The Apple TV 4K feels like a confident step forward for Apple's little streaming box, even if it took a while to get here – and that's especially true if you've recently invested in a slightly-too-fancy-but-go-on-it’s-a-treat 4K HDR TV. The Apple TV 4K is one of the best options you've got to place under that TV, with a few caveats.
[UPDATE: Apple took to the stage to announce a vastly expanded Apple TV app, including Apple's long-rumored streaming service Apple TV Plus. We didn't hear anything about a new Apple TV set top box though, and its move onto Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizeo smart TVs, as well as rival streaming devices from Amazon and Roku, make it seem like pushing its own streaming hardware may be taking a back seat. But for everything we thought of the Apple TV 4K on its release, read on below.]
The Apple TV 4K can handle all 4K resolution 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 fantastic. From the flyover screensavers to the menu interface, everything packs in more pixels and looks sharper for it.
Apple TV 4K is also the only video streaming device to support both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision formats. The announcement came during Apple's WWDC 2018 keynote and came alongside the news that iTunes will now stock Dolby Atmos-enabled films and TV shows.
Since tvOS (the operating system that both the Apple TV 4K and standard Apple TV use) first appeared. it's really improved. Universal search is getting better all the time, and if you subscribe to Apple Music it makes the Apple TV a competent jukebox as well as a top-tier movie streamer.
The speedy 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.
That said, it's an increasingly competitive market when it comes to streaming content to your large-screen television: Roku, Amazon and Google are all vying for the top spot, so does the Apple TV 4K have enough to fight its way to pride of place beneath your set? Well, 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 decent app selection, it might just be the perfect streamer for you.
Apple TV 4K FAQ: quick questions answered
What channels are on Apple 4K TV? Think of viewing on your Apple 4K TV in terms of apps rather than channels. All the catch-up apps you have access to can be streamed through Apple 4K TV, as well as content from other apps like BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV.
Can you use Apple 4K TV on a non 4K TV? Yes it does. So if you want an Apple TV right and think you might want to upgrade your TV soon, then get it. We tested it on a regular TV and the picture quality was improved.
Does Apple 4K TV work with any TV? Yes, as long as it has an HDMI port you can use the Apple 4K TV with any TV.
Do I need a special HDMI cable for Apple 4K TV? Apple recommends using an HDMI 2.0 cable or later. It's also worth checking for HDMI cables that have the Compatible Dolby Vision mark as they have been tested with Apple TV 4K and a wide range of televisions. An example is the Belkin Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable.
Apple TV 4K price and release date
- 32GB Apple TV 4K priced at £179 / $179 / AU$249
- 64GB option costs £199 / $199 / AU$279
- Latest model released on September 22, 2017
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.
Apple TV 4K: new 4K interface
- Sleek interface looks great in 4K
- Occasional lag while switching apps
- Screen mirroring is great
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.
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