Reviews | The 2021 Apple TV 4K is the definitive edition of the streaming box obsession

Watching Apple TV 4K is admiring Apple’s tenacity. Despite overwhelming evidence that everyone prefers ‘under $50’ streaming dongles, Apple still insists on ‘$179’ streaming boxes. Apple isn’t willing to give up on anything: the fastest processors, the best materials, or the coolest add-ons. It is thanks to this (?) that it can be used as a HomeKit smart home hub and a Thread border router.
© Jared Newman / IDG

The result is definitely sophisticated. The new Apple TV 4K beats other streaming players in speed, materials, app support, and privacy, and the new remote control for 2021 dispels the biggest complaints of its predecessors. It is also full of small features that make the experience of choosing the right video to watch.

But none of this is enough to justify this price tag. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV also play 4K HDR, but for a third the price. These devices also support their own special features. It is true that Apple TV 4K is worth the money if you are willing to pay that much, but if not, it is difficult to call it a ‘must-have’ item.

Inside the Apple Streaming Box

The 2021 Apple TV 4K has the same black puck design as its predecessor, with a matte finish on the top. The sides of the rounded corners have a glossy finish. The power supply is embedded in the box, so there are no blunt adapters on the wires. On the back, there is a power connector, HDMI 2.1 input, and a Gigabit Ethernet port.

The Apple TV 4K uses an A12 processor. It was upgraded from the 2017 A10. However, the speed difference was difficult to distinguish. Both boast smooth scrolling, elaborate animations, and you can switch between the latest apps by double-tapping the home button. Also, the display is sometimes choppy when scrolling through menus on both 4K TVs.

Unlike its cheaper rivals, the Apple TV 4K supports a Gigabit Ethernet port. USB accessories cannot be used. © Jared Newman/IDG

There’s no noticeable performance boost, but the A12 chip appears to be capable of Dolby Vision HDR at 60 frames per second. Previously, Dolby Vision content was up to 30 frames per second. However, this change is only a ‘theoretical’ advantage. That’s because almost all movies and TV shows support 30 frames per second, and almost all sporting events are limited to 1080p. Users of iPhone 12 Pro can watch the Dolby Vision video they created on a large screen through Apple TV.

Other specifications are the same as before. Supports Dolby Vision, HDR10+, and Dolby Atmos audio. In addition, Apple TV 4K supports Bluetooth for connecting external headphones, and supports AirPlay 2, which receives and transmits media streaming from other devices or plays iPhone content on the TV.

Remote control improvements

The biggest change for the 2021 Apple TV 4K is the Siri remote, not the streaming box. It is completely different from the controversial 2017 version. It is also sold separately for use with the older Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K.
The 2021 Siri remote has a clickable d-pad, a power button, and a mute button. © Jared Newman/IDG

Yes. The new remote now has a decent directional pad, and has turned swipe gestures into select functions. If you don’t really like swiping through menus while swiping the directional pad, you can click the outer ring.

The remote control is also longer, bigger and heavier than its predecessor. Less chance of disappearing between sofa cushions. The front and back aluminum are adopted instead of fragile glass, and the buttons feel slightly improved thanks to the soft-textured coating. The remote now has a power button and a mute button where there used to be voice control. The Siri button has moved to the right side of the remote control.

The new remote control is thicker than the old remote control. The Siri voice command button has been moved to the right corner. © Jared Newman/IDG

Practically, it will feel ‘less alien’ to the average person. The metallic finish gives the impression that the Apple TV 4K is more refined than other streamers. It also has excellent detection of a TV or soundbar for volume control without any settings. Of course, you can manually set the IR volume function if needed.

The remote isn’t perfect. I’m really confused as to whether to swipe or click on the remote. And even if you click, you accidentally swipe a lot. The touchpad can be turned off entirely from the Apple menu, but instead you can’t use the convenient fast-forward or rewind features. You can also quickly move around in the video with a rotate gesture around the directional pad, but this was tricky to implement. Apple’s hybrid touch-and-click concept is still great, but Apple needs to refine its software side.

