- Manufacturer & Model
- Apple TV 4K
Apple TV Streaming device offers excellent video quality and standard audio.
The Apple TV 4K is the best streaming device I’ve encountered thus far. Even with serious advanced multi-channel and immersive audio shortcomings, it offers a much better overall experience than any of the other devices I’ve used. While its cost is a bit higher than the competition, Apple’s device not only looks the part, but offers superior reliability and ease of use.
My journey into streaming content has led me down a long curvy path. The quest began several years ago with various Blu-ray players, each riddled with its own little quirks and annoyances. It then took a turn down the route of Android and the Google Chromecast. Chromecast is a neat product, but, unfortunately, it required help - the use of a computer, phone, tablet, etc. About a year ago, my journey upgraded into the realm of UHD, HDR and Dolby Vision with the purchase of a LG OLED65C7P. Around that same time that I stumbled across a deal for a Roku Ultra. This was where the road ahead became littered with potholes, road construction, and just about any other analogous term used for extreme aggravation. To be blunt: the Roku Ultra is currently hooked up to a bedroom display and rarely, if ever, used. I then purchased both an Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra and a Google Chromecast Ultra, neither of which provided any improvement over what a basic Blu-ray player offers. The Amazon Fire did include Alexa, but it proved to be quirky at best. So, I became complacent and used my LG's loaded apps for a while. Then one day, I stumbled upon Apple's newer Apple TV 4K. I read a review or two and decided that I‘d give the 32GB version a test. Apple does offer a 64GB version as well, but it’s my understanding that one only needs more memory if you're inclined to load a lot of game apps. Call me old school, but a TV in the living room is for watching movies and shows, it's not for gaming. For reference, the Netflix app is roughly 42 megabytes.
In the Box
Anyone that has ever bought anything from Apple knows that their packaging is the gold standard - functional and yet very elegant. I noticed the packaging with my first iPhone purchase and still notice it every time I buy an Apple product. While others mimic it, Apple invented it. Included in the box are the Apple TV 4K, a Siri remote, a lightning cord, the power cable, and Getting Started guide.
The Apple TV 4K itself is a black box measuring a little under 4” square and slightly under 1.5” high. The remote is 1.5” wide by almost 5” long with a depth of roughly .25” inch. The power cord is a standard cord and not one of those ugly wall wart types that most everything seems to run on nowadays.
The Apple TV 4K
The box itself has a glossy finish on two sides and the front, with a matte finish and a glossy black Apple TV logo embossed upon the top of the box. A single LED indicator light is featured on the front of the box, which lights up when in use and goes dark when asleep. The back of the unit includes connections for HDMI (2.0a), gigabit ethernet, and the power cord. It also includes 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless connections. The Apple TV 4K is powered by Apple's A10X Fusion chip, which provides the same processing power as found on Apple’s elite iPad Pro.
The unit’s interface should be familiar to anyone that uses Apple products, which is to say: easy to use and intuitive.
The Siri Remote
The first time I put the Siri remote in my hand, I hated it. It's small, feels delicate, and doesn’t have the presence of a traditional remote. Once I got the hang of it (about a week) I absolutely loved it. In addition to a Siri voice search button, the remote also presents Play/Pause, TV/Home, Volume, and Menu buttons. That's not all! The top of the remote is a touch screen button. You can use it to fast forward or rewind ten seconds of your content, close apps with a simple swipe, and view media specific information. The only concern being the bottom portion of the remote, below the touchpad, which appears to be made of glass. You won't want to let this remote get buried in the couch and sat upon!
The Siri portion of the remote is a game changer, because it provides answers for an endless number of questions. Siri has a knack for answering everything I've asked of her. "Siri, turn on Netflix," "Siri, turn on Grand Tour," etc. accomplishes what you’d expect. You can also ask Siri what was said during playback and she will rewind the content and turn on subtitles.
Video (The Good!!)
