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Apple TV 4K: Nice Improvements, But Somewhat Disappointing

First things first. The new 4K version of the Apple TV box has a lot going for it.

The first improvement is obvious: this version of Apple TV supports 4K instead of just 1080p, yet only costs about $30 more. It’s also the only box that supports HDR (High Dynamic Range), the improvement to video quality that greatly improves both color and contrast. And you don’t have to pay a premium for 4K movies purchased or rented on iTunes for Apple TV, making them significantly cheaper than Vudu or Google Play.
apple-tv-4k-hdr
Image credits https://www.apple.com/

You knew had to be a catch (or two), though, and here are the big ones. There are a number of common video sources and formats that aren’t compatible with Apple TV 4K, and video performance can suffer when you try to watch standard HD programs.

Is it the right choice for you? Let’s take a closer look.


Apple TV 4K: Specs and Features


If you already have the 2015 version of the 1080p Apple TV, you can make a one-for-one swap and won’t immediately notice a difference, because they look exactly the same. What’s inside the newer version, however, is quite different.

The 4K model upgrades the old A8 processor to the same A10X Fusion chip that’s used in the iPad Pro. That makes the newer version as powerful as some laptops, and definitely faster and more responsive than older Apple TV boxes. You can choose between 32 and 64 GB of memory; 64 gigs is probably overkill for most, since the bulk of your content will be streamed, not stored. You can choose between Bluetooth 5.0, Gigabit Ethernet or 802.11ac WiFi inputs, and output from the box is via HDMI 2.0a (which is 4K HDR compatible); all of the high-quality HDMI and Ethernet cabling and distance extenders you’ll need are available from Cmple at our always-low prices.

And as you’d expect, Siri comes with Apple TV 4K to keep you company.

So far, so good. Now let’s talk about potential technical issues.
4k_screen_and_appletv
Image credits https://www.apple.com/

First, even though YouTube is one of the world’s major providers of 4K video, Apple TV 4K doesn’t include support for the VP9 video format the service uses. That means you can’t watch any of YT’s videos at 4K resolution. Second, the box doesn’t support newer, far superior audio formats like DTS:X and Dolby Atmos, even though they’re now the standard for new releases and quite common in home theaters. Even Xbox One S and Roku support those audio formats.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Apple TV 4K always runs in 4K HDR mode. That’s great for watching theatrical 4K new releases. But if you want to watch 1080p HD content it will automatically be upscaled to the equivalent of 4K HDR – and that can make the video look much worse than it does when displayed on a 1080p system. The same problem occurs with refresh rates. The only solutions are to disable HDR in the settings menu or adjust your TV, neither of which makes for a seamless and enjoyable viewing experience.

Apple promises that future software updates will deal with the second problem. As for the YouTube issue, that doesn’t seem to be high on the company’s priority list.


Other Apple TV 4K Pros and Cons


We’ve already mentioned the content price benefits. 4K movies from iTunes won’t cost any more to buy or rent than the HD versions, and that’s already pressured other providers to lower their prices as well. One other nice benefit: iTunes will upgrade all of the 1080p movies you’ve already purchased to 4K, at no extra charge.

Content for the box is currently a mixed bag. At the moment, the Apple box is only compatible with the Netflix app, but an app for Amazon Prime Video should coming by year’s end and the company is also in talks with Hulu and DirectTV. A good selection of 4K movies are available now through iTunes and more are coming, but a glaring issue is iTunes’ lack of Disney, Marvel and other popular titles in 4K.
appletv4k
Image credits: https://www.cnet.com/

So is the Apple TV 4K worth nearly $200? If you’re a dedicated Apple user and will primarily be watching new releases that you download or rent from iTunes, absolutely.

Otherwise, you might want to go with an alternative that doesn’t have issues with 1080p like the 4K Fire TV (less processing power, less memory, no Dolby Vision support and about to be replaced with a new version, but less than half the price) or the Roku Ultra (the same basic drawbacks as the 4K Fire TV) – at least until Apple takes care of some of the problems that make the new 4K model somewhat disappointing.
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