apple: Apple TV 4K (2021) review: Picture perfect

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Impressive performance

Picture quality

Remote gets better

When you think of streaming devices, Apple perhaps isn’t part of the mainstream conversation. One of the reasons is that Apple didn’t upgrade its Apple TV streaming box for four years. There have always been regular OS updates to the TV but hardware remained the same. That was till earlier this year when Apple launched the Apple TV 4K (2021). Now it’s rather well-known that Amazon dominates the streaming devices because of a plethora of options it includes. Amazon has been upgrading the hardware and software for the Fire TV Stick and making innovations as well — the Fire TV Cube is a good example of that. But this is Apple which certainly has a legion of fans and there’s space for an alternative for the Fire TV Stick — even in the age of smart TVs that have all the capabilities which can render the streaming devices rather ineffective. So what does the Apple 4K (2021) bring to the table to make its presence felt in the market? We have been using the Apple TV 4K (2021) for a while and here’s our review:
Apple TV 4K (2021) review: Design
Apple hasn’t changed the design of the Apple TV and it looks almost exactly the same as the previous model. It’s a box that is about 1.4-inches tall and 4-inches square — looks compact and nice in an all-black colour. The top of the Apple TV box is matte whereas the sides have a glossy finish. You will find a power socket, HDMI 2.1port and an Ethernet port at the back of the device. Surprisingly, Apple doesn’t give an HDMI cable, which means you will have to buy one or use one which might be lying around your house.

Apple has redesigned the remote and made it much better. The silver-coloured minimalistic remote gets bigger than the previous model. The Apple TV 4K remote also gets a few extra buttons — mute, multifunctional power button. There’s a circular clickpad — similar to the classic iPhone wheel — and it is quite fun to use. The button is clickable as well as touch-enabled which allows you to swipe or click to get it working. Initially, you might struggle with it but it takes little time to get used to.

The clickpad supports swipes and gestures as well. Like you can move between rows and there’s a circular gesture that helps in navigating on the screen smoothly.

Apple TV 4K (2021) review: Performance, set up
Setting up the Apple TV is a breeze if you are in the Apple ecosystem. If you have an iPhone then the Apple TV syncs all data in a jiffy as long as you bring it closer to the device. It works quite smoothly and is fast as is the case with AirPods or HomePod. If you don’t have an iPhone, then the setup might be a little more consuming but still easy.

Apple has powered the Apple TV 4K with the A12 Bionic processor, which is an upgrade from A10X Fusion found in the previous model. Apple’s processors — in every device it makes — are known to deliver excellent performance. And so is the case with the Apple TV 4K. It’s really snappy and the picture quality it delivers is really great. If you upgrade from the Amazon Fire TV Stick — the regular version 4K version — then there’s a sea of difference between the two. Navigating between apps is really fast and scrolling through them is really breezy.

The Apple TV 4K supports almost every format — HDR 10, Dolby Vision, HLG but misses out on HDR 10+. In terms of audio formats, you will find support Apple Lossless, FLAC, WAV, AAC, and MP3 as well. You also get support for spatial audio if you have the AirPods Pro or the AirPods Max.

Where the Apple TV shines the most is in the picture quality. It will depend on your TV but most modern-day TV sets will give you great picture quality with the Apple TV. For the record, we reviewed the Apple TV 4K on a seven-year-old Sony TV and even then we were thoroughly impressed with it. You will notice that the picture quality is more vibrant compared to other streaming devices. Of course, if you watch content on Apple TV+, then its manna from heaven. Watching the excellent Ted Lasso on the Apple TV 4K is such an immersive experience on the Apple TV+. The same holds true for The Morning Show — it’s so much better than watching it on the Apple TV 4K. Not that watching content on other platforms is anything less as the whole experience is rather nuanced.

There’s a feature called Colour Balance which measures the TV’s colour balance and tunes the video signal output by leveraging the sensor of the iPhone for colour accuracy. The iPhone users the camera and proximity sensor when you point it towards the TV screen. Then it compares the TV’s colour balance with an industry-standard specification to adjust the video output. The result is really good to see, colours look more natural and the contrast levels are also improved.

By the way, the iPhone can turn into a remote and you can control Apple TV 4K with it.

You also have the option of choosing the output content and it works delightfully well. You will have to toggle it on in the Settings menu, which has a bit dated look. It takes time to get used to the Apple TV 4K user interface. The UI is very Apple-like and you get all the apps you want from the App Store. tvOS has become better over the years but we still find getting around it slightly ‘tricky’.

Apple claims that the Apple TV 4K has a 4K scaler which helps in making non-4K content also look better, which we found to be quite accurate.

There’s also Apple Arcade on the Apple TV 4K and there are a lot of games available if you are a subscriber. Apple TV 4K supports game controllers like PS5 and Xbox Series X. It’s fun to play the Arcade games on a bigger screen but it’s not really meant for hardcore gamers.
Apple TV 4K (2021) review: Verdict
There’s so much to like in the Apple TV 4K. Using it is a true delight as it’s so fast and easy to use, you get all the benefits of being in the Apple ecosystem and the picture quality is excellent. However, it is rather steeply-priced and starts at Rs 18,900. For a streaming device — even as good as this one — a lot of people might be deterred by the price.

If you like all things Apple or want all things Apple, then the Apple TV 4K is an excellent device to have at home. The experience of using it makes it difficult to go back to any other streaming device. In one sense, it’s a testament to Apple’s charm offensive — use it for a significant amount of time, and you would certainly see the value in spending this much on a video streaming device. We can wholeheartedly recommend it to those who are entrenched in the Apple ecosystem. For the rest and for those who don’t want to spend so much, there’s always the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

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