Apple TV 4K (2021) review1

The second-generation Apple TV 4K comes with a much-needed new Siri Remote, A12 Bionic chip, HDMI 2.1, HDR support at higher frame rates, and everything the previous Apple TV 4K offered. In short, it’s very good.

I was already a heavy, and happy, user of the first-generation Apple TV 4K. For me, speed was its biggest asset. Needless to say: I’m enjoying the new, faster, second-generation Apple TV 4K powered by the beefier A12 Bionic chip.

This device is much more than just a speed demon, though. The Apple TV 4K goes deep into the weeds of what makes video great from a technical perspective. 4K, HDR, fast frame rates, Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision – these are the ingredients Apple has decided that matter, and has created an environment that allows content producers to serve their customers the best experience possible.

This is what makes Apple TV 4K special. It’s a shame that New Zealand broadcasters continue to show little appetite to reach the same standards, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

For now, all you need to know is that this is the best digital streaming box you can plug into your favourite TV’s HDMI ports.

Pros

  • New Siri Remote
  • A12 Bionic
  • HDR @ higher frame rates
  • Speedy

Cons

  • Expensive

1-minute review

If you’ve already got an Apple TV 4K, it’s difficult to recommend upgrading to the newer generation. The benefits it brings are a bit niche to warrant spending another $299. 

If you don’t already own the first-gen Apple TV 4K hardware, this product makes absolute sense. 

Giving you access to a wide range of apps, a speedy processor, the prospect of 60fps HDR content, Fitness+, Apple Arcade. Oh, and the new Siri Remote is a big improvement too.

In short, the second-generation Apple TV 4K box, is the best way to find and watch TV.

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What does the A12 Bionic chip bring?

Power.

This chip is the reason the new Apple TV 4K can do 4K HDR at 60fps. Sports content is the perfect conduit to show off this technology, so it’s frustrating that neither Sky Sport nor Spark Sport supports it. For now, the Red Bull app is the only place that takes advantage of the technology, and it’s a game-changer.

I need little excuse to rewatch the film Greyhound on Apple TV+. So the first thing I did, after I peeled the plastic wrapping off the new Apple TV 4K’s box, was put on my AirPods Max and test out Dolby Atmos while watching Tom Hanks navigate his way across the Atlantic during a WWII U-Boat assault.

It did not disappoint.

Sonar beeps, footsteps, and torpedos were coming from all angles, not just left and right stereo channels.

New Siri Remote

Apple copped a bit of stick for the shortcomings of the original Siri remote. The main complaints were that it was too hard to hold, easy to lose, and its swipe-based input required too many calories to operate.

It’s fixed now. 

Sporting a new physical D-pad that you can swipe *and click* solves any previous remote issues. 

You can also use a circular gesture on the outer ring, like an old iPod, to fast-forward or rewind (probably my favourite new feature).

Apple has also added mute and power buttons, while the Siri button has been moved to the side of the remote.

It all works well.

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Fixing a problem with the market

Apple TV 4K fixes a very specific need in my house. I discovered that my TV’s native interface wasn’t capable of serving my demands within days of buying it. 

This is not a problem that’s unique to me. All TV manufacturers – Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, LG, whatever – struggle in this department.

The apps are either painfully slow, not available, or the high-end sound and video quality just isn’t there. 

It’s a mess. And Apple TV 4K solves this problem.

There are, of course, other products that can do the same thing. Google’s Chromecast is a very good product. And it’s much cheaper than the Apple TV 4K. As are Amazon’s Fire TV Sticks.

But the thing Apple TV 4K has over its rivals is speed. Opening and closing apps, in-app navigation, voice search, everything is silky smooth.

There’s also Apple Fitness+, Apple Music and Apple Arcade support.

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Apple Fitness+ and Apple Arcade

Like its predecessor, Apple TV 4K give you the ability to use Fitness and Apple Arcade on your home’s main TV.

Using both services on the biggest screen you own improves the experience, but (probably) isn’t enough of a reason to convince anyone to buy a new Apple TV 4K on their own merit.

HDMI 2.1

This is an exciting addition. The original Apple TV supported HDMI 2.0, which limited its throughput to 18Gbps. HDMI 2.1 is the new high-end (must-have) standard and can support up to 48Gbps.

It simply means the updated Apple TV 4K can send more data to TVs, which is the thing that makes 60fps HDR content possible here.

The other feature that’s synonymous with HDMI 2.1 is 8K. Now, to be clear, this Apple TV unit isn’t compatible with 8K right now. However, there’s a very slim chance that Apple could (one day) push out an update that unlocks 8K output. 

It all depends on whether Apple has confidence in the A12 Bionic chip’s ability to decode 8K content. 

Should I care about storage?

There are two options here. 32GB or 64GB. The one that’s right for you depends on one thing. Do you plan to use Apple Arcade or not? 

If you do, the 64GB model probably makes more sense as some of the larger games will take up a few GBs each. If you’re not much of an Apple Arcader, I’d suggest the 32GB model will be more than enough for your needs.

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Are NZ TV apps good enough for Apple TV 4K?

TV is a two-sided technology market. To enjoy it in its best format, you need both the hardware and broadcasters to play nice.

Apple TV 4K nails its side of the bargain, supporting 4K, HDR (up to 60fps), Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision and too much more to list here. It’s the best TV streaming box you can buy.

And lots of the big broadcasters – Netflix, Amazon Video, Disney+, HBO Max, etc. – share Apple’s desire for quality and have made Apple TV apps that offer lots of these features. 

Even Red Bull, a company that specialises in energy drinks, not broadcasting, tops them all, offering HDR content at 60fps. 

Sadly, broadcasters local to New Zealand don’t share the same appetite for quality. Both TVNZ and Neon only offer content in HD, not 4K. The same goes for the Sky Sport and Spark Sport apps, which are capped at 30fps too. 

And this makes the new Apple TV 4K a bit harder to recommend here in New Zealand because our local broadcasters are so far behind. It means you’re paying for hardware that’s often way too powerful for the streams on offer here.

But if your TV viewing habits are anything like mine, apps like TVNZ and Neon are left gathering virtual dust at the bottom of your app tray as they’re left untouched for weeks on end.

Pricing

The new Apple TV 4K isn’t cheap, costing $299. If you already have the first generation device, but you want to upgrade to the new Siri Remote, you can. It’s backwards compatible and costs $89.

Verdict

The second-generation Apple TV 4K isn’t a big change from its predecessor, but it’s a very welcome one. The ability to watch HDR at higher frame rates, unlock Spatial Audio, and use the new Siri Remote are the main gains here.

Whether this product is right for you or not will depend on how much you care about getting the best picture and audio from your TV, and whether your budget allows it.

If you can afford $299 for the Apple TV 4K, and you have a TV that’s good enough to support the features it boasts, it’s not a purchase you’ll regret.

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