Apple has finally upgraded the Apple TV, bringing updates to the device last refreshed in 2017. It features a lot of familiar complemented with new innovations, and a long-awaited new Siri remote that builds on loyal customer feedback.
But just how different is the new device from the previous iteration? I had a chance to review the 2021 Apple TV 4K ahead of launch.
A bit of new, and a lot of familiar
The new Apple TV 4K is built on a lot of what users already love about the device. The company wants users to know it’s more than just a streaming box, but rather an extension to the many tasks you already do on your mobile devices—on a bigger screen, of course. Built on the tvOS platform, shows, movies, and games look and sound more vibrant than ever before with high frame rate 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos sound.
Switching the TV on, setup was simple and can be completed by seamlessly bringing your iPhone to the device, and complete the steps to sync your previous Apple TV One Home Screen or set up a new one. At the surface, users will find the interface to be very familiar—almost too familiar—but digging into the settings will unveil some of the many new innovations.
Apple boasts its homegrown A12 Bionic chip as one of the many reasons why devices like iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV can keep up with so many powerful media-rich tasks from Netflix to gaming. It is also the reason the devices come at a steeper price point than competition like Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or Roku.
New remote in town
One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard (and experienced myself) on the previous Apple TV was the Siri remote. I often struggled with the battery life, touch sensitivity, responsiveness of movements, and far too frequently defaulted to the iOS remote controls on iPhone. The previous remote was tethered to a Lightning Cable more often than not.
The new Siri remote fixes many of the issues in a familiar one-piece aluminum design that is very reminiscent of MacBook’s design, which is environmentally conscious—something the entire product does well from packaging to paper wrapping and the Apple TV itself.
There are subtle changes to the remote include a movement to the Siri button to the side (like iPhone), a power button to turn Apple TV and connected devices on and off, a dedicated mute button for live streaming, and a new five-way clickpad with a touch surface. In iPod classic fashion, a new circular gesture is introduced where you can cycle through shows to rewind or fast forward, or you can easily go through menu options with the tactile keys embedded within the clickpad. The remote charges via a Lightning cable when it is running low—though I’m hoping I won’t have to keep this new remote tethered like the old one!
I found the remote to be quite responsive, though I had to adjust the remote settings to hit my personal preference (I tend to move through menus really quickly). The weight of the remote has a good heft to it, so hopefully, it shouldn’t go flying across the room. The precision edges may ding and chip easily if you aren’t careful with the remote and end up dropping it on hardwood floors, for example.
Finally, Apple’s tight integration between the new Siri Remote and tvOS means you can easily enter using voice in many fields—arguably better than many of its rival streaming devices
Picture quality and colour correction
With a television, high picture quality is a must. And Apple TV 4K delivers with high frame rate HDR, Dolby Vision, with Dolby Atmos sound. The 4K is most noticeable when you look at video thumbnails and text, and gameplay is quick and responsive. To maximize the technology, however, you must be subscribed to apps and services that offer the enhancements.
One of my favourite features, however, is Color Balance. This feature uses iPhone (iPhone X or higher with Face ID running), and by going into Settings on Apple TV, then Video & Audio, you can enter Color Balance which will use your iPhone’s camera to calibrate the colour settings accordingly to optimize to whatever TV settings you have now.
Setup was simple, with on-screen instructions clearly guiding users on how to complete the process, and at the end, “Balanced” and “Original” pictures are displayed allowing you to pick which setting you prefer. This takes the guesswork away from users having to go into TV settings and messing with functions as Apple TV will expertly analyze the colour settings on the TV to immediately counter-adjust the picture accordingly.
Maximizing the ecosystem
In Apple fashion, the company is banking on users maximizing their devices and services to get the most from Apple TV 4K. From subscriptions to listen to Apple Music, game on Apple Arcade, or access at-home workouts through Apple Fitness+, or using iPhone to balance the colour, AirPods to wirelessly listen to content, or pair Apple Watch to Fitness to access health statistics, Apple has truly found an array of integrations to devices you likely already have if you are a loyal Apple TV user.
This can also be frustrating if you aren’t an Apple user as you might not get the most from the new device. Access to Home Hub for HomeKit-connected devices means you can easily grow your smart home securely through Apple TV. Luckily, through a very robust App Store and Apple TV app, you can access many excellent third-party apps and service connections to maximize personalizing your experience. Plus, TELUS customers and a variety of other TV providers internationally are offering integration with Apple TV so you can stream their content plus sign in to third-party apps using their single sign-on protocol.
Finally, connect family member profiles to easily switch between the personalized content to which they watch and listen.
Should you upgrade if you already have an Apple TV?
The Apple TV 4K is an excellent upgrade if you’re looking to upgrade from a competitor entry-level streaming device if you’re looking to deepen the connection with Apple devices and services. It’s an even better upgrade if you’re upgrading from a non-4K Apple TV. If you’re an existing Apple TV 4K (2017) user, you will get many of the tvOS upgrades by a software update and easily upgrade your Siri remote which is sold separately, too.
Apple TV 4K is optimized to work best for those with iPhone, iPad, or already subscribe to their services. It’s also a fantastic device for casting presentations from Mac via AirPlay. There are truly thousands of possibilities with an Apple TV in your living room, and the 2021 Apple TV 4K only builds on those successes in an interface that is already familiar to many.
$229 (CAD) in the second half of May