For streaming players, there are a number of choices out there, including Roku, Google, Amazon but Apple has refreshed their 4K set-top box for this year to bring it a new remote and better processor.
Design & Hardware
At first glance, the new Apple TV 4K hasn’t changed that much design-wise. It’s still a rounded square design we’ve come to know for the past few years, going back to the Apple TV (4th Gen) from 2015.
On the back of the box are a power port, HDMI (which is the 2.1 spec) and Gigabit ethernet. Powering this new box is the A12 Bionic chip which was first featured in the iPhone XS, XS Max and iPad (2020 model), up from an A10X Fusion chip.
According to Apple, the processor change should bring “a significant boost in graphics performance, video decoding, and audio processing.” The new chip brings high frame rate HDR and Dolby Vision, HDR10 support as well.
There’s also Bluetooth 5.0, Thread and Wi-Fi 6 support which should help load all the 4K content faster.
The new Apple still comes with 32GB and 64GB of internal storage but now you have the option of playing games on Apple Arcade and download them to your box.
One of the biggest changes with the new Apple TV 4K is the Siri remote. Gone is the black remote with a glass trackpad and in comes a silver remote with five-way navigation that is touch-enabled for fast directional swipes.
The navigation pad has a circular gesture like classic iPods to seek through films and shows in supported apps and services.
The new Siri remote swaps out the Menu button for a back button, add a mute button, power button to turn on/off your TV and the mic button is now on the right side. The new remote is a lot thinner and thicker and reminiscent of the Apple TV (3rd Gen)’s remote.
Using Siri with the remote is fairly quick and can be used to dictate your username when logging into a streaming app. While there’s no hands-free Siri control, you will have to hold down the mic button to speak to the voice assistant.
The remote still charges via Lighting on the bottom, which can “months of battery life on a single charge.” With Apple’s switch to USB-C to some of their devices especially with Lightning to USB-C cables included with the iPhone 12 series, I wish the new Apple TV charged via USB-C.
For those that have the previous Apple TV 4K, you can buy the new Siri remote from Apple’s website for $69 CAD.
Just like the previous Apple TV 4K, this new one doesn’t include an HDMI cable in the box, which is a bit frustrating when other streaming players either come with one or are an HDMI stick style player.
The Apple TV 4K (2021) is available now from the following retailers:
The 32GB model costs $229 CAD and 64GB for $249 CAD. One thing to note is that at the time of the new Apple TV 4K’s announcement, the Apple TV (4th Gen) from 2015 was rebranded as the Apple TV HD.
With its rebrand to Apple TV HD, nothing else has changed, still, the same ageing A8 processor only comes in 32GB, older HDMI spec but now comes with the new Siri remote. All this for $199 CAD, I wouldn’t consider this, since it’s possible that it may not get future tvOS updates or streaming apps may not support it.
Like the previous-gen, Apple TV 4K (2021) is running on tvOS which is the company’s OS for the box.
The interface of tvOS will seem very familiar to iOS and iPadOS with its grid of icons that you can rearrange. Getting around the OS is fairly straightforward but using the new Siri remote’s directional pad. You can also use the pad as a touchpad which seems a bit too sensitive.
One helpful tip still present in tvOS is when you double press the TV button on the remote, it will bring up a multitasking screen to quickly switch between apps or swipe up to close them. Also by default, the TV button on the remote will open the TV app but in the settings, you can change it to go to the homescreen instead.
Across the top row, you’ll have a set of apps that you can put whatever there but by default are the TV app, Music, Photos, Apple Arcade and Fitness. Once you scroll down you’ll see the rest of the apps you’ve installed from the App Store.
As mentioned in my previous Apple TV 4K review, the TV app aggregates content from your streaming services and purchased content from Apple into one place. It’s worth noting that not all streaming services are supported (such as Netflix) but ones like Prime Video, Disney Plus are.
In addition to the content aggregation, the TV app is also where you can access Apple TV+, of which you get three months free with a new Apple device purchase. I would highly recommend watching Ted Lasso and Central Park on Apple TV+, both great shows.
With the new Apple TV 4K, you can take advantage of Apple Arcade to play a host of games by pairing a Bluetooth controller or Xbox or PlayStation one you have lying around.
Since Siri is well integrated into tvOS, you can ask stuff like “Find movies comedy films”, “Find Simon Pegg films” and so forth. Then Siri should show your results if it’s available for purchase on iTunes or on a streaming service.
One quirk I had with tvOS is how you manage apps on it. Installing an app is easy and you can sort them into folders like on iOS. But if you want to delete an app, you have to hold down the centre button until the icons start to shake, press the play/pause button, you’ll then see a menu for a new folder or deleted, scroll down to delete and it’ll ask if you’re sure you want to delete that app and then scroll down to yes.
That all seems to be a bit tedious comes from the company where they emphasize a lot of the time (back in the Steve Jobs era) that their devices and software “just work” but that doesn’t always seem to be the case.
I feel like something like deleting an app in tvOS could be simplified, to just have it bring the delete menu when you hold the select button and press the play/pause button.
Overall, the Apple TV 4K (2021) is still a great device for those intertwined in the Apple ecosystem. But it’s becoming harder to justify the cost of this device since there are other streaming players that are a third of the cost and have the same 4K HDR support and can get the Apple TV app.
- 4K content still looks great now with High frame rate HDR/Dolby Vision support
- Wi-Fi 6 and ARC/eARC support
- Great selection of apps and streaming services on tvOS
- Voice control on Siri remote still works well and reliably
- Integrates well with other Apple devices
- The new Siri remote should satisfy those who hated the previous one
- tvOS has some weird quirks (like the app deletion flow)
- More expensive than comparable 4K streaming players
- No HDMI cable in the box