It had been a while. More than three years since Apple had last updated the Apple TV media player. It really needed some new clothes and a fresher look. Right on cue, the Apple TV 4K arrives in 2021, meeting more than the fair share of demands that were chucked its way in the interim. It is more powerful than before, plugs in neatly into the big bets that are Apple TV+ and Arcade, while retaining the familiarity of simplicity that Apple does significantly better than anything Google offers with Android TV and Google TV. It is priced whereabouts, as the predecessor, with prices starting Rs 18,900. Mind you though, the Apple TV 4K isn’t just a box for Netflix and Amazon Video streaming. It is ever closer to being a serious console, for gaming too. Direct competition? Amazon Fire TV Cube, but without gaming on its side.
Everything That Has Changed: The two big changes are under the hood. There is the A12 Bionic chip that is now the beating heart of the Apple TV 4K, replacing the ageing A12. Albeit not the latest chip in Apple’s arsenal, this one would be familiar to you from the current Apple iPad version, the iPad Mini and indeed the Apple iPhone XS line-up from not too long ago. This should give the Apple TV 4K more than enough power for Arcade games too. Does the Apple TV 4K really need more power than that? There can always be the argument about it, but to be fair, this is speedy and consistent for what the Apple TV 4K sets out to do. Anything more, I suspect, may have been an overkill. The other innards that see an upgrade is the support for Wi-Fi 6 standard, which is great news if you have a new Wi-Fi 6 ready router or mesh system at home or intend to buy one soon. Even if you aren’t on Wi-Fi 6, there’s a definite wireless performance improvement. Side by side, the Apple TV 4K registers around 450Mbps download speeds on Speedtest app results while the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 SE sitting next to it touches a maximum of 310Mbps—connected with the same router, at the same distance and testing on the same server one after the other.
Oh Wait, There Is The Completely New Remote Too: I’d be kicking myself for forgetting it, if that had happened. The new Apple TV Siri Remote is a significant departure from what proceeded it, and as it weirdly is, more buttons seem to make things simpler too. Gone is the trackpad which divided opinion and that’s replaced with a circular D-pad that does both the clicky stuff if you like that and allows you enable touch as well for quick swipes to navigate the interface. In fact, for the swipe gestures, there are three sensitivity levels available too, though Medium should really work best for you. It is slightly taller vertically, and definitely chunkier too. Makes it more difficult to misplace this down the side of a couch or somewhere between the bed and the side table. A lot of users may find this more in tune with their TV remotes, for instance, and there isn’t a learning curve visible. The back is slightly curved, and the metal build adds the premium quotient you’d expect after spending Rs 18,900 or more. Remotes are something a lot of premium TV makers also falter with in terms of quality and experience, not realizing that’s the constant interface users have. It still charges with your iPhone’s lightning cable, thank you very much.
But What Hasn’t Changed: As it sits beneath your TV, it is impossible to distinguish this Apple TV 4K from the predecessor. The dimensions remain the same, it still doesn’t like to gather any attention and the black colour body remains the same too. That also means the glossy black sides still are very much around, catching dust and fingerprints. The Amazon Fire TV Cube had exactly replicated this material and finish format, which makes me wonder why this is becoming a trend. There’s also an ethernet port if you don’t trust Wi-Fi enough and still want to go the wired route. But I have to say that even if the design is the same as before, I’m glad Apple hasn’t gone the way many others have with the ‘stick’ form factors that plug directly into your TVs HDMI port. That design restricts performance and upgradability after a point. Maybe it was more a case of building on something that already simply works.
tvOS Is Just Right Or Too Simple, Depending On Which Side You Are On: tvOS 14 that the Apple TV 4K runs, has been consistently evolving, rather than walk down the path of a revolution. It is polished, refined and the experience for Apple TV users remains very familiar as it may have been a few years ago too. In fact, I remember there is a distinct familiarity with the Apple TV (3rd generation) that I used as far back as 2013. The app icon sizes, the grid layout and the right aligned placement of the settings app, for instance, all remain very familiar. The biggest positive—there are absolutely no ads on the home screen, something that is happening with increasing frequency on the Amazon Fire TV devices and indeed the new Google TV platform too. Yet, I’d like to see a bit more vibrancy on the home screen for the Apple TV 4K, something that puts more content from apps, up front and center. Is it just me or do certain streaming apps such as Netflix still feel a generation behind compared to their versions on the Amazon Fire TV platform and Google’s Android TV? Netflix on Apple TV 4K doesn’t have the new in-player interface and menu for language change, for instance.
