If you have been waiting to invest in the Apple TV system, the branding campaign of the 4K HDR/Dolby Vision model is doing everything in its power to convince you that the time is right. The latest addition to the Apple TV range is being lauded by reviews for including everything (ok, almost everything) that reviewers complained was missing from the last model, and the price tag is also considerably lower to boot! Sounds like a win, right? Well, not so fast. While the team at FinalBoss do think that this is a good value system, there are definitely some downsides that I will detail a little later on.
Pricing in the UK
On the official Apple UK website, the price for the 4K 64GB system is £199, and that includes the Siri remote, Lighting cable and the power lead. However, you can find the complete product new on Amazon for a little less, along with its 32GB smaller variant.
Even at the full retail price of £199.99 this is certainly more affordable than previous incarnations, and will likely open up the Apple TV 4K HDR to a new demographic of consumers.
You might not be able to tell the Apple TV 4K from its recent ancestor, the Apple TV 3rd Gen. At first glance, they look a lot alike, with the signature boxy plastic shape covered with a combination of glossy and matte finishes. However, when you take a more thorough peek you can see a few key differences. For instance, the shell is slightly raised, meaning that its air vents get more circulation, keeping its processor cooler. Looking at the back, you will also see some minor differences: the new model comes with an HDMI port, upgraded Ethernet jack (gigabit), and its power connection. Truly savvy users will also notice that it lacks the diagnostic USB-C port of the 3rd Gen, for some reason..
The remote is very similar to that of the last generation. The home screen button, volume controls, play and pause buttons and Siri voice control are all the same. One small tweak is the new ring around the menu button that glows in the dark, perfect for late night Netflix binges. Although this comes in handy, because of its small size – it can otherwise be easily lost down the gaps and sides of the sofa.
While you might not notice a big difference externally with the new Apple TV 4K, all of the changes have been made internally. Inside you’ll find an A10X Fusion processor (the same chip used in the latest iPad Pros) that allows the system to process really large video files. Gamers and app lovers will also rejoice, as this chip really speeds everything up dramatically. Haters out there who complained about the last Apple TV’s frequent slowdowns when using Netflix and Hulu will cheer this development.
Operating System and Usability
If you use any other Apple device, tvOS will look familiar to you. While you might crave some tech advancements with the iOS layout, there is no denying that the system is simple to use and a cinch to navigate. This is an eminently user-friendly platform.
From the last incarnation to now, Apple’s tvOS platform hasn’t seen many changes or upgrades, other than the new “One Home Screen” feature. OHS allows you to sync your apps and layout preferences across more than one Apple TV. Sure, you still have to log in to Netflix etc., but your apps and preferences will all remain consistent and to your liking.
Setting up couldn’t be easier. Just enter your WIFI details, log into your iCloud account – and boom, you should be ready to go. A really cool new feature allows you to ‘handshake’ your other iOS devices – this means that you just hold it close to the Apple TV during the setup procedure, and all of your settings will automatically transfer over. Incredibly convenient!
The Viewing Experience
Here is what we are all waiting for – a TV platform is really only a valuable as its viewing experience. The new Apple TV 4K does not disappoint. The versatility of the HDR/Dolby Vision means that bright colours really pop, while details are clear and vivid even in darker scenes. While streaming in 4K/HDR does have its slightly ‘blocky’ moments, these are completely these are few and far between and allow for a great alternative to the much pricer 4K HDR Blu-Rays.
The High Points…
• I have to be honest – this is a great piece of kit for 4K movies and films, and is quite possibly the cheapest way to actually buy 4K HDR/Dolby Vision films on iTunes (compared to buying 4K HDR Blu-ray discs).
• It has great Apple ecosystem compatibility – buying a movie on iTunes makes it available on your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV – this is great for taking your movie library anywhere.
• If you buy a movie in HD now, and then it later becomes available in 4K HDR/Dolby Vision, it will automatically be upgraded in quality for you, so users with an existing iTunes movie library could be in for a real treat!
• The intuitive rechargeable touch controller is really useful and easy to use, and the charge lasts a long time.
…and the Low Points
• While Apple has announced upcoming support with the HomePod, it currently isn’t here yet. Airplay 2 allows users to use multiple HomePods in tandem, which could really add to overall usability and convenience and also present a truly encompassing soundstage, for tv and movies.
• The apps are limited considering how much hardware is packed into the box, and the sad fact is that not enough apps are available for the Apple TV 4K system in general.
• Another low point? Having to buy the HDMI cable! I mean, Apple retails this system for £199, and that seems like a pretty steep price to pay for a product that isn’t ready to go right out of the box.
• You need a decent internet connection to take full advantage of this system to, 25mbs in fact is the recommended speed. This leaves 4K streaming a no go for rural consumers, or simply those that have a bare minimum connection to meet their internet usage needs.
• Despite there being a 64gb model available, it won’t actually store 4K HDR/Dolby Vision movies on its platform. This is owing to copy protection introduced in HDCP 2.2, where an actual stream of the signal is required to stream the content, no offline storage options there then. This leads to Apple TV 4K/HDR users only being able to stream films in 4K/HDR not store them. In that case, you might not need the 64gb version, and it may be more cost-effective (depending on your time of purchase) to opt for the cheaper 32gb model.
• My final point and oh it’s a doozy for audiophiles out there, it is unbelievable that with hardware which is more powerful than most small laptops that this devices audio is limited to Dolby digital plus 7.1 – it has no DTS support and no Dolby Atmos audio, despite support for the pioneering Dolby Vision HDR format. Apple has confirmed that the hardware is already capable of Dolby Atmos audio support and has mentioned that the capability might be added in firmware later on. Hopefully, we’ll see this before the next Apple TV refresh, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on for future developments.
This is a brilliant way to enjoy 4K and HDR/Dolby Vision films at a good price, and potential upgrades down the line are enticing. That said, a lack of Dolby Atmos is a bit puzzling given the hardware capabilities. If more apps are available down the line then this really will be the must-have all in one entertainment system for your home.