It can control various TVs and sound bars. You can also set the volume control manually. © Jared Newman/IDG

There is also the problem of not being able to find the remote control easily when it is lost. It would have been nice to have included a speaker or U1 chip to track the remote (which would, of course, be more expensive). Currently, if you lose or break your Siri remote, you’ll have to pay $59 for a new one. It is also worth considering attaching an air tag.

Ad-free and privacy-enhancing

The Apple TV hasn’t changed significantly in terms of software since its last hardware upgrade in 2017. But even so, it wasn’t a big deal. From that time on, tvOS was already one of the future-oriented TV platforms. Not only did it provide a variety of apps, but it also supported an integrated content guide for browsing streaming services.
You can check a list of various TV programs on one screen. © Jared Newman/IDG

However, the name of this guide is confusingly ‘Apple TV App’. Each time you press the Home button, it appears, showing you the last movie or show you’ve watched, and recommending the next one to watch. This is the joy of streaming TV, but the lack of integration with Netflix is ​​a serious problem.

A traditional app launcher is also available with a double click of the home button. You can change one click to the default. The versatility of the app is superior to other streamers. There are no ads cluttering the home screen like Fire TV or Roku, and you can even organize apps into folders.

The absence of offensive banners allows apps to use more space on the screen. © Jared Newman/IDG

Data privacy is also special. Whenever you start a new app, it asks if you want to share data with another app or website. The same was true for Apple’s apps and websites.

Broadly speaking, Apple does not collect user information for the purpose of targeted advertising. On the other hand, Roku, Google, and several other smart TV makers use it to make money. While Apple TV isn’t a universal privacy shield (individual apps can still collect any data about a user’s viewing habits), it’s clear that Apple TV cares more than other platforms in restricting the flow of data.

Apple TV apps must obtain consent when tracking users. It can be completely blocked. © Jared Newman/IDG

Apple manages to get out of the skit of a channel contract issue, which has been a headache for Roku and Fire TV owners. That means you don’t have to worry about losing popular apps on your Apple TV, temporary or not.

Other minor improvements

So far, I’ve outlined the parts where Apple TV 4K brings great pleasure. However, the device is full of small features that set it apart from other streaming platforms. Briefly, it is as follows.
  • Bluetooth headphones work just fine (Fire TVs don’t).
  • There is a menu that lets you switch between recent apps (only the Nvidia Shield TV has a similar feature).
  • You can enter the password by voice.
  • It supports AirPlay, which can send media from a smartphone or play a TV from audio in multiple rooms.
  • It functions as a HomeKit hub that controls smart home devices.
  • Supports Picture-In-Picture (PIP) function.
  • Connecting an Xbox or PlayStation controller via Bluetooth makes it a nice iOS gaming system.
  • If you have an Apple Watch, you can view your training data on a large screen during an Apple Fitness+ workout.
Apple TV supports PIP system-wide with AirPlay. © Jared Newman/IDG

On Apple TV, Siri also shines. This is especially convenient when searching for detailed genres. You can search for ‘indie sci-fi movies’ or ’90s crime dramas by word, and further filter the results with commands such as ‘most popular only’ or ‘only on Netflix’. There are also various apps that allow you to start a video only by voice without any additional manipulation. The only downside is that you can’t do these commands with the Homepod speaker without using your hands. These features aren’t surprising, but they make you feel more integrated than any other device.
Siri is very handy when you want to find the movie or TV show you want. © Jared Newman/IDG

However, the Apple TV 4K still has limitations. Amazon’s Fire TV devices and Google’s Chromecast still excel at hands-free voice control, while Roku excels at curating free content. Nvidia Shield TVs do great HD video processing, and the Pros have some nice advanced features that let you run your own media center or DVR server.

In summary, Apple TV’s $179 price tag is of course burdensome considering that the video quality is not much different from other 4K HDR streaming devices. But when you consider a number of other features and usability, it’s the coolest Apple TV of all time, and it offers real benefits. [email protected]

Source: ITWorld Korea by

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