Apple TV 4K Review

Manufacturer & Model
Apple TV 4K
MSRP
$179
Link
http://www.apple.com
Highlights
Apple TV Streaming device offers excellent video quality and standard audio.
Summary
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.
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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.


Conclusion
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.


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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
Video Formats
  • 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

Audio 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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thrillcat

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Just spitballing here, but what would Apple actually have to do to support ATMOS? I would think, since it travels over an HDMI cable, it's more about the apps needing to update for ATMOS support, which is up to the individual provider, not Apple.
 

mechman

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Just spitballing here, but what would Apple actually have to do to support ATMOS? I would think, since it travels over an HDMI cable, it's more about the apps needing to update for ATMOS support, which is up to the individual provider, not Apple.
I honestly cannot say. But I do know it's not hardware related.
 

mechman

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Are you sure that’s not your display up converting the signal?
I fiddled around with this some more today. I think what is going on is that the Apple TV 4K upconverts the video. And from what I have seen, it does a very good job of it! I don’t watch a lot of YouTube but the videos I have seen there thru the ATV4K look just as good as they did thru the Roku when it worked. And while I know that The ATV4K doesn’t support the YouTube codec, the upconversion seems to be just fine. And like I said earlier, according to my Pioneer VSX-832 (video upconversion is off), the video is 4K before it goes out to the C7 OLED.

Anyone else with an ATV4K care to comment on this?
 

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mechman

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I was wondering if there would be any news coming out for the ATV yesterday. Excellent news!
 

JBrax

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Awesome news. I've got someone local selling an Apply 4K TV for $100 new, and waiting to for his response since I made him an offer ;).
His offers are probably going up.
 

GFOviedo

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So, since it supports Atmos does that means DTS-X is supported as well? Or is that a separate license?
 

Todd Anderson

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DTS:X is a completely separate deal.

Wow, DTS is getting it's pants knocked off by Dolby at the moment. Being first to market in the US has brought Dolby massive marketing power.
 

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So, since it supports Atmos does that means DTS-X is supported as well? Or is that a separate license?
AFAIK, there is zero streaming DTS in any form.
 

dc2bluelight

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Perhaps it's my point of reference. I've owned every ATV since the first, and still own and use an ATV3 and ATV2, though the daily driver is an ATV4K. I skipped the ATV4.

I've got me a real love/hate going with the ATV4K.

Love, mostly, global voice search, finds movies across several apps.

Detest the tiny touch pad remote, constantly whips me out of what I’m trying to navigate, “sleeps” and then must reconnect before it’s usable, makes precise navy difficult and frustrating. It seems like it’s always doing something I don’t really want. And it's a study in overshooting your target. Man, that's nasty. Back-scanning is a mess. Tap/swipe get combined for a slip off target. And it's just to small and light.

No support for 3rd party control systems, makes it hard to integrate smoothly. IP control is pretty much standard on everything else these days, not ATV 4 and 4K. If Apple wants to completely win the category, they need to open hooks for 3rd party control.

It has hard-crashed about a dozen times since I got it, required a manual power cycle (yank the cord) so I can’t hide it in an equipment rack.

And then there’s the screen saver. Ah the wonderful 4K video screen savers. Some are beautiful, some are fascinating some are absolutely horrible (I don’t need to see LAX ever again!), but we have absolutely no control or preference of what screensaver we see or what group of screensavers alternate. Kind of silly, in these days of personal preference. And no ability to custom load our own video screen savers, though I guess there’s a hack. Preferences and personalization would seem to be important features for one of the most expensive streaming media players on the market.

And there’s the persistent “Photos screen saver glitch“, that supposed to cycle are image library from Photos. It doesn’t do that, it will only sync/show a very short list of pictures probably 30 or 40. As a result, I use a separate device (Western Digital Media Player) to run a constant slideshow/screensaver of 450 of our best pictures from a USB memory stick. Gives me complete control of the images shown, and does real randomization. But, that takes me off ATV4K, which at it's cost and stature, should NEVER be necessary.

I’ve always wished Apple TV had a “theater mode“ that would allow me to queue up movies and start them and stop them, going to and from a black screen or some simple elegant screen, other than to keep popping up the full menu. Conference remote is not right either, just too much on the screen. I’d like a little more showmanship to be available to make the “home theater experience“ more “Theatrical“. But that’s not a criticism specifically for the 4K, that’s been an issue since the first Apple TV (which is now sitting in my scrap pile with a dead HDD).

I have an Apple TV one, ATV2, 2x ATV3, and the 4K. I skipped ATV4. I also own two Rokus and an Amazon fire stick. We use the Roku is for Netflix because we like the interface better, more control. I tested the Amazon fire stick for use as a Plex player. Works OK.

