Apple TV 4K
The Apple TV 4K is in its sixth iteration with high frame rate HDR, Dolby Atmos support, and an A12 processor. The inclusion of Thread connectivity means better HomeKit device support as well. Apple didn't change much about this set-top box, but did update the Siri Remote with a new design.
● Outputs 4K HDR video
● A12 processor
● Gigabit Ethernet connectivity
● Integrated App Store
● Siri Remote with touch and motion controls
● Starts at $179
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Apple unveiled the sixth-generation Apple TV 4K during the "Spring Loaded" event in April 2021. It has an updated processor, an updated Siri Remote, and a new color balance feature for content. The set-top box relies upon tvOS for its features though no new software functions have been announced.
There is no difference between the fifth-generation and sixth-generation models at face value. Both have identical external appearances—the Apple TV 4K measures 3.9 inches square and 1.4 inches high while weighing 15 ounces.
The only other externally visible change between the new and old generations is the seeming removal of the USB-C connection. This port was intended for servicing the device and not for use by customers, so the removal from view isn't a concern for users.
Despite the removal, it seems Apple retained a way to perform testing for support purposes. In October 2019, over two years after the device's initial launch, Apple hid Lightning connector terminals within the Ethernet port.
Apple upgraded the A10X Fusion processor to the A12 Bionic processor. The new processor brings the set-top box up to a more modern chipset with improved graphical capabilities. This will likely help with Apple Arcade and future software updates.
The Apple TV 4K supports output up to 4K 60fps and supports HEVC Dolby Vision and HDR10. That means it can display high dynamic range content, allowing for more vibrant images when used with a compatible TV. The A12 processor allows HDR content to be played at 60Hz for the first time on the platform.
For audio, it includes support for HE-ACC(V1), AAC up to 320Kbps, protected AAC files from the iTunes Store, 320Kbps MP3s, MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless, FLAC, AIFF, and WAV. There is also support for Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound.
When connected to a TV via the ARC HDMI port, users will be able to use their connected HomePods as surround sound speakers on any input. That means a Playstation 5 will be able to route audio through the Apple TV with this method.
Apple updated the Siri Remote design for the first time with the latest Apple TV 4K. It is bigger in every dimension and has more buttons. The directional buttons and select buttons at the top of the remote are also touch-sensitive, enabling swiping and gesture controls.
The remote has new buttons like a dedicated TV power button, mute button, and the "Menu" button has changed into a back button. The Siri button moved to the side of the remote, but Siri's functions remain the same.
The accelerometer and gyroscope have been removed from the remote, meaning some games that relied on swinging gestures no longer work with this remote.
Apple addressed many of the complaints related to the original Siri Remote with one major exception. The new remote does not have an Ultra-Wideband chip for easy tracking. That means if you lose the remote, you'll have to find it the old-fashioned way or attach an AirTag to the back.
The latest Apple TV models runs tvOS, a variant of iOS made for large displays and remote control. With its integrated App Store, users can download apps across hundreds of providers. Apple Arcade, Apple Music, and Apple TV all live here alongside popular entertainment apps.
A key part of tvOS is the ability to use Siri, Apple's famous digital assistant. Using the dedicated button on the Siri Remote, users can speak queries into the remote's dual microphones, with the results displayed on-screen.
You can use Siri to search for movies and TV shows, control playback, and make non-video queries usually handled by Siri on iOS devices, such as weather reports and sports scores. With the inclusion of 4K content, it is also possible to use Siri to seek out high-resolution content across multiple apps at the same time, by asking “Show me movies in 4K.”
AirPlay support allows the Apple TV to control multiple AirPlay 2-compatible speakers alongside any traditionally connected speakers as part of a home theater system. This effectively makes it possible for you to hear a TV show's or movie's audio throughout a household.
You can also set up the TV to match the displayed content's original resolution and frame rate. Otherwise, the Apple TV will attempt to apply HDR at 60fps to anything on screen, including the home menu. It is recommended that users set the default resolution to 4KSDR, then enable "match dynamic range" and "match frame rate" for the best possible picture across all content.
For HomeKit, Apple's smart home platform, it is possible to set up the new TV as the central device of a HomeKit network. This allows the set-top box to control other HomeKit-compatible appliances and accessories, including when the user is outside the home.
Apple TV Channels
With the release of tvOS 12.3, Apple introduced a new Apple TV app experience across iOS devices and Apple TV Channels, which fundamentally changes how users can sign up for streaming services. Under Apple TV Channels, users can subscribe to a selection of TV channels and offerings from streaming apps via the main Apple TV interface, all without requiring a download of a separate dedicated app, allowing it all to be viewed within the same user interface.
In effect, Apple TV Channels acts as a limited a-la-carte pay-TV subscription, with users having the opportunity to select and pay for just the channels they want to watch. Normal pay-TV services like cable and satellite typically require customers to buy large bundles, consisting of channels they want and others they have no interest in viewing, increasing the overall cost for consumers. However, many significant cable channels, including those providing live sports, aren't available.
Others within a household can view channels you subscribe to via Family Sharing, similar to other online Apple services, with up to six family members able to share their subscriptions using their Apple ID and password.
As of this writing, you can subscribe to the following channels: Starz, Paramount+, Showtime, AMC+, epix, BET+, Cinemax, Smithsonian Channel, Shudder, Acorn TV, History Channel Vault, MTV Hits, Comedy Central Now, Sundance TV Now, IFC Films unlimited, PBS living, Curiosity Stream, Lifetime Movie Club, Urban Movie Channel, Up faith and family, Tastemade, Mubi, and Arrow Video Channel.
tvOS 14, launched in 2020, included multi-user support for gaming, better Picture-in-Picture support, new audio-sharing capabilities, and Game Center syncing for Apple Arcade.
Released in September 2019, tvOS 13 included a new Home screen that offers full-screen video previews of content.
Apple also added multi-user support to enable users to enjoy personalized playlists and recommendations. This came in handy for Apple Music, which enables personalized playlists and recommendations for music and shows onscreen lyrics to songs timed to appear in sync to the playing track.
Apple also added Apple Arcade support to tvOS, allowing users to play games from Apple's game subscription service. As part of the service, users could play a selection of games on their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac, and Apple TV, without needing to worry about microtransactions or other payments, aside from a monthly fee.
To go along with the Apple Arcade support, Apple also included the ability to connect the Xbox Wireless Controller with Bluetooth and the PlayStation DualShock 4 to the Apple TV, giving users a more familiar game console controller