The Apple TV 4K is an odd offering in 2022. It made sense 15 years ago when it was first introduced, because smart TVs weren’t really a thing yet and people wanted to watch shows from their iTunes library. Ten years ago it still made sense because smart TVs still weren’t ubiquitous. In 2022, though, the market for Apple TVs is relatively small, because now most people have a TV that can download apps and play streaming services.
That said, I love the Apple TV and don’t think it should be overlooked. With Apple Arcade and a controller it becomes a home console for casual gamers, Fitness+ turns it into a gym replacement, and with the fragmentation of the streaming market, playing videos from a private iTunes library has appeal once more.
This Friday, Apple is releasing the latest update to the Apple TV 4K in two flavours: 64GB, and 128GB with an Ethernet port. I’ve spent a week with the 128GB ethernet version, and here are my thoughts on whether it’s worth $249.
What is the Apple TV 4K and how is it different to previous generations?
The Apple TV 4K is a little box that plugs into your TV so you can download apps and watch stuff from whichever App Store you have an account for. I often find the Apple TV App Store will have new streaming service apps, like Paramount+, well before Samsung and LG app stores do. This is also handy for immigrants and international students who might want to watch streaming services from home on a TV rather than a laptop, because they just have to log in with that country’s iTunes account.
This year’s Apple TV 4K does all the things you expect from an Apple TV, but it also has:
- An A15 Bionic chip (the chip that was in the 2021 iPhone range, much faster than the previous A12)
- An extra 1GB of RAM (showing that Apple realises Apple TV is now more to appeal to casual gamers)
- HDR10+ support (finally)
- Thinner and lighter design (something that seems a bit irrelevant for a device that sits in a TV cabinet)
- A “budget” option
- The Siri Remote has a USB-C port now
There are now two models, both almost the same, except the cheaper one is $219 and has 64GB of storage, while the $249 model has 128GB, an Ethernet port and Thread support. It is very weird that an Ethernet port is now considered a ‘premium’ feature, but Apple gotta Apple, I guess.
Is the Apple TV 4K good for gaming?
That really depends on how you define good. I won’t be throwing out my Xbox Series X or PS5 tomorrow, and I still prefer playing Apple Arcade games on iPad, but I can absolutely see the appeal for a parent to buy it as a first games console for a kid, or for a casual player. It’ll be even better if Apple Arcade gets some good party games, like Jackbox, because I can see it being a hit at dinner parties and share houses.
I first tried to play using a PlayStation DualSense controller and had a really bad time. The controls were extremely laggy and unresponsive. I was about ready to write a scathing review about how much I hated it. But then I tried an Xbox Series X|S controller and it worked great. I’m not sure if it’s just because I had a bung DualSense, or if it’s an Apple TV 4K pre-release problem, but I’d recommend going Xbox controller over DualSense for Apple TV. It’s still not as responsive as playing on an Xbox, but if you didn’t have an Xbox, it’d be a wonderful experience. It’s just the comparison that hurts it.
Apple Arcade has games like Sonic 2, NBA 2K23 Arcade Edition (which I would argue is better than the console version because it’s not packed full of micro-transactions), and Song Pop (to which I am addicted). Apple Arcade is about 30 per cent of the reason to buy an Apple TV, particularly if you have kids, even if controller support can be a bit iffy, just because of the lack of micro tractions and low monthly cost.
That said, once you’ve bought the Apple TV for $249, and a controller for around $110, that’s $360. For an extra $120 you can get an Xbox Series S, which is a significantly more capable gaming console. So, to justify the Apple TV 4K over the Xbox, you’d need to want it for more than just games.
Apple TV 4K for watching TV in 4K
I’ve had a lot of problems with previous generations of Apple TV fighting with my Samsung TV, because Apple TV preferred Dolby Vision and my Samsung didn’t have that. Sometimes the colour red would just disappear on my old 2018 Q9 TV. So, the addition of HDR10+ in the new generation Apple TV is the main selling point for me.
Friends, movies look so good on this Apple TV. I have a Samsung QN900B 8K Neo-QLED TV, so, to be fair, everything looks good. But I could notice the HDR difference between last year’s model and this year’s model more than I anticipated. Watching those 4K HDR videos of Hawaii on YouTube is just that much more vibrant, and shows like For All Man Kind look much richer. The details on all the set dressings in the new Downton Abbey were beautiful.
Even my favourite web series, Carmilla, which I use as a control test on fancy gear because it was made for around $1 and is a good upscaling test, looks really good. The upscaling works.
Last time I did an Apple TV review, I wrote a love letter to the Siri Remote. This is what the Apple TV remote should have always been, and we should just quietly forget that touch monstrosity Jony Ive inflicted upon us. I recently had to try to tell my dad how to use that black remote over the phone, and ended up resorting to just ordering him a Siri Remote online mid-call. The old remote is a heinous crime against hands.
The Siri Remote, on the other hand, was made by someone who had seen a remote at least once before, and had human hands of their own. The buttons are easy to use, the touch potion is non-mandatory, and having the Siri button on the side is really good for using Siri Shortcuts and other commands.
Later in the year when Siri can tell the difference between different voices, she will either come alive and begin the robot apocalypse or be much more helpful in giving personalised recommendations depending on who is asking the question. Probably the second option.
The only difference between the new Siri Remote and last year’s Siri Remote is that this one has a USB-C port (thank you, European Union). This is a good change.
If you’re upgrading from any Apple TV older than last year’s model (and last year’s model is perfectly fine, so you probably wouldn’t consider upgrading), the remote is the main selling point. The 4K, HDR10+ and faster chip are good, but the remote is going to make the biggest difference to your quality of life. If you are frequently using the black touch remote, dispose of it thoughtfully now and upgrade.
Apple TV 4K apps
Like with all smart devices, the apps are the things that make the Apple TV worth owning, and the apps are usually easier to use, better updated, and more plentiful on Apple TV than on proprietary TV operating systems. Apple TV isn’t really for people who just want to watch Netflix on their existing smart TV, but for those who want to watch Tello, or VHX, or new services. You can even get Apple TV+ on smart TVs now, but it’s hard to find non-mainstream content on other TVs, and that’s another point in the Apple TV’s favour.
The addition of Thread support shows that Apple is still trying to make Apple TV the centre of the smart home. I’m not sure how many people are going to be doing that with Apple TV when the iPad exists, but I suppose the Apple TV is cheaper than iPad and to each their own. I don’t have any smart devices with Thread (as far as I’m aware?) so I did not test this feature.
Should you buy the Apple TV 4K?
That really depends on what you want to use it for. If you have a recent smart TV and you only want to watch one service, then you don’t need this. However, if you like to watch a variety of streaming services, perhaps some from other countries or designed for marginalised groups, and they have an Apple TV app, then this is for you. Same with if you want to play Apple Arcade games on the TV. I love the Apple TV. I’ve had one for pretty close to 15 years. I think I still have my original model in storage somewhere. It’s a good device for specific purposes.
If you bought an Apple TV last year, you don’t need to even consider this year’s model. But, if you have anything older than that and a 4K TV, or think you’d benefit from Apple Arcade, then yeah. This is the upgrade for you.
The new Apple TV 4K arrived in stores on Friday.