Apple is known to make premium products, whether it is a phone, a computer, or a $700 set of wheels for their new Mac. Once they enter a new market segment in the tech world, they will have premium features with premium price tags.
That applies to their Apple TV lineup as well. Now that they have the latest product – the Apple TV 4K – renewed recently, how does the Apple TV 4K compare to the competition? How much of an improvement did it make from the normal Apple TV?
Apple TV 4K Review
For the most part, the Apple TV 4K looks similar to the previous Apple TV products. The difference appears when you flip the product over, there is a small cutout ring.
The Apple TV 4K is equipped with the A10X chip found on the 2017 iPad Pros, and the cutout allows cool air to get inside. You may feel warm when touching the product, but it performed well and stays relatively quiet.
While it may sound inadequate, more so as you can’t expand the storage at all, the Apple TV only streams videos online, so the storage is for the size of the apps themselves only, and the apps tend to be small in size too.
If you are currently having an iPhone or an iPad, then you will be familiar with the slick Apple experience from the Apple TV 4K. You can use your iOS device to share your account and wifi information.
The Apple TV 4K can detect your TV screen resolution and adjust accordingly. It also tests HDR capability by sending HDR signals to the TV. You will receive a 4K signal from there on if your TV can receive it.
The device lets you choose to upward SDR content to HDR and upscale the frame rate as well. But if you don’t like it, you can always turn it off in the settings.
The device has a clean and intuitive UI as expected from Apple’s philosophy: Simplicity. Siri is proven to be more useful than other voice assistants. Just hold the Micro button and command, it can also understand context, meaning it can use what was commanded before to do the next command.
Siri can use the context understanding for pretty much anything, from opening your library, searching, or when you are watching content.
For example, if you miss some dialogue, just say “What did he or she say?”, Siri will repeat the part and turn subtitles on, if you say “Who is that actor?” while watching, you will know the info of the actors that are on screen.
The remote is fine on its own, but the touchpad is somewhat skittish, which means you won’t be immediately ready to use voice command.
In the UK, you can get an app called “TV” (yes, confusing). It gathers all channels and services you have subscribed into one place and lets you continue where you left off. It also recommends new content based on your favorite or recent content.
However, Netflix isn’t present in the app, so you may feel the TV app a bit lacking. And if you are wondering, yes, Amazon Prime Video is finally here on the Apple TV 4K, along with many other services in the UK, like My5, All 4,…
The Apple TV also has a rising number library of 4K HDR content with over 200 films like Fallout, Mission Impossible,…
And you can buy your favorite movies as opposed to a subscription. It costs nothing to level up the resolution to 4K. The 4K versions, which is about $10, of the movies are also cheaper than Blu-ray 4K. If you have bought a film on iTunes and it gets upgraded to 4K later on, you will get the new version at no extra cost.
4K and HDR
While it is all 4K, it is understandable that 4K quality on the Apple TV will be unmatched with that of discs. The disc versions have extra layers of crisp and details, along with more punches and a bit more into the dark areas too.
But, 4K streaming content does have its places. It is much sharper compared to FullHD content to give more depth to the content. In 4K you can see better the clothing texture, it appears more natural and realistic.
HDR is the great icing on the cake for the 4K content. The white is brighter, the color is more vibrant, the black is deeper, over it is more pleasant to see.
iTunes also has a lot of movies with Dolby Vision, which is a more advanced type of HDR that applies the effect frame-by-frame for the most optimal look. Netflix and Amazon Prime have Dolby Vision content waiting for you to enjoy.
The performance is relatively the same as you would get from the TV, the A10X is a powerful chip in the most optimized software, so everything will feel snappy.
While the result of upwarding normal content to HDR look arbitrary with older movies, the 4K upscaling is great and help make the content looks good on your 4K screen without being too particular or over-sharpened
Just like with 4K and HDR, there is a lot of Dolby Atmos support content on popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes,… and it brings extra depth to the listening experience. The sound is clear, punchy, and precise.
The Apple TV HD vs. the Apple TV 4K
The new Apple TV 4K
In 2021, Apple released the new Apple TV 4K. It has a new and more powerful A12 chip that can be found on the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max. It also has some notable improvements like a redesigned Siri Remote and more.
This is the version that will be used to compare to the Apple TV HD.
