Apple TV HD review

Apple TV HD is a bleeding-edge streaming device that takes some getting used to

Apple TV HD
Image Credit: Apple

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Here's the part in the review where we typically lay down the hammer and give a definitive nod to a product, or write its name in the disappointing category of our notebooks to be long forgotten.

As much as I'd like it to fall into one of those two camps, the Apple TV HD doesn't fit in either. Taken on its own merit, it's a good streaming video player. It supports some of the most popular video formats – H.264 video up to 1080p, 60 frames per second and MPEG-4 video – as well as most audio files.

There are a few apps that I've found seriously impressive (Beat Sports!), and the apps are slowly but surely becoming more diversified by the day. Not to mention the incoming Apple TV Plus streaming service and TV Channels soon to be fleshing out the platform.

But both thanks and due to the new tvOS backbone, the Apple TV feels like a first-gen system, rather than a refresh of an already-solid product. 

There are dozens of irksome quirks that litter the experience, from a stubborn remote that misreads gesture commands to a number of unintuitive shortcuts (for example, if you want to delete an app from the home screen you hold down the touchpad and press the play/pause button – how you figure that out on your own, I don't know). It's still not quite the revolution Tim Cook pitched me, and that hurts.

Overall, buying an Apple TV feels like you're agreeing with and reinforcing Apple's desire to charge you at every possible turn. It's one paywall after another, and unless you're already bought into that mentality, it can be a tough pill to swallow.

The fact that the Apple TV app is landing on competing streaming devices (Roku, Fire TV) also make the more expensive Apple TV hardware models harder to justify – even if Apple's products inevitably work the most seamlessly within its own ecosystem. 

But if you're someone who buys movies and shows from iTunes, subscribes to Apple Music and sticks to iOS phones and tablets, then the Apple TV will be a supremely good addition to your living room that will only improve with age.

Apple TV Plus

Apple has a host of new and licensed programming coming to its Apple TV Plus streaming service (Image Credit: TechRadar)

We liked

As much as you can knock it for looking like a plain black box, Apple designed a sleek exterior for its new hardware. It's unobtrusive, understated and, best of all, quiet.

The breakout star of the device, though, is the new tvOS. It's opened a world of possibilities for the platform to overtake the living room in the same way iPods conquered Walkmans and iPhones replaced flip phones. I see a lot of potential in the platform and a few areas of improvement that can be fixed with a patch here and there.

There's still room for improvement as far as content goes, but you can now at least get most of the popular video apps on the Apple TV.

We disliked

Both a boon and a faux pas, the Siri Remote is the most loved/reviled aspect of Apple's new plastic box. By building in a microphone and half-baked Siri support, the Apple TV takes some serious steps forward on its march to the living room throne. But simultaneously, an inaccurate touchpad and obfuscated buttons are keeping movement to a crawl rather than an outright sprint.

Plus, at $149 (£149, AU$269), it's not the cheapest player on the market and the competition is just that much better that it's hard to warrant spending an extra $30 if you're not already bought into the Apple ecosystem.

Apple TV final verdict

If you have your heart set on an Apple TV, and you don't mind dealing with a few flaws, there's nothing horrifyingly wrong with this older box. For anyone who's already bought into the ecosystem, there's plenty to enjoy with plenty of room for the system to change and grow.

I mean, this is the company that brought thumb scanning into the public's attention, developed its own payment system and radically changed what we thought a cell phone camera was capable of. Why can't that same level of innovation happen here?

On the other hand, if you're looking for a fully functional system that already has one of the best voice search algorithms, a fully stocked streaming app library and 4K-ready hardware, you might want to consider a Roku 4 or Amazon Fire TV.

The Apple TV is a platform-in-the-making. It's not what Tim Cook pitched us, but it's clearly not a hobby for the company any longer. It's real and steadily improving, even if it had to return to its infancy to learn how to walk again.

  • Check out our new Apple TV 2019 page for everything we want from the next Apple TV model
Nick Pino

Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.