The new Apple TV 4K arrives soon in stores with a starting price of $179. I’ve been using an Apple-loaned $199 model, which doubles the internal storage to 64 GB, for the past week. Mostly, I’ve been interested in what new smart home features Apple will deliver, but I’ll admit it: I watched a lot of 4K and Dolby Vision content as well. Overall, it’s an excellent streaming device for an iOS household.
Unassuming in looks, the Apple TV 4K doesn’t appear different from the prior model. At least not on the outside. Inside is the Apple’s A12 Bionic processor, which is a boost from the A10 inside the last Apple TV. You also gain support for HDMI 2.1 connections, Dolby Vision for video, and Dolby Atmos audio. You’ll find a Bluetooth 5.0, radio Wi-Fi 6, and a Thread radio in there as well, plus a Gigabit Ethernet port.
Although Apple TV 4K is first and foremost a content streaming device, I wanted to initially see that included Thread radio attach itself to my existing Thread network. I recently tested several Eve products with Thread and my HomePod mini acts as the main Thread router. Technically, it’s called a Border Router, which lets the Thread devices in my smart home converse to the internet.
Of course, I had to first set up the new Apple TV 4K. And I hate to beat a dead horse here since I’ve said this in my last several HomeKit device reviews but: Setup is super simple.
After connecting the power cord, my ethernet and HDMI cables between the set-top box and my TV, I just had to hold my iPhone near the Apple TV 4K device. After a few quick taps to tie my Apple account to the Apple TV 4K and pick the room it was in, I was done. If you use a wireless network for setup, you might have one extra tap to pick the right network. But there’s little manual input as much of the setup information is already tied to your Apple ID in a HomeKit home.
Sure enough, when opening the Eve app on my iPhone, the Apple TV 4K had already become part of my home’s Thread network. This provided me with a second Thread router to expand the mesh network for my supported devices.
I moved around some of the Eve products and they self-optimized to attach to either the HomePod mini or the Apple TV 4K.
Another aspect I wanted to test right away was the color calibration feature that uses the front-facing camera of an iPhone. Apple touted this feature as a way to get the best picture quality without fiddling in the TV picture settings.
It’s easy to use: Just choose the calibration option in the Apple TV 4K video settings and then hold your iPhone within an inch of the television screen.
The display will show various colors including some white and grayscale to measure the color frequencies of your television set. In about 15 seconds, the process is complete.
This is definitely a smart use, or re-use, of the existing sensor in the iPhone. And it definitely improved the color balance and saturation levels on my set.
Note that this feature will also be available on older Apple TV hardware and requires an iPhone X or better to use. Also, this feature only calibrates the color balance for content playback on the Apple TV 4K; any other inputs on your TV will have to be manually calibrated for the best picture.
In terms of HomeKit support, the Apple TV 4K still isn’t the “smart display” that I’d like to see Apple offer. It’s a bit limited but has some handy features.
For example, when a visitor rings your HomeKit doorbell, you can have the video appear on your television. This is configurable, so if you don’t want that notification, you can turn it off.
I was hopeful that I could use the included Siri remote (more on that shortly) to have a two-way conversation with someone who rang the doorbell but I couldn’t. I’d love to see Apple add that feature in the future.
Apple TV 4K also shows and lets you choose to run any scenes you’ve set up previously in the iOS Home app. For any other HomeKit actions, you can use the Siri Remote for voice control, or simply pull out your iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. As I said, it’s a bit limited but it appears that Apple is still focused primarily on voice interaction for HomeKit when in front of the TV. There’s no Home app with icons to navigate through for home control with the remote.
Like the power button on iOS devices, there’s a button on the right side that is used when speaking with Siri. The button layout is better than on prior remotes, as is the new hybrid controller, which is a touch-sensitive center button surrounded by circular, directional buttons.
My favorite feature? Pressing the pause button and then resting my thumb on the right directional button. You can then rotate your thumb around in a circle to scrub through video content.
And the video content and playback looks fantastic with the right HDTV set.
I did experience some HDMI connection issues with my 2019 Vizio TV which wouldn’t let me watch protected content, but the issue wasn’t with the Apple hardware. I found dozens of online complaints from other Vizio TV owners that have had similar issues. I also verified that the Apple TV 4K worked perfectly fine on a higher-end Vizio model from 2015. So again, this is an issue specific to my TV that I’ll be contacting Vizio about.
Since we focus on the IoT here, I won’t go into exhaustive detail on the viewing experience.
All I can say is that the content looked better on my televisions with the Apple 4K TV than with any other streaming device. And I’ve tried many of them from Amazon, Google, Nvidia, and Roku to name a few. The device supports High Frame Rate HDR content at 4K / 60fps which looks great but there isn’t that much content in this format yet.
It’s also worth noting that Apple has continued to extend content offerings for its television hardware. My wife tried Apple Fitness+ classes and since she has an Apple Watch, she could see her real-time health metrics on-screen.
The Apple Arcade subscription plan works on the big screen as well; I was even able to use a wireless Xbox controller for some light gaming. As a current Apple Music subscriber, I appreciated not just hearing my music but also viewing lyrics on my television.
We also watch AppleTV+ content (can’t wait for the next season of Ted Lasso!), which of course is seamlessly integrated here as well. Best of all: Apple TV 4K supports two pairs of Apple AirPods for listening to the TV at the same time. We only have one pair, but my wife appreciates the feature as I often watch TV long after she’s trying to sleep at night.
All in all, the new Apple TV 4K brings together many Apple services ranging from 4K Dolby Vision content to smart home control in a way that’s easy to use and amazing to look at.
Should you buy it?
If you want amazing audio and video content (and have the TV to support features such as Dolby Vision) and don’t mind that HomeKit is a relatively small part of the experience, I’d say yes, provided you’re an iPhone household. Keep in mind that along with the viewing experience, you’re getting a Thread router for your smart home too; an added bonus for the future of your smart home!