It Seems My Algorithms And Apple TV 4K’s Calibrations Are Similar! I was really looking forward to testing the Color Balance with iPhone feature on the new Apple TV 4K. A quick dash into settings and placing the iPhone less than an inch away from the TV for a few seconds, and it turns out that the balanced result is indistinguishable from the predefined picture settings I had already done on the TV. Just to be sure, tested this on another TV where I had not done any picture setting tweaks already, and the Color Balance feature really showed up in all its glory, adding vibrancy and detail to what you see. The difference was quite visible, for the better. Mind you, this feature doesn’t change your TVs picture settings—it simply tweaks its own picture output. And I can walk around proudly that my built-in algorithms are spot on too.
4K And HDR Quality, Done Almost Right: Video streaming quality very much keeps the Apple TV 4K at the very top of the more crowded than before world of devices that let you Netflix and chill. It is certainly a notch better than the Amazon Fire TV Cube, though the latter does come across as brighter and more vibrant on the same TV, same HDMI input and exact same picture settings dialed in. Yet, the Apple TV 4K hides away artefacts and noise better, particularly on HD content and all the time wasters that can be found strewn around YouTube. Without compromising on sharpness and crispness. Fast moving visuals are also a tad smoother than competition. This really shows its prowess with 4K HDR content, which makes the likes of Black Summer on Netflix and Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Video, an absolute delight to watch. You’ll get no complications in the settings app, and there really isn’t anything you can mess up with on the visual front. There is one thing I couldn’t help noticing many times though, across apps, and that is the momentary blank screen as the Apple TV 4K transitions from a 4K HDR content to something that’s not HDR, such as returning to app interface. This sort of a stutter isn’t entire expected with an experience that’s otherwise very slick. The Apple TV 4K also isn’t utilizing the HDMI 2.1 port to the fullest, since it is restricted to the 60fps frame rate, and still has not adopted the 120fps standard just yet. Not clear if that can be software enabled at some point or not. You should be fine with movies and TV shows, but Arcade games could have done with the boost in frame rates to make everything look even better. Or certain can do with, in the future.
Million Dollar Question One Is Apple TV+: Now as we embark on the paid subscription journey for Apple TV+ streaming service, you’d be wondering whether to continue paying Rs 99 per month for it. There’s some really different content already there. I’m currently catching up on Mythic Quest when I do get the time, and also in the watchlist are Trying and Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story (if I feel brave enough). Tehran remains something I recommend quite regularly to friends. Some other recommendations include Home Before Dark (a new season is out) and The Mosquito Coast. The next season of Ted Lasso is coming soon, and so is The Morning Show, See and Schmigadoon. You’d have seen the trailers for Foundation too. That should keep you hooked. Mind you, Apple TV+ content is still comparatively limited in numbers, if you are comparing this to Netflix or Amazon Prime. And new content trickles in, rather than weekly dumps by the bucketloads. But a lot of the popular series are heading into their next seasons, and you may want to pick up where you left off. Apple TV+ streaming subscription content is mixed up with the other movie rentals, for instance, and that has confused quite a few folks.
Million Dollar Question Two Is Arcade: Once the free trial is over, that’s the other Rs 99 per month question (or you should simply get the Apple One subscription) and can be shared with up to 5 family members. It is your one subscription to access 180 games and counting, including NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition, Star Trek: Legends, What The Golf, The Oregon Trail, Oceanhorn 2, LEGO Brawls and Crossy Road Castle. The fact that the Apple TV 4K sits at par with the iPhone and the iPad for Arcade, adds more value. The new Apple TV Siri Remote doesn’t let you use it as a controller, but that spot of bad news is immediately forgotten because you can use a bunch of third-party game controllers with the Apple TV 4K, and those include the latest Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox controllers.
THE LAST WORD: A LOT OF MONEY FOR A LOT OF SOPHISTICATION
There is no doubt that the Apple TV 4K requires you to part with a significant wad of cash, more so than pretty much most other similar streaming devices. It has got seamless support for Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos and HDR10, as well as the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard. You may point to the Amazon Fire Cube as a lesser priced alternative, and it may very well be if gaming isn’t something that entices you at all. Mind you, the Apple TV 4K has a free run in that regard, since the Nvidia Shield TV Pro isn’t likely to arrive in India anytime soon. Most definitely, hardly any other media streaming device would offer the sort of slickness that the Apple TV 4K does. Everything just feels perfectly placed. If you already have the previous generation, there isn’t a pressing need to rush out and buy this one right away. But for new adopters and anyone upgrading from an older Apple TV, this is undoubtedly the one to go for now. I’ll say it again, you’ll probably glance at the price tag a couple of times.