Apple TV 4K 2021 check: Apple streams forward, now everybody else has to catch up

Apple TV 4K rating (Image: APPLE)

TV sales have been booming over the past 12 months. With most of the world locked down, it’s not hard to see why. A record number of us have popped up on 4K and 8K TVs, and now there’s a new accessory that may well be worth plugging into one of the HDMI ports for the ultimate quality to the big screen.

The new Apple TV 4K hits stores later this week. According to Apple, it should make it easier to access a wide variety of content, including, for the first time, high frame rate HDR shows and sports equipment.

The previous Apple TV 4K supported high dynamic range (HDR) shows and movies, but it’s support for streaming at 60fps that promises to make things better this time around. Other tidbits include a new remote and faster processor housed in the case.

So, if you already have an older Apple TV under your TV, or want to treat yourself to a new streaming set-top box to add more content to that new TV … is the Apple TV 4K 2021 a good investment? has tested the latest box from Apple. Here are our thoughts on that £ 169 streaming box …

Apple TV rating

Apple TV rating (Image: APPLE)

Apple TV 4K 2021 review:

First, let’s talk about the design. Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t updated the Apple TV set-top box itself, so there’s no sign of the fruity-fresh colors that now apply to the iPhone 12, iPad Air, and the all-new iMac. It’s a bit of a shame.

Instead, you can find the same shiny black box that has been looking pretty much the same since September 2015. We suspect that most people store these devices in a media closet. So maybe it’s not a big deal, but given that Apple can fit on a screen, quad speakers, studio-quality microphones, a processor that feeds an iMac, and more into the 5.9mm case of an iPad Pro can … it’s a little confusing why the Apple TV 4K has to be such a piece. At 35 mm, it is almost as high as six iPad Pros stacked on top of each other. For those hoping for a small USB-sized streaming box like the one you get from rivals Roku and Amazon, it’s a lot bigger and needs its own shelf.

Where things have really changed for the better is the new remote control. This channel changer has been given a completely new look that now includes a silver aluminum design. Most importantly, how you interact with Apple TV is also changing. If you own previous versions of Apple TV, you’ve probably found the gestures and swipes on the tiny touchpad a bit irritating. The touch area was always a little nervous and made it difficult to swipe to the exact episode or show you were looking for.

Apple TV rating

Apple TV rating (Image: APPLE)

Fortunately, those swipes have now been replaced at wholesale with a clickable wheel that is far more precise. It’s a really nice change of pace as you can both physically tap the outside of the circle – like a D-Pad – and use the original swipe gestures in the center. It depends on you.

There are some nice touches too, including the ability to swipe your finger across the circle like on the original iPod wheel. This works as a jog control and is frankly an air of genius. It brings accuracy when rewinding or fast-forwarding content (not to mention being fun, too).

On the side you will find a dedicated Siri button for easy access to the clever assistant. At the top is a power button that you can use to turn the Apple TV off and on again. And that’s not all, because that single button also lets you control the power to your actual TV with a single press. Horray!

We would have loved to see a Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the remote that allows you to pay for movies and sign up for streaming services faster. Otherwise, it would have been nice if with the Apple TV 4K you could use the Face ID (or Touch ID) scanner on your iPhone – or even an Apple Watch – to authenticate your identity when buying shows or movies. After all, with Apple you can already use these devices to prove your identity when using a MacBook. This would make the process a lot more seamless.

Apple TV rating

Apple TV 4K rating (Image: APPLE)

As it stands, Apple lets you use your iPhone’s keyboard anytime you need to type on the Apple TV, which is great. As great as the new remote control is … trying to tap the on-screen buttons on the TV is always a headache, so this is a nice little gesture. Of course, this isn’t new to the Apple TV 4K, but it’s worth a mention if you’re an iPhone owner weighing up different streaming boxes.

So that’s the box itself, but what about what’s playing on your TV?

With the new 2021 model, you now have access to Full HDR at 60 fps and Dolby Atmos audio, which makes things look and sound amazing.