Apple calls this the Apple TV 4K. But 4K really isn't what someone like me craves. Yes, more pixels are always a good thing but on my 65-inch OLED, sitting roughly 12 feet back, four times the pixels of 1080P doesn't really matter that much. What does matter is HDR10 and Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range, both of which are paired with 4K and supported by Apple TV 4K. The first time you set up the Apple TV 4K, it automatically detects the best mode available on your display and uses that for everything - on my LG OLED it locked in Dolby Vision Cinema. Moving the Apple TV 4K to my theater room and the Epson projector I have for review, it set the output to HDR.
Apps that I used frequently during this review include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, and Plex. Vudu is where my 100-plus digital movies reside and Plex is what I use to connect to my local NAS, which contains my music and HD-DVD collection. One of the things that sets Apple’s device apart from the others is the assemblage of all your content under one roof. And it all can be browsed and accessed (including some live sports) by simply selecting the TV icon in the system’s onscreen menu.
Performance-wise, I found video streamed through the Apple TV 4K to be comparable to the same video played via 4K discs on both the Oppo UDP-205 and my newer Sony UBP-X800; it was difficult to discern any differences. Images delivered by discs may have been a tad bit crisper and streaming video did issue a hint of a compression here or there, but overall artifacts were rarely noticeable. Content that I used to compare streaming versus disc media included Passengers, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and This Means War. The latter title was a purchased DVD that also included the digital copy. When comparing that DVD to the streamed content, the Apple TV 4K won out easily. More than likely this was due to it being played ala Dolby Vision on the OLED, but I also noted it seemed cleaner on the Epson HDR projector review sample in my theater room.
I haven't purchased anything digitally yet. I'm still one of those hard-core types that need to be able to hold his content in his hands. I do anticipate testing this out in the very near future though. Much of the UHD content that I saw on the Apple TV 4K could be purchased anywhere from $14.99-$19.99, with rental fees running from $5-$6. Don't like iTunes? Netflix, Vudu, Amazon, and many others are also on the Apple TV 4K (and most carry 4K content).
Audio (The Bad)
Everything up to this point has been positive for the Apple TV 4K, but it's time to talk about the negative: audio quality. If someone was to tell me that I could get everything discussed above in one device, but that it didn’t include support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS:X, I'd be dumbstruck. To include advanced picture quality – UHD, HDR10, and Dolby Vision – and not include advanced audio makes little sense. It’s worth noting that I’ve heard that immersive sound support may be included in a future firmware update, but it's a bit disconcerting that it wasn't included at release. And until any potential updates, owners are forced to enjoy movies in either PCM, AC-3 (Dolby Digital 5.1), or E-AC-3 (Dolby Digital Plus 7.1), depending upon the movie. However, I’ve yet to find any that offer 7.1-channel performance.
I find it a bit hard to believe that a streaming box offering HDR and Dolby Vision video would leave sound as an afterthought. But, thus far, that’s the case with Apple TV 4K.
The Apple TV 4K is the best streaming device I’ve encountered thus far. Even with serious advanced multi-channel and immersive audio shortcomings, it offers a much better overall experience than any of the other devices I’ve used. While its cost is a bit higher than the competition, Apple’s device not only looks the part, but offers superior reliability and ease of use. When Apple finally does upgrade its sound capabilities, I’ll gladly purchase another for my theater room.
Apple TV 4K Specifications
Ports and Interfaces
- HDMI 2.0a
- 802.11ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO; simultaneous dual band (2.4GHz and 5GHz)
- Gigabit Ethernet
- Bluetooth 5.0 wireless technology
- IR receiver
- H.264/HEVC SDR video up to 2160p, 60 fps, Main/Main 10 profile
- HEVC Dolby Vision (Profile 5)/HDR10 (Main 10 profile) up to 2160p
- H.264 Baseline Profile level 3.0 or lower with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
- MPEG-4 video up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 fps, Simple profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
- HE-AAC (V1), AAC (up to 320 Kbps), protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (up to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless, FLAC, AIFF, and WAV; AC-3 (Dolby Digital 5.1) and E-AC-3 (Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound)
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