Apple TV 4K review: Apple’s best streamer yet, now with Dolby Atmos
Support for Dolby Atmos audio and new aerial screensavers are among the updates for Apple TV coming with tvOS 12, as revealed at WWDC 2018.
When the updated operating system arrives in the Autumn, it’ll bring with it Dolby Atmos-supported movies to iTunes; something says makes its Apple TV 4K the only streaming player that’s both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos certified. The update comes alongside a batch of new aerial screensavers filmed by NASA astronauts, made in collaboration with the International Space Station National Lab and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.
Other tweaks for tvOS 12 include the ability AutoFill passwords from iPhone and iPad to Apple TV with iOS 12, and the ability for home control systems like Control4, Crestron and Savant to be used to control your Apple TV.
Our original review continues below
Apple is a little late to the party when it comes to 4K. While other devices and platforms have had the format for some time, and many modern TVs are now 4K by default, Apple and iTunes had remained stout proponents of Full HD until the announcement of the Apple TV 4K. Given the delay, you might have expected Apple to take the softly softly approach, but far from it; with its latest streaming, Apple is fully embracing the 4K revolution.
At the same time as introducing 4K hardware and 4K movies to the iTunes store, it has pledged to keep 4K content prices the same as HD prices were before, and at the same time is converting customers’ existing iTunes purchases to 4K for free.
In one fell swoop, this move transforms what might have been a bit of a soggy sock of a launch into a firecracker. Apple TV is no longer an overpriced, under-featured alternative to the Chromecast Ultra, but a viable choice for anyone looking to expand into 4K and make the most of their existing hardware. For anyone with a sizeable collection of movies bought through iTunes, it will be a hugely attractive purchase.
READ NEXT: Apple iPhone X preview – hands on with “the future of phones”
Apple TV 4K review: Design and key specifications
There’s nothing particularly special about the design for 2017, but that’s not a huge problem. It’s the same size and shape as it was last year, and it still looks handsome with its slab-topped profile, rounded corners and Apple logo subtly stenciled on top.
From the front it’s a featureless block of black acrylic and from the rear it’s pretty clean, too. It’s marred only by a figure-of-eight power input, Gigabit Ethernet and an HDCP 2.2-compatible HDMI 2.0a video output. That’s it. There’s no optical audio output or any other socket, which is a shame because there’s certainly room for an HDMI passthrough, which would come in useful for cramming multiple 4K devices into a potentially limited number on the back of your TV. And, trust me, if you don’t have multiple 4K sources already, you will do soon.
Still, there’s plenty of wireless connectivity. For streaming and downloading, the TV 4K has dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi connection, and there’s also Bluetooth 5 for connection to the Siri remote. The Apple TV 4K comes in either 32GB or 64GB variants, although note that this won’t allow you to store much content locally, whether 4K or 1080p. It’s intended more for storing installed apps and games.
The Siri remote is also barely different from the two-year-old HD-only Apple TV. The Menu button now has a raised white ring surrounding it but, to all intents and purposes, it functions precisely as it did before. Six buttons are arranged in the centre of the remote’s body providing quick access to core functions such as Siri voice commands, volume and play/pause, while a clickable, swipeable touchpad tops the remote.
This works a little like Sky Q’s touchpad remote (just a tad more reliably). It charges via Lightning connector, just like an iPhone, and it also has infrared support so you can use it to control the volume on your TV or set-top box.
The key upgrades for the Apple 4K TV are all on the inside. The device’s processor has been upgraded to an Apple A10X Fusion processor – the same chip that powers the iPad Pro – and, of course, there’s now support for 4K and HDR content. In fact, the Apple 4K TV not only supports the most widespread standard, HDR10, but also Dolby Vision, and there already seems to be a healthy selection of content for both available. These are all quickly and easily accessible through a quick “films with HDR” search.
Apple TV 4K review: Setup, ease of use and performance
One of the great things about Apple products in general is how accessible and easy to get to grips with they are, and the Apple TV 4K is no different. Initial setup is probably the best example of this; it’s embarrassingly easy.
Assuming you have the box connected to a fully functioning 4K HDMI port on your TV, it will interrogate your hardware and provide the best possible connection for your hardware or connection. As long as you have an iPhone nearby, the TV will detect it and pull your Wi-Fi credentials from there and, at the same time, it will also sync all your previously purchased iTunes content. This is accessed via the Movies, TV and Music apps on the Apple TV 4K’s homepage. It’s also possible, with a few extra clicks for confirmation, to display your iCloud photos onscreen.
As ever, this ease of use continues throughout the UI. Browsing can be achieved simply by drilling down through specific apps and services in the traditional manner, but the Apple TV 4K is much easier to use if you use the Siri remote’s voice search facility. This works from the homepage across multiple services, or within individual apps where you can dictate your keywords directly into the search field.
It’s also worth remembering that it supports playback of both music and video content via AirPlay, so even if the selection of native Apple TV apps doesn’t cover your favourite service, you may still be able to stream it to your TV.
Apple TV 4K review: Content
The slightly iffy bit about the Apple TV is the choice of native apps in the Apple TV App Store, which still isn’t all that great. Yes, you get Netflix and, yes, at long last there is now support for Amazon Prime Video as well. This is a game-changer and makes the Apple TV 4K a much more viable alternative to the Amazon Fire TV stick, if you’re an iOS user. As far as 4K content goes, this is currently as good as it gets.
READ NEXT: What is 4K?
But there are gaps in non-4K content and significant ones at that. For UK users, there are no native All 4, Demand 5 or ITV Hub apps and, although All 4 currently allows users to stream via AirPlay (ITV Hub and Demand 5 block this), the resolution and quality is pretty terrible.[gallery:3]
Apple TV 4K isn’t the best for UK sports fans either. You can’t get access to Sky’s 4K sports coverage (although that holds true on any platform save Sky Q), and although there is a Now TV app, this only provides access to Sports via day passes.
Whether this is all offset by Apple’s 4K pledge to upgrade existing HD purchases to 4K depends on how much you already have in your iTunes library, but it’s nonetheless irritating that, having spent this much on a streamer, you might have to switch to another device to access The Great British Bake Off in HD.
Apple TV 4K review: Verdict
Having said that, Apple has achieved quite the feat with its latest Apple TV. By thinking laterally and removing the financial pain of migrating your favourite files to 4K, Apple has created a huge incentive for current and former Apple fans to consider buying one. In a market dominated by sub-£100 streamer sticks and set-top boxes, that’s no mean feat.
Apple might have a harder time of it in the UK where its content offering is flaky and Sky and BT have a stranglehold on 4K sports content. But, if it’s principally TV and movies you’re bothered with, and you already have a sizeable stash of pre-purchased iTunes movie and TV content, there’s an awful lot to like here. If you can stomach the £179 price, the Apple TV 4K is its strongest TV streamer yet.
Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.