Apple TV 4K: A Review

When Apple holds its Fall event, it is likely to be full of a variety of updates to some of its products. One of the announced product updates was to the Apple TV.

Previous Apple TVs

The Apple TV is now a decade old, the same age as the iPhone. When the Apple TV was initial unveiled it was a modified Mac Mini and ran a variant of OS X 10.4. While this initially worked, it was determined to change the form factor.

The second-generation Apple TV was significantly reduced in size and the software changed from a version of OS X to a version of iOS. The size would remain the same for the 3rd generation and Revision A of the 3rd generation. The processor for each of the version was first a Pentium M, hence the OS X-based operating system. The 2nd and 3rd Generations had an A4, and A5 respectively. The release dates for the 2nd, 3rd, and 3rd Revision of the Apple TV were September of 2010, March of 2012, and January of 2013 respectively.

With the first three version of the Apple TV, Apple controlled all of the applications that appeared on the Apple TV boxes. The applications that appeared were able to be updated without actually needing to update the software on the Apple TV itself. This method would become the basis for the next generation of the Apple TV.

The form facto of the Apple TV changed again for the 4th generation. This version did something that normally does not happen with electronics; it actually got larger and not just by a bit, like the Apple Watch (0.25mm for the sensor glass). Instead, but a lot; as in 10mm, or 0.39 inches, which is considerable.

The 4th Generation Apple TV not only changed the physical dimensions, but also the software. The 4th generation Apple TV brought with it a new operating system, tvOS.

tvOS, is an iOS-variant that incorporates many of the same feature of iOS; most notably, games. The 4th Generation Apple TV included the A8 processor. The A8 is capable of handling many of the more intensive games. The latest iteration is the Apple TV 4K.

Apple TV 4K

The Apple TV 4K maintains the same physical form factor as the 4th Generation Apple TV. The Apple TV 4K has a couple a slight changes to the ports. The first change is that the wired ethernet port is now gigabit. This is an upgrade from the previous 10/100 port. The second change is that there is one port that has been removed; the USB-C port. This has some implications for some users.

The removal of the USB-C port means that if there is an error while upgrading the firmware on an Apple TV 4K, it will require you to contact Apple support to get it fixed. This was not the case when the port was there. Instead, you could use iTunes to download a restore image and restore the Apple TV. For most users this will not be an issue, however it was a lot easier to do a restore than to have to send it off to Apple for repair.

The internals have changed a bit as well. The Apple TV 4K supports Bluetooth 5.0 and HDMI 2.0a. The Bluetooth 5.0 is for future proofing, whereas the HDMI 2.0a is needed for the 4K. That is it for the port and internal changes. Let us move to the interface.

The Interface

The Apple TV 4K’s interface is designed to be in 4K. Elements of the Apple TV interface have been updated to be displayed properly on a 4K TV. Apple could have opted to stick with 1080p assets, but this is not the Apple way of doing things. The most likely manner in which Apple accomplished this is to use scalable graphics. By using scalable graphics, the software can automatically choose the most appropriate size and use that. This is similar to the way that icons work on macOS.

Alongside the actual interface another aspect has been updated to 4K, the aerial videos. One of the more stunning pieces of the Apple TV, both 4K and non-4K versions, is the aerial screensavers. The screensavers show a top down view of a myriad of places. Some of these include London, San Francisco, Dubai, and China. All of these have been updated to be viewable in 4K. To see the difference, it is best to click on both of the images below to see the difference.

Apple TV 4th Generation showing PCalc
PCalc on Apple TV 4th Generation

Apple TV 4K showing PCalc
PCalc on Apple TV 4K

 

Additional Items

The Apple TV 4K has a couple of specific features that provide an even better experience beyond the 4K video and assets. One of those items is the High Dynamic Range, or HDR, support. HDR on a TV is similar to HDR when taking pictures. HDR on a TV will allow for even blacker blacks and even brighter whites. This means that all of the colors on a screen will be even brighter and clearer, which will see the picture even more life-like.

The Siri Remote

When Apple unveiled the 4th Generation Apple TV, it included a new remote, the Siri Remote. The Siri Remote has six buttons, Menu, Home/TV, Siri, Play/Pause, and Volume up and down. The top portion of the Siri Remote is a touch-based surface that allows you navigate the interface as well as makes it possible to use the touch pad for games.

One of the more controversial items with the Apple TV, besides the lack of games, is the Siri Remote. There are some who do not like the Siri remote. One of the main complaints with the first iteration of the Siri is that it was not always possible to determine which end of the remote you were holding. This complaint is not without merit.

To help rectify the situation, Apple has added a white ring around the menu button. If you are holding the new Siri Remote, you should be able to determine which end of the remote you are holding. Outside of this ring, the Siri remote has remained unchanged.

Content

If you are going to have a 4K box, it is also necessary to have content to go with it. The Apple TV 4K has ushered in 4K movies through iTunes. If you already have HD movies that have been purchased through iTunes, these will automatically be upgraded to 4K. There are two caveats to this. The first is that there must be a 4K version of the movie available. The second caveats is that the 4K only applies to streaming. You cannot download a 4K version through iTunes. For most people, this second limitation will not make a huge difference since their computer may not be able to support 4K.

Besides the native 4K support, there are some services that offer 4K content. Most notable amongst these is Netflix. If you have the Netflix app installed on your Apple TV and you subscribe to the appropriate plan, you should be able to stream in 4K.

Pricing

The Apple TV has had a myriad of prices over the course of its life. It started off at $299 for 40GB version, and the $349 for the 60GB, for the first generation. $99 for the second and third generations, with the price dropping to $69 in 2015. The fourth generation started at $149 for the 32GB and $179 for the 64GB. The Apple TV 4K starts at $179 for the 32GB model and $199 for the 64GB version. This is a bit more than most expected, and almost twice as much as some of the Apple TV’s competitors.

Final Thoughts

There is not much else to say about the Apple TV 4K. The fact that the Apple TV is now able to stream in 4K is an improvement in terms of brining the Apple TV up to date with the latest technology. While 4K may not be in every single home yet, it is only a matter of time before it is. there are become more prevalent and will become the de facto standard. Even if you do not have a 4K TV yet, you may want to consider the Apple TV 4K, as it can still be used on a 1080p-based TV. By purchasing an Apple TV 4K now, you can prepare yourself should you end up buying a 4K TV this holiday season. If you do buy a new 4K TV this holiday season, make sure it supports HDR, it will make your Apple TV 4K experience that much better.