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Apple TV 4K

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Review: Apple TV 4K

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Apple is finally bringing the Apple TV into the 4K HDR present, making their erstwhile 'hobby' and set-top box compatible with the latest Ultra HD and 4K capable TVs.

The latest update finally gives the Apple TV parity with rival devices like the Roku 4, Chromecast Ultra and Amazon Fire TV. This means that videos coming from the Apple TV will show up in full 4K resolution, and if they are compatible with the HDR (High Dynamic Range) standard, will show the added detail and saturation.

Apple's placed the A10 fusion chip from the iPad Pro inside the Apple TV 4K. There's a ton of technology built around this chip, and now it is at the disposal of the Apple TV. 

Familiar form factor, turbocharged engine

Like the previous version, the Apple TV is still a diminutive and almost invisible device. Once connected to your Wi-Fi and your HDTV or 4K TV, it can offer various shows and movies (Apple has generally made 1080p movies available in their 4K versions, for free). Apple sent me a high-capacity HDMI cable to ensure the best performance, so one caveat is that HDMI cables are not all made equal and the one's you may be lying 

I watched Wonder Woman in near theatrical glory on my Vizio HDTV and was completely immersed in the depth and detail. Needless to say, the quality coming out of Apple TV 4K rivals what you would get from a 4K Blu-Ray disc and really adds a lot to the viewing experience.

Being an iOS device, Apple TV 4K also has access to various apps. I found myself playing back my favourite technology podcasts on the Apple TV 4K while allowing it to play its range of truly gorgeous active wallpapers.

State of the art screen savers

If you haven't seen the Apple TV screen savers, you are truly missing something. They show aerial slo-mo video of various scenes (traffic in Dubai, a bird's eye view of a busy airport, sand dunes). '

These vistas are visual crack, you can't keep your eyes off as you follow the action and sort out the details. There also seems to be some advertising going on as I saw a subtly placed Tim Horton's placard stealthily slipped into one of the street scenes. It's beautiful.

Thanks to the new processor, Apple TV is quick and easier to control. There's an option for using a nearby iPhone to type instead of trying to use the included remote control, this is really convenient if you're locked into the ecosystem and was something I missed once I moved to an Android device for daily use.

Controller conundrum

The weakest link in the Apple TV 4K offering is still the Siri remote control. This was a sore spot for the previous version and doesn't seem to have been addressed this time around. Siri functionality is generally good, specially for searching. Using the remote for navigating is still unpleasant.

Because of the way it is designed, it is hard to use in the dark and the trackpad is way too sensitive and is often the cause for getting booted out of a show or sent back to another menu. I think physical navigation buttons or a D-pad would have worked much better. 

Content is coming....soon

Apple is trying to plug a lot of the content holes for Apple TV in Canada. There's an uptick in local content apps like CTV and CBC which make it possible to access shows directly from Apple TV. 

Sports and live news was also announced as coming soon to Apple TV. But right now, it is still an iTunes-focused device. If you've amassed a lot of movies and shows from iTunes, it is awesome since everything is there and is scaled-up to the best possible quality and resolution. The content deals Apple is working on, as well as their own shows like Planet of The Apps and Carpool Karaoke show a willingnes to try new things and make mistakes, but these niche programs don't have mass appeal.

Credit to iTunes movie rentals, it is still one of the fastest and most intuitive ways to rent a recent movie and even get some of the special features even before they make it out to Blu-Ray.

Beyond this, however, there's very little separating Apple TV 4K from the herd. 

Considering most household TVs have a limited HDMI ports free and many already access Netflix and other apps out of the box, deciding whether Apple TV deserves a permanent spot is something each user will need to consider. The dream for cord cutters is to have access to their shows, sports, news and movies through one console or through apps. Apple has the apps, it has the ecosystem but it is the move to a la carte subscription from third party services that is taking time (i.e. no HBO Go in Canada).

Apple has revamped a lot of critical features of Apple TV an made it compatible with the very latest and forthcoming TV technologies making it more attractive than ever.

Beyond TV

I don't know about the potential of Apple TV as a gaming machine. There are a handful of exclusive games and iOS has the portential of porting phone games to a bigger display, but aside from Minecraft, I didn't see anything truly compelling to the general public or even moderate gaming fans.

Apps, I believe, are a bigger deal. Apple TV can run iOS apps like AirbnB and Udemy as well as many others, that make complete sense on a larger display. Again, it is the remote control hardware that is the limitation here as running apps on a 4K TV and being able to effectively interact with them without a touchscreen on keyboard and mouse feels like a fool's errand.

Still, there's a lot of potential for apps but I'm not sure if consumers want to interact with their TVs this way.


Apple TV 4K is an awaited update and a faster and more capable set-top box. It is the ideal device for longtime iTunes users with larger libraries of content who want to move to the 4K Ultra HD space.

For users that simply want to add YouTube or Netflix or other streaming apps, there's cheaper and less locked-in solutions to consider.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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