Physical media is dead. The Apple TV 4K is one of the reasons why this statement is gaining more and more supporters. Not only does it provide high quality video and audio, including Dolby Atmos, but it is a gateway to many films and TV series. Not to mention games, music and your own content. The Apple device can even be the center of your smart home. What can this thing not do?
Apple TV 4K
The Apple TV has long been seen as a kind of joke by the Mac and iPhone builder. And let’s face it: as a product, it really wasn’t all that useful in its early versions, unless you were really embedded in the Apple ecosystem and made few demands. And even then, functionality was rather limited because you couldn’t install third-party apps. Fortunately, that is different with the recent Apple TV 4K. The concept that dates from the time of Steve Jobs has blossomed into something very spacious and (relatively) open. The Apple TV plays movies and TV shows you rent or buy from Apple, streams content from Apple’s Netflix clone, and displays media you choose through third-party apps. Think of Spotify and Tidal for example, but also Netflix or Amazon Video. You can also play your own media via the VLC app. Couple that with a lot of extra functionality, smart home options, voice control via Siri, multi-room options via AirPlay 2 and gaming, and you really speak of a Swiss army knife under the media player. Time to throw those Blu-ray’s in the bin? We’ll examine it in this article.
The Apple 4K TV comes in two versions, the only difference being the amount of memory. The version with 32 GB of storage costs 199 euros, the Apple TV 4K with 64 GB costs 219 euros. By Apple standards, that’s a very modest sum for an upgrade. In our opinion, whether you need 32 or 64 GB will come down to how you will use the Apple TV. For media streaming and the like, 32 GB is sufficient, but if you want to install some games, 64 GB will be a better idea.
Handful of Apple
The Apple TV has been a black block with very modest dimensions for much of its history. . Only at the very beginning was the device larger, with a housing derived from a Mac mini. But that is ancient history ; the current Apple 4K TV is very compact and fits in your hand. During use, the device does not produce any noise, because it is passively cooled without fans. The heat production is also not too bad, so you can easily place this player behind a television or somewhere in a closet. Operating is not a problem if you do that. The included mini-remote works via Bluetooth and you can also control the Apple TV via a virtual remote that was baked into the recent versions of iOS. Via HDMI-CEC the Apple TV 4K can also be controlled with your TV remote control. Finally, there is also an IR learning function so you can use a remote from another device to control the Apple player. In that case, the device must be placed visibly so that the IR signals reach the Apple TV.
About the supplied remote. It is a small thing, but finished in metal and finished with few buttons and a responsive touchpad. Just as you would expect from Apple. We regularly test products that are 20-30 times more expensive than this player and have a remote that only radiates a fraction of the luxury of the Apple box. Incomprehensible, given that a remote control is often the only physical connection with a product. It remains Apple: if you lose the remote, a replacement copy will cost you 69 euros. Ouch.
Installing the Apple TV 4K does not require much knowledge, just as you would expect from Apple. You connect the player with an HDMI cable to your TV (or a receiver or soundbar), plug in the supplied power cable, and you’re off. Do not forget to purchase an HDMI cable in the store, because Apple does not supply anything. This is to be expected with a cheaper device, but it is still somewhere on-Apple to not deliver a device 100% ready for use.
The first time you use an Apple TV, you go through a step-by-step plan to to set. Take a moment, because there are quite a few screens to get through. You can shorten the procedure considerably by adding an iPad or iPhone. If you keep such a device close to the Apple TV, the screen of the mobile device automatically opens a window in which you configure the Apple TV. This is useful, because the WiFi password and your Apple account, among other things, are automatically transferred. Setup is so quick. Don’t worry, people without iPhone or iPad: connecting to the network and your account can also be done manually on the Apple TV 4K, but then you have to fill in quite a bit. The remote with its touchpad makes this feasible, but it is more work than via an iPad or iPhone.
The Apple TV 4K is no longer a closed community for Apple fans, but we are still surprised when we When setting up the device, we are immediately asked whether we have a specific subscription with Belgian TV provider Proximus. If you answer positively and enter your details, an app will be added that gives access to dozens of TV channels that are streamed live. Still an interesting option for those who want to get rid of that separate TV decoder, but unfortunately limited to a few TV providers. In the Netherlands, Ziggo has an Apple TV app, but you have to install it yourself via the App Store after installation.
