Published On: Fri, Nov 10th, 2017

Apple TV 4K review: The high price of polish

The Apple TV 4K probably shouldn’t cost $179. That’s $110 more than several other 4K HDR streaming devices, including the Roku Streaming Stick+, Fire TV, and Chromecast Ultra, all of which do a decent job of playing much of the same content.

But just like the regular Apple TV, which remains available for $149, the Apple TV 4K nails the little details in ways its competitors often don’t. Its apps are universally best-in-breed, its voice search is speedy and sophisticated, and its home screen is refreshingly free of advertisements. The fact that Apple’s streaming box is the only one to support Dolby Vision—a proprietary enhancement over the HDR-10 standard—is just icing.

Those small details—and Apple TV 4K’s ability to perform as a HomeKit-based smart home hub, a feature this review will not focus on—don’t add up to a better value, but they do make for a superior streaming box if you’re willing to pay a stiff premium.

Similar, but different

The Apple TV 4K is still a monolithic block of black plastic, though it now sports a ring of air vents on its underside. (I never noticed any fan noise from these vents, even while playing 3D games.) The back of the box still has HDMI and ethernet ports, but the latter now supports gigabit speeds, up from 100Mbps on the previous Apple TV.

Apple has also opted for the same polarizing touchpad-based remote this time around, with one difference: The menu button now has a raised white ring around it, presumably as a clue for how to hold it right-side-up. (This new remote is also now included with the $149 Apple TV.) An IR blaster is still built into the remote, allowing for control over TV volume, and the remote’s built-in battery recharges via a Lightning cable, which Apple includes in the box.

appletv4kcompare Jared Newman / TechHive

The Apple TV 4K has a slight remote redesign and air vents on its underside.

Count me among those who enjoy the Siri Remote’s touchpad. Though it takes some getting used to, ultimately it allows for speedy scrolling across menus and precise scrubbing through videos. And while there are no dedicated fast forward or rewind buttons, clicking either edge of the touchpad is just as useful, letting you skip ahead or backwards in short increments. I just wish the slender remote itself wasn’t so easily lost between couch cushions.

The biggest change to the Apple TV 4K is its A10X Fusion processor, which is similar to the chip inside Apple’s latest iPad Pro tablets. Although the standard Apple TV’s A8 chip is no slouch, the new model feels less stutter-prone while scrolling through menus, especially in resource-intensive apps like PlayStation Vue. The new chip is also supposed to be better for gaming, though this advantage is largely a theoretical; it’s hard to find games that really push the Apple TV’s limits, and the 3D games I’ve tried look nothing like what modern consoles put out.

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The nitty gritty of 4K HDR

The A10X chip’s main advantage is its ability to drive 4K HDR visuals, which are both sharper and richer in color compared to 1080p HD and standard dynamic range. Cheaper streamers offer 4K HDR video as well, but Apple supports the format across the entire Apple TV interface, rather than just switching over when playback begins. That means colors will pop and images will look crisp even on Apple’s menus and screensavers, and your TV won’t flash a blank screen as it switches between video formats.


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