- The overall design, including dimensions and weight
- SDR support
- Ethernet port
- HDMI port
- IR receiver
- HDMI-CEC, AirPlay, and Bluetooth
- 2nd-gen Siri Remote
Apple TV HD to Apple TV 4K:
- 1080p to 4K support
- SDR to HDR, HDR@60fps, and Dolby Vision support
- Audio output from 7.1 channels to 7.1.4 channels with Dolby Atmos
- HDMI 1.4 to HDMI 2.1
- A8 chip to A12 Bionic chip
- 2GB of RAM to 3GB of RAM
- 32GB of storage only to 32 and 64GB of storage
- 10/100 Ethernet to Gigabit internet
- Wifi 5 to Wifi 6
- Bluetooth 4.0 to Bluetooth 5.0
- About $149 to $179 for the 32GB version and about $199 for the 64GB version
- Thread support only on the Apple TV 4K
Compared to the Apple TV HD, the Apple TV 4K supports higher resolution (it is shown clearly in the name of the devices).
While you only get 1080p as the maximum resolution in the Apple TV HD, you get way more than that with the Apple TV 4K. You will get 2160p (4K) resolution, HDR10 support, and Dolby Vision – a more advanced HDR format as mentioned above.
The HDR is no ordinary either, it is HDR@60fps which will make the content feel smoother, especially fast-moving objects in the movies.
The amount of content that supports high frame rate HDR is expanding more and more.
Airplay supports high frame rate HDR, so whatever masterpiece you have recorded on your iPhone camera will be displayed in its full glory, assuming you have a TV that supports those standards.
Apple is also working with many service providers like FOX Sports, Paramount+, NBCUniversal, Canal+, Red Bull TV, and more to get high frame rate HDR on the Apple TV.
As briefly mentioned above, to use the Apple TV 4K to the fullest, you will need a TV that supports 4K, HDR, HDR@60fps, Dolby Vision, and more.
The Apple TV 4K has an upgraded audio spec, from 7.1 to 7.1.4 channel surround sound with Dolby Atmos, which lets you set up your surround sound system for a better listening experience.
The Apple TV 4K comes with the A12 Bionic chip, which is significantly more powerful than the A8 chip. Remember that the A12 powers your iPhone XS and XS Max phone, which outperforms many modern phones even when they are 3 years old.
With this much power, the Apple TV 4K 2021 is smooth in every task, whether it is playing games, launching apps, bedding around the UI.
RAM and ROM
The Apple TV 4K comes with 3GB of RAM, compared to just 2GB of the Apple TV HD. While Apple devices proved that with optimization, low RAM amount devices can perform just as well as those with high RAM amount, more RAM will transfer to apps staying in the background better.
Overall for specs, you may think that the Apple TV 4K, is overkill, but it will guarantee overtime performance which will decrease eventually.
For the Apple TV HD, you will only get 32GB of storage, and that storage is only for downloading apps and games. However, if you download lots of apps and games, even 32GB will feel inadequate.
That’s why the Apple TV 4K comes with the 64GB option for downloading more and storing your own content. As a result, it comes at a higher price too, at nearly $200.
The higher storage may not be the most appealing improvement since the Apple TV 4K mostly streams videos online.
Compared to the Apple TV HD, the Apple TV 4K 2021 supports the latest HDMI 2.1 standard from HDMI 1.4, which enables some of the above visual standards like high frame rate HDR.
Also, the Apple TV comes with a Gigabit Ethernet port, which enables much faster-wired internet speed than the 10/100 Ethernet port that is on the Apple TV HD.
The Apple TV 4K 2021 bumps up the wireless connectivity specs from the Apple TV HD, from Wifi 5 to Wifi 6, and from Bluetooth 4.0 to Bluetooth 5.0.
The Apple TV 4K also features something that the Apple TV HD doesn’t have – Thread open standard, just like that from the HomePod mini so that the integration into the smart home set up is better.
With the Apple TV 4K, the Siri Remote is redesigned. Granted, the Remote is redesigned even from the old Apple TV 4K to the 2021 Apple TV 4K.
Now, the remote is thicker and features a single piece of aluminum. And generally, it fits better in the users’ hands
The remote also has a clickpad control with five-way navigation to get better accuracy. It is touch-sensitive now so you can swipe straight and diagonally. The outer ring supports a circular gesture.
It has a power button to control the TV power directly and another button to mute. The Siri button is now at the side of the remote for more convenience.
Overall, the Apple TV 4K is a solid premium set-top box streaming device at a premium price tag. It comes with many premium features, like 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision support.
The new 2021 version of the device even has a high frame rate HDR at 60 fps, while the Apple TV HD only supports SDR.
The Apple TV 4K comes with the A10X chip (A12 Bionic chip on the 2021 version) and comes with 3GB of RAM and 32 or 64GB of internal storage, which is a step up compared to the Apple TV HD with just 2GB of RAM.
In a nutshell, the Apple TV 4K improves almost every aspect found on the Apple TV HD.