4K and Dolby Atmos
The name says it all: this version of the Apple TV supports 4K. There is an older Apple TV for sale that can only handle Full HD. Maybe that device is still interesting for use with a small TV in the bedroom or caravan, but since you can also use the Apple TV 4K in a lower resolution, it seems more future-proof that you choose the latest model. The price difference is not really big.
It is an Apple custom to hide very technical things or not even show them in interfaces. Still, with the Apple TV 4K you can adjust very fine-grained image settings; you just have to look them up in the settings. For example, you don’t just have a choice of “4K”, but from a variety of variants. With or without HDR with or without Dolby Vision, and this at 24, 30 and 60 Hz – then add a whole range of lower resolutions (including resolutions that are more suitable for computer monitors) and you speak over a very long list. If you choose something wrong and your television gives a bad picture, you just wait 15 seconds after which the player returns to the previous safe resolution.
On the audio side you get a little less options, but nothing is missing. Here too, Apple’s predilection for Dolby is noticeable. There is Dolby Atmos support, of DTS: X there is no question. Ultimately, this is not such a problem, because the player sends out its audio in bitstream and the decoding is done in your receiver, soundbar or TV.
There are also several options that are really unique to this device. Apple continues to develop the software and add features. For example, this autumn you can send the audio from the Apple TV 4K to two pairs of AirPods via Audio Share, in case you want to watch a movie in a very 21st century way. You will also be able to show a video of a HomeKit-compatible smart doorbell on your TV, so you can see who is ringing the bell.
So there are a surprising number of settings available for those who want to adjust things themselves. But in general, the Apple TV itself will make the appropriate choices. One thing that we found difficult: the screens of the institutions do contain small pieces of explanation, but that explanation has often been translated by someone who does not understand technical matters or thought it would be better to come up with an ‘easy’ explanation for business – but then ended with a text that even an AV connoisseur has to read twice to understand.
An Apple TV 4K is more than a media player, but let’s zoom in on that feature. Despite interesting smart home functionality, we believe that remains the main reason for many to purchase this device. The interface that transforms the Apple player on our TV screen is no different; immediately we are confronted with large background images on which new productions are promoted on TV +. Sometimes those backgrounds are no less than real trailers.
In our case we regularly got a bit of hype about the filming of the Foundation series based on the SF classics by Isaac Asimov. Sometimes that background promotion is a bit disruptive and once the background image in the TV + app was so colorful and chaotic that the video offer was difficult to distinguish and difficult to see. But usually you do not experience that and everything is well thought out. If you shop for a movie in the Apple store, the offer is presented well, including in lists. That way you have less that feeling as if you have walked into a room with a million books in shelves on the wall, without any organization or tips to lead you to something interesting.
The basic concept of the Apple TV interface works with four large icons that show at the bottom of the screen. The rest of the image is occupied by an image that matches the selected icon, such as a still from a movie or a photo from your library. If you wait a few seconds, a relevant video or photo slideshow will start. If you swipe down, the screen will be filled with the icons of installed apps. As with the Apple mobile devices, you can move an app in the overview by pressing the touchpad longer, after which you can move the app icon up or down. It works very well, thanks to the excellent touchpad on the remote that delivers a user experience close to that of a touchscreen. You also encounter the same interface and control logic when you divide in an app.
Content from Apple is central
Initially there are not so many apps in the overview, but via the Apple App Store you discover a lot great offer to do something about it. Obviously there is a lot of nonsense here, just like with other smart TV app stores, and also many apps that are paid. The quality seems to be quite high; perhaps because it often concerns iPhone / iPad apps that are slightly adapted for the Apple TV. With the apps that are standard on the Apple TV, you will mainly find the services of Apple itself. The TV app is the eye-catcher. It gives you quick access to movies you’ve bought from Apple and the streaming offering of TV +, Apple’s Netflix challenger itself. We were able to immediately investigate the offer of the Apple service, because when you buy an Apple TV 4K you get a yearly subscription as a gift. It didn’t take long before we realized that the term “Netflix challenger” is too much for TV +. Yes, Apple invests in its own productions, but that is not all.
