Apple TV 4K reviews: A super-sharp step in the right direction

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appletv
Apple's best set-top box yet. But still not perfect.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Embargoed reviews of the new Apple TV 4K have lifted, and the feedback is… pretty good. With an emphasis on the “pretty,” thanks to the Apple TV’s newfound 4K viewing capabilities.

That’s not to say things are perfect, though.

Powerful, with stunning 4K

While the exterior of the device hasn’t changed enormously, users do get Apple’s more powerful A10 Fusion chip, 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO for simultaneous dual band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) connectivity, and — of course — 4K video. This last one is, the name suggests, the big upgrade.

“How do the 4K films actually look?” asks Engadget. “Simply put: stunning. Kong: Skull Island started playing within a second, and it was sharp from the get-go, with no need for buffering. It’s a film with plenty of explosions, gorgeous natural imagery and giant monsters, all of which made it the perfect 4K/Dolby Vision demo.”

Free 4K upgrades are brilliant

It was almost a throwaway comment at this month’s iPhone X media event, where the Apple TV 4K was unveiled, but Apple is giving you free 4K updates for existing iTunes movies. That means that if you previously purchased an HD copy, this will be upscaled to 4K without Apple charging you one cent extra.

To Pocket-Lint, this could be the device’s killer app. “Buy an HD movie and it’ll morph into the 4K one when it becomes available – without incurring additional costs,” it gushes. “In other words: you’ll always have the best available quality, depending on what’s available and what device you’re watching on. This opens up a world of possibilities for those keen to expand their 4K library on the cheap.”

“The new Apple TV 4K is the movie fan’s champion set-top box and the place to buy 4K movies without breaking the bank, with the knowledge that if you own other Apple devices that you’ll be able to easily watch them on the go too,” the review continues.

Surprising absences

There are a few absences, though. “Apple TV doesn’t support Atmos [surround sound],” The Verge complains. “And it doesn’t support YouTube in 4K HDR. And it doesn’t have Disney or Marvel movies in 4K HDR. And it makes some 1080p content look less than great.” Some of this will change over time with future software upgrades, though.

Siri remote is better, but not perfect

“The Apple TV 4K remote has … been subtly redesigned,” writes The Verge. “There’s a white ridge around the menu button now, which makes the thing far easier to pick up correctly in the dark, and there’s a new three-axis gyroscope in it for better motion tracking. The touchpad is still frustrating, however.”

“[The] new remote does see a small cosmetic change compared to the older model – a white circle around the menu button,” Pocket-Lint echoes. “This circle is supposed to act as a focus for when in lower lighting conditions, but we’ve found ourselves wanting it around the Siri mic button instead … Apple’s decision to bury its equivalent in amongst all the buttons means it’s not so easy on memory recall to locate.”

Siri — while good for navigation most of the time — has the odd wobble, too. “Siri isn’t always accurate – for instance, asking her to ‘search for 4K HDR films’ came out with ‘search for 4K HD are films’ so often,” TechRadar writes. “It’s the same with using voice to input passwords… it’s good, but not always accurate and passwords are often hidden with asterisks or dots, so it’s hard to tell what you did wrong. Sometimes it worked, but more often than not we just entered them using the touchpad to ensure accuracy.”

App Store is much the same

Like its 2015 predecessor, the Apple TV 4K boasts a tvOS App Store, although this experience “hasn’t really moved on much over the last two years,” Pocket-Lint says. You do get a new Sports tab on the Apple TV app, though.

Still pricey

Even with the 4K upgrades, however, everyone notes that this remains one heck of a pricey option. The 32GB option is $179, while the 64GB Apple TV 4K is $199. That’s a lot less than you’d pay for, say, an iPhone X — but it’s still more than any of Apple TV’s rivals are charging.

The verdict

“The Apple TV 4K delivers the best streaming video available to compatible 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision TVs,” CNET opines. “4K HDR titles on iTunes cost less than competitors. It offers the most polished streaming experience today, the best remote on the market and excellent Siri voice options.”

The Verge repeats the sentiment that this is one of the kings of set-top boxes, but strikes more of a “wait and see” attitude: “I am very confident Apple is going to figure this TV thing out. It’s the only company that has the combination of power and care to actually do it. But the Apple TV 4K’s unrealized potential just makes it obvious that the future of TV is still pretty far away, and it’s simply too expensive to gamble on in the meantime.”

“If you’ve got any inclination to upgrade to a 4K HDR TV in the future – and especially if you’re entrenched in the Apple ecosystem – then the Apple TV 4K is a pretty obvious choice,” says TechRadar. “Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s slick, works well with an iPad or iPhone (or even a pair of AirPods), and the range of content is good enough right now. We’d like to see more powerful games on offer, and an easier way to access 4K HDR content from a variety of provides (and get Amazon in there), but on the whole we enjoyed using the new box.”

  • Haggie

    I have Sony 4K TV with Android TV. All the features of this device plus it is built-in and has more apps. Why use an add-on device when a built-in device is better?