For those who don’t know, the 4K resolution combined with HDR provides an image with far more detail and very rich colors, especially in the darkest and lightest areas of the screen. If you watch a lot of documentaries or blockbusters, you will immediately see the difference. This is because there is no loss of detail when scenes take place in places with a strong contrast between light and dark.

And now this faster frame rate makes the picture look smooth and completely judder free. It’s about as good as it gets … if you can find something recorded in this format.

Apple TV rating

The Apple TV is now ready to calibrate your television (Image: APPLE)

We’re sure that more shows, movies, and sporting events will get this high frame rate makeover over time, but it can be quite difficult to find something to watch at this ultimate quality right now.

For example, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 rarely broadcast anything in 4K resolution, let alone 4K HDR – and forget to add a high frame rate to the mix! Sky is expanding its library pretty quickly and already has impressive sports coverage in 4K HDR through its Sky Q service. However, none of these are currently available through the company’s NOW streaming service on Apple TV.

Football, rugby, and F1 would look incredible at 60 fps, but Apple seems way ahead of the game and broadcasters are taking some time to catch up. Given that Apple launched its first 4K-compatible Apple TV back in September 2017 … and traditional terrestrial broadcasters haven’t yet made the switch, it may be a long time before you can see your favorite BBC, ITV or Channel 4 will be seen in this new format.

It’s not all bad news, however. Apple is constantly adding more 4K HDR movies to its own library via Apple TV +, and newer streaming services like Netflix, Disney +, and Amazon Prime Video have plenty of things to watch in 4K HDR (although a high frame rate is still largely lacking). It’s also worth noting that Netflix charges additional fees for accessing this format.

While not all content gets this 4K HDR makeover, there is a nice additional feature that enhances anything and everything you want to display. As long as you have an iPhone in your pocket, you can use the new color balance calibration mode to change the look of your TV.

Apple TV rating

Apple TV rating (Image: APPLE)

Apple TV uses the light sensor in your iPhone to compare the color balance of your TV with the industry-standard specifications used by cameramen around the world. Apple TV uses this information to automatically adjust the video output to compensate for any inaccuracies in your TV’s picture settings.

It’s really clever and means you don’t have to go into settings to change the graphics on the screen.

Another nice boost is the performance of the new TV with its A12 Bionic processor which speeds things up. That extra performance certainly helps when playing some of the latest apps and games, especially as these titles continue to get console-style graphics. Apple has also made upgrades so you can now use your new PS5 or Xbox One controller for an even more immersive experience.

Of course, you can find all the usual Apple extras like Apple TV +, Apple Fitness, Apple Music and Apple Arcade, as well as third-party providers like Netflix, YouTube, BBC, NOW, ITV and more.

One minor annoyance is that not everyone has signed up for Apple’s TV app. This app is the main way to get back to the shows you watched, suggest new similar content, and more. This streaming one-stop-shop brings all of your favorite shows in one place, making recommendations easier to find.

It’ll be an amazing way to bring together shows from all of your favorite streaming and catch-up services … as long as they sign up to Apple’s terms and conditions. There are still some pretty big issues right now, including Netflix. So you have to keep jumping through the menus to switch between streaming apps instead of having everything in a single feed synced across Apple TV 4K, iPad, Mac, and more.

Apple TV 4K 2021 Review: Final Verdict

PROS • 4K HDR 60fps looks stunning – Great new remote control – Easy to set up – TV color calibration is a neat trick
disadvantage • No redesign of the TV box – Finding HDR programs can be difficult – Expensive compared to competitors

The Apple TV 4K is a solid way to watch and stream shows and movies, play games, and enjoy fitness classes at home on the largest screen in your home. The extra performance, future-proof support for HDR 60fps, and the brand new remote control are welcome additions and ensure that Apple’s TV box is an excellent way to enjoy your favorite services.

At £ 169, this model is pretty expensive and it’s a shame Apple hasn’t updated the look of the box itself. There’s also still the problem of finding the best content for this powerful new device, as it still looks like the hardware is way ahead of those sending the actual content.

All in all, Apple TV is an excellent choice for those who are heavily invested in Apple products or Apple subscription services like TV +. With providers catching up, more of us can enjoy the delights of a high refresh rate of 4K HDR content in the future.

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