Two other highlights are Apple Music and Apple Arcade. The first is all about music: you have access to an immense collection that you can stream to your heart’s content and possibly your own music that you have placed in iTunes on your computer. The finest aspect of Apple Music is the intelligent playlists. Every streaming service has them, but Apple’s best match what you listen to. It seems to have a slightly more intelligent composition than with Spotify or Deezer. With the Apple TV there are also video playlists, which is more fun than we expected. For example, we chose a playlist with alternative rock clips from the nineties, immediately good for an hour of nostalgic viewing pleasure. Occasionally there are live concerts in the spotlight at Music, such as a performance by Billie Eilish in the Steve Jobs theater on the Apple campus. In the Apple Music app itself that kind of live content is difficult to find, it seems that you choose it directly from the main screen.
Apple Arcade is a subscription service that gives you access to a not huge game library . We are not talking here about titles at PC or console level, but rather mobile games from the iPhone that are adapted for the big screen. Which is not to say that they are necessarily bad games. The offer is very varied in quality, but also includes better titles such as Oceanhorn 2 and the rerelease of “Beneath a Steel Sky”. There is also a very clever indie game offering. If you want to play the games, you will receive the message that you must connect a game controller. Apple doesn’t have one of its own, but you can use an existing controller. Currently you can connect an Xbox, Dualshock 4 or MFi controller, but more options will be available in the future.
If you’re in that little Apple world, the Apple does TV really good things. For example, we have approximately 60,000 photos and hundreds of our own videos in an Apple Photo library on an iMac. And yet we can watch it very easily and quickly on the Apple TV, because we keep a backup with iCloud. This is very clever and exactly what many people want: without hassle and immediately view their holiday or children’s photos on a TV screen. It may sound banal to you, but something as simple as showing pictures on a TV screen can quickly become difficult if you really have a lot of images.
The big absent in Apple apps is Safari. That is very strange, because sometimes you get a very closed experience. The Belgian public channel VRT, for example, has a very extensive delayed viewing platform via the browser, but you cannot reach it on the Apple TV. In short, if there is no app, it will not continue. Apple’s reply to this is fixed: but you can stream that web-based video to the Apple TV via Airplay. That is correct and also works fine, in our experience often better than Chromecast. But you can only use Airplay if you also have an iPad, iPhone or Mac computer.
Almost a Blu-ray experience
Maybe you are still devoted to physical media or simply not so interested in watching the latest movies. But if you are, then the Apple Movies app might just be the highlight of the whole Apple TV experience. You will find films that you can rent and / or buy at this service. Brand new blockbusters are relatively expensive to purchase. “Bad Boys for Life” costs $ 16.99 and “1917” was $ 11.99 when we wrote this article. That is something for a digital copy that never actually becomes your property. But we do notice that slightly older films can be purchased quite cheaply. For example, “Aquaman” and “Wonderwomen” cost 7.99 euros, but we also bought “The Joker” and “Godzilla: King of Monsters” for a few euros. What makes this even more interesting: All the films listed are in 4K Dolby Vision quality, usually with Dolby Atmos audio. Reports also indicate that Apple uses the highest bitrate of all streaming services. We can only conclude that it indeed looked very good on our 65-inch Sony OLED, even if we get very close.
Also relevant for Belgian users: the Apple store is well organized so you don’t have to break your head whether you are renting or buying the right language version. That is different at Google, where it is sometimes really a mess and you can accidentally buy the French-language dubbed edition while you want the English language with Dutch subtitles. You don’t have that problem in the Netherlands, of course. Also nice is that some animation films for children contain both the audio track of the dubbed version from the Netherlands and Belgium.
The experience with Apple Movies app is very close to that of a Blu-ray. A movie opens with a home screen like a physical disc, including extras and chapters. When watching a movie, you swipe down to change languages and subtitles, and you have extensive audio options. There is something to be said about this, because with this we touch on another Apple function: AirPlay.
The Apple TV 4K is Airplay 2 compatible, like many other products from Apple and third parties. The unique thing is that the Apple TV can use Airplay in two directions. You can stream audio and / or video from your iPhone to the Apple TV, but you can also stream the audio of a movie via Airplay to one or more Airplay speakers. Although only in stereo. For example, we can send the soundtrack at The Joker wirelessly to the Sonos Arc soundbar, but of course not in the Dolby Atmos quality that you get when you hang the Apple TV 4K with an HDMI cable on your TV. . Airplay works well and is stable, so it’s a case of ease of use over quality.
We should also note that Apple TV functionality and Airplay are embedded in some new TV models from LG, Samsung and Sony. That makes the Apple TV just a little less unique than before and perhaps therefore a bit less relevant for owners of those devices.
Not just Apple apps
And third-party apps? Handy: if you already have apps installed on your iPad or iPhone, you can discover the apps that are compatible with the Apple TV in the App Store under “Purchases”. In our case, we found quite a few games and fixed values here such as Amazon Video and Tidal.
In many smart TV systems, third-party apps are rarely valuable. You install YouTube and Netflix, and maybe a few others like Spotify and Videoland. That is different with the Apple TV. Especially in terms of gaming, the offer is very large and also of a higher quality than what you can expect with TV apps. Sometimes there are also unexpectedly good apps. The Ikea app, for example, presents the products of the Swedish furniture giant in a very fun and informative way. You can’t buy or keep anything in a list, but on a big screen you can judge that Bjursta table just a little bit better. It shows for us that the possibilities of a TV screen in a modern living room are still a little untapped; there are still some things possible that are not happening now.
If you have your own media files that live on a NAS, then VLC is highly recommended. This app is for almost every platform that exists and is known because it really can play everything. It also passed our format test relatively well on the Apple TV. 4K files with multiple audio tracks and languages are no problem to view, but Atmos sound tracks do not emit sound. Unfortunately, but apparently this has to do with the lack of an API from Apple. The same problem also occurs with the 8player and the Plex app on the Apple TV. Confusingly, the Netflix app says that only up to 5.1 is offered with content that we know to have Atmos soundtracks, such as “Roma” or “Altered Carbon”. However, if we play the video, it appears that Dolby Atmos is still being sent out. Atmos then Atmos is really played out again; The Apple TV 4K is one of a limited number of devices that can play the Dolby Atmos music on this streaming service. In short, Dolby Atmos seems to be reserved for the official Apple apps and a few select streaming services for the time being. Regrettable. We really hope that this will change, but knowing Apple you should not immediately count on it. Ultimately, the Apple TV is a device that should also contribute to the bottom line of the company through services. Giving your own apps an advantage is part of this.
Given what you can do there and the quality it delivers, the Apple TV 4K is really not that expensive. There is a “but” here. There are a lot of extra services you can take and buy products that will make the price tag grow. And because a number of things, such as Apple TV +, Apple Music and Apple Arcade, each work with a monthly subscription and come with free trial periods. As a result, your expenses rise almost insidiously. $ 4.99 here, $ 9.99 there, maybe iCloud storage to smoothly transfer your photos to the Apple TV, rent or buy a movie every now and then – and after a year, you’ve spent a hefty sum. Of course that is also the case elsewhere, but at Apple it all seems even more intense.
The Apple TV 4K is a very strong story, both technically and in terms of content. Thanks to support for 4K Dolby Vision up to 60 Hz and Dolby Atmos, this player delivers an excellent viewing and listening experience, even in a home theater. Although the interface is sometimes busy, it is clear and beautiful, with a rich range of content and the possibility to install apps. The picture is completely correct, from the voice control and remote to the smallest details, such as the beautiful screen saver and the IR learning function.
There is little criticism on this device, except that the excellent integration with iPhones and iPads has no equal. on Android side. You can use the Apple TV 4K without any problems if you own an Android smartphone, but you miss a bit of ease of use. Also pay attention to the optional extra costs that can increase the price tag in the longer term. We also regret that Dolby Atmos support is limited to official apps. Not bad if you only look at streaming services, but unfortunate for those who were looking for a real all-rounder.
The only device that can match the Apple TV 4K is the Nvidia Shield. That’s also a very good 4K compatible video player with some trumps of its own, like a slightly more hackable profile so you can sideload apps and more universal (but also not perfect) Dolby Atmos support. However, the Android TV interface is less slick than that of Apple TV, which mixes everything very nicely and is also more intuitive for non-techies. But again: you only get the most out of it if you really step into the Apple ecosystem.