I'm not bothered by lack of HD audio or Atmos. Those are available other ways, and most of what we watch on the ATV wouldn't benefit anyway. We save the good stuff for BD, and buy if it's really that good.

IMO, the new remote and TVOS are yet another step Apple has taken to ignore the user experience, which used to be their big gun.

By comparison, the Roku 4 behaves very well. The remote is responsive, and positive. The UI is a little clunky, but gets you where you need to go. In fact, I'm always refreshed by the Roku after fighting with the ATV! I think the ultimate would be the response and control of the Roku with the slick polish of the ATV, plus whatever image and sound codecs they can toss in.

One wish for the Netflix app on any platform, but on the Roku 4 in particular...auto-starting a movie just by landing on the icon? Really? Who want's that? I'll start it when I'm good and ready, and not a moment before. That "feature" can be partially turned off via Netflix, but it never completely goes away. Apple could fix some of this by instituting some of their legacy control over how apps work. Of course, Apple could focus on the user experience with every device they make, like they used to.

Anyone else want to help me push that train uphill?
 

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I had been using an Nvidia Shield for over a year now and overall have been very happy with it. Last week I purchased a 4K ATV and between the lack of HD audio support and trouble with some 4K .mkv files (that the shield played effortlessly) I am not sure I will be keeping it.
This could be an issue with Plex for the ATV but some 4K mkv files it is trying to transcode them from HEVC to h264 which my server struggles with. The shield would just direct play them without any transcoding needed.
Also I can not get it to trigger HDR10 or DV on my TV when playing downloaded HDR test files. The ATV will play DV from netflix just fine and even the screensaver puts my TV in HDR mode but any local media will not trigger it using Plex.
 

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I had been using an Nvidia Shield for over a year now and overall have been very happy with it. Last week I purchased a 4K ATV and between the lack of HD audio support and trouble with some 4K .mkv files (that the shield played effortlessly) I am not sure I will be keeping it.
This could be an issue with Plex for the ATV but some 4K mkv files it is trying to transcode them from HEVC to h264 which my server struggles with. The shield would just direct play them without any transcoding needed.
Also I can not get it to trigger HDR10 or DV on my TV when playing downloaded HDR test files. The ATV will play DV from netflix just fine and even the screensaver puts my TV in HDR mode but any local media will not trigger it using Plex.
typ4q sent you a PM.
 

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I’ve gotta say the more I use AppleTV the more impressed I am. The remote was a bit difficult in the beginning but now I find it quite intuitive. The TV App is incredibly convenient as it gathers everything I watch in one space. Nice addition to my setup.
 

dc2bluelight

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Maybe it's just me. After using ATV4K almost exclusively since last fall, I still get messed up by the remote quite regularly, usually an error or two every time I use it. Today I'm at another location using an ATV3 with user control via our control system, so discrete buttons for every function. Works flawlessly. I also like how the older TVOS doesn't keep dumping you back at the screen that shows new media to buy/rent, it just stays where you left off.

I guess I'm just old and stodgy.
 

GFOviedo

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I’ve gotta say the more I use AppleTV the more impressed I am. The remote was a bit difficult in the beginning but now I find it quite intuitive. The TV App is incredibly convenient as it gathers everything I watch in one space. Nice addition to my setup.
That's good. I might end up buying one in the future. I ended up buying a projector new for $60 Optoma HD142X. I figure I'll give it a try for $60 bucks. I'll eventually make the move to 4K, but for now 1080p is fine ;).
 

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Yep the remote does take a bit of getting used to but once you get it down, it's irreplaceable. I usually use either my iPad or iPhone when I have to type in something - outside of that it's almost all done via voice for me.
 

JBrax

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Same here....voice control most of the time and iPhone.
 

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The TV App is incredibly convenient as it gathers everything I watch in one space.
This alone is worth the price of admission, as a cord cutter. Sure, you can get pretty much everything streaming these days from one place or another, but having everything (except Netflix) in one place is soooooooooo nice.

Honestly, Apple should really promote the TV app much more aggressively.
 

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So, what type of HDMI cable are you using for 4K support? Would a High Speed HDMI cable be enough? Monoprice is having a 50% sale on HDMI cables, but I am not sure if these are any good? https://www.monoprice.com/pages/hdmi_sale18
I tried a few different cables that were supposed to work and was getting ready to spring for fiber for a 30ft run to a projector, then I found these https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=15427
In use for many months now without issue.
 

JBrax

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mechman

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Definitive Technology DI6.5R
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I tried a few different cables that were supposed to work and was getting ready to spring for fiber for a 30ft run to a projector, then I found these https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=15427
In use for many months now without issue.
Those are the ones that I use for pretty much everything except my projector. I have a bunch of other more expensive cables but they don't do anything differently than the Monoprice cables.
 
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