monitoring and knowledge sharing has change into amongst in style streaming providers.

The brand new Apple TV 4K has been outfitted with an HDMI 2.1 port, however it’s truthful to say that Apple isn’t leveraging the total potential of that improve. For those who’ve been following the next-gen console hype over the past 12 months, you realize that the newest Xbox consoles and PlayStation 5 are able to excessive body charges as much as 120fps. The Apple TV 4K, in the meantime, tops out at 60fps HDR. Apple nonetheless considers this “excessive body fee,” and it does lend a noticeable fluidity to sports activities, nature documentaries, and different movies that had been initially shot at increased body charges. (YouTube now helps 60fps on Apple TV 4K as nicely.)

Nevertheless, that 60fps ceiling is a bummer for video games on the platform. Nobody’s realistically anticipating the Apple TV 4K to sq. off towards the newest dwelling consoles or come anyplace shut, however 120Hz can nonetheless make a distinction in responsiveness for titles with less complicated graphics. As regards to video games, it’s value noting that the brand new Siri Distant can’t be used as a controller just like the earlier one might; you’ve received to make use of a third-party gamepad now. The newest Xbox and PlayStation controllers are supported (with haptics included), and tvOS additionally works with a large mixture of others. It’s total an enchancment should you actually wish to play video games on an Apple TV.

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Apple has redesigned the Siri Distant, which is now bigger and much simpler to make use of.

I coated the brand new Siri Distant in its personal evaluation, however because it comes bundled with the Apple TV 4K, right here’s a abstract: it’s very, superb. The bigger, thicker design is less complicated to deal with (and tougher to lose), and the round D-pad will show extra intuitive for lots of the individuals who had been perplexed by the trackpad on the outdated distant. The middle button nonetheless permits you to navigate in the identical method by nudging your thumb round, however should you favored the big gesture space on the unique Siri Distant, this one would possibly really feel extra limiting. On the entire, I feel Apple completely made the correct transfer in altering up the design. It’s dramatically less complicated to make use of.

One characteristic I proceed to want the Apple TV 4K supplied is spatial audio for AirPods house owners. Having the ability to have a personal bubble of encompass sound when watching the largest display screen in your house looks as if it might be a visceral expertise. I do know there are technical challenges and the Apple TV doesn’t have the identical sensors as an iPhone or iPad, however I’m hopeful Apple will carry spatial audio to the platform in some unspecified time in the future.


The Apple TV 4K is pricey, however it delivers a top-notch streaming expertise.

When you’ve got the unique Apple TV 4K, there’s actually no smart purpose to improve to the brand new one. Wi-Fi 6 is good to have, and Thread would possibly show essential to the good dwelling sometime, however that point isn’t now. In any other case, you’re getting a slightly faster expertise than what the outdated box is able to. Simply purchase the Siri Distant, and name it a day.

However should you’re coming from one thing older or the wildly overpriced Apple TV HD, the proposition is similar as all the time: you will get an excellent 4K streaming gadget for a fraction of the Apple TV 4K’s worth. Nevertheless it’s unlikely to supply the identical person expertise or dependable efficiency. Or perhaps some apps received’t help Dolby Imaginative and prescient or Atmos to the identical diploma they do on Apple TV. The Apple TV 4K remains to be overpriced, however it’s additionally nonetheless arguably the most effective streaming expertise you’ll discover in a single box — particularly should you’re entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem. Does this new {hardware} really feel like a real improve or large leap from the 2017 Apple TV 4K? No, probably not. However not less than they received the distant proper.

Images by Chris Welch / GadgetClock

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