If you’re new to the world of streaming boxes – as many people are – and have bought a slightly-too-fancy-but-go-on-it’s-a-treat 4K HDR TV recently, the new Apple TV 4K is an excellent thing to place under your new set.
[Update: tvOS 11.2 has just been released. The big benefit here is a new option to have the streaming box automatically turn off HDR when you're watching SDR content. Previously, the Apple TV 4K would play all of your content in HDR, whether or not the original content was mastered as such. However, with the new update, you can select the 'Match Content' option to allow you to watch your old SDR files as they're meant to be watched.
As well as HDR formatting, the new update also adds a number of options for live sports broadcasts in the states. You'll be able to display scores from multiple matches across a single feed, and set up notifications so you can automatically switch to other, more interesting, matches.]
It can handle all 4K content, with HDR10 and Dolby Vision supported, so the main new standards are covered – and (depending on the TV you’ve connected it to) the pictures look sublime, with everything from the interface to the flyover screensavers upgraded to pack in more pixels and look sharper.
In the last two years since the debut of tvOS (the operating system that both the Apple TV 4K and standard Apple TV use), the system has improved markedly: Universal search is getting better all the time and Apple Music makes the Apple TV a competent jukebox in addition to being a top-tier movie streamer. The improved A10X processor means you should be able to navigate the interface and load apps a hair faster than before, and Dolby Vision is a real asset to the streaming device as it's a format that few streaming devices support right now.
But it’s a competitive market when it comes to streaming content to your large-screen television, with products from Roku, Amazon and Google all vying for the top spot. Does the Apple TV 4K have enough chutzpah to wrestle its way to pride of place beneath your set? Maybe, maybe not.
The answer largely depends how deeply tied you are into the Apple ecosystem, your TV's limitations and just how much of that scrumptious 4K content you can wrangle up without the help of Amazon Prime Video, a service Apple has long-promised but has yet to deliver.
The Apple TV 4K isn't a flawless system, but if you're looking for a 4K streamer with a few future-facing technologies, a deep-rooted connection to all of your iDevices and a penchant for apps, well, you've come to the right place.
Apple TV 4K price and release date
- 32GB Apple TV 4K priced at £179 / $179 / AU$249
- 64GB option costs £199 / $199 / AU$279
- Release date of September 22
In terms of price, the Apple TV 4K isn’t the cheapest streaming box on the market (an honor that currently belongs to Google's Chromecast). But that premium price is largely to be expected with Apple products, mostly due to the polish and extras on offer.
The new box comes in two storage options: 32GB and 64GB, and unless you plan on going heavy on the apps, the 32GB should be fine for most folks.
That being said, it's worth noting that 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.
There’s not a lot of difference between the price of the new Apple TV 4K and the previous model from a couple of years ago, with Apple clearly keen to encourage consumers to go for the newer model.
The 32GB Apple TV 4K comes in at £179 / $179 / AU$249, and the 64GB option at £199 / $199 / AU$279. Compare that to the 2015 model, which is now £149 / $149 / AU$209, and it makes choosing between them a tough decision.
The Apple TV 4K release date is September 22 – and, if Apple and Amazon stay true to their words, the box will be available for purchase on Amazon soon.
New 4K interface
- Sleek interface looks great in 4K
- Occasional lag while switching apps
- Screen mirroring is great
Screen sizes available: 55-inch
Tuner: Freeview Play
Panel technology: OLED
Smart TV: Android TV
Dimensions: 233.44 x 18.43 x 1228.6 mm
Inputs: HDMI x 4, Optical Audio, USB x 3, Ethernet, TV Antenna
The ‘new’ interface on the Apple TV 4K is basically a cleaned up version of the one that adorned the previous box – it’s been upgraded to pack in more pixels and look sleeker on a UHD TV.
It’s been designed with ease of use in mind, mirroring across devices from iPad to iPhone (using the new TV app, which is coming to parts of the world other than the US by the end of the year) for a consistent experience.
The other upgrade here is that coverage of live sports (in the US) 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, making it easier to not miss a beat of the key stuff.
We couldn’t test this in the UK or Australia as the functionality isn’t available yet in these territories (Apple is yet to confirm its release plans outside of the US), but if your box can properly work out the things you like to watch it could really cause some arguments when you’re in the middle of an enthralling film, and have to turn casually to your partner and say “Honey, can I just…?”
The overall performance of the Apple TV 4K was a touch slow at times, with a spinning loading wheel appearing when transitioning between apps or calling up different shows. However, when we started to stream the interface was snappy, suggesting that the issue was not with our fiber optic internet connection.
This lag can be irritating when you’re navigating around the TV and moving from game to TV show, or trying to browse new titles, but it wasn't a prevalent occurrence overall.
Of course, streaming videos isn't the only thing the Apple TV 4K can do: It's also a great center for your burgeoning smart home thanks the integration of HomeKit, Apple's proprietary technology that brings the IoT to iOS.
Not only can it control your Homekit devices, which are starting to make their way into the home quietly in the form of speakers, smart plugs or Philips Hue bulbs, but the ease with which an iPhone or iPad syncs with the Apple TV is impressive.
Screen mirroring is instant, and makes it really easy to share content on the big screen. It’s not quite as useful as Chromecast if you want to use something like Google Photos – which is superior to the onboard Apple Photos app in terms of the sheer amount of stuff you can save – but it can show pretty much anything else instantly.
The only thing that’s locked is content from some streaming services – at least that's the case in the UK. Sky Go couldn’t be mirrored onto the screen, so it’s not a catch-all solution to getting content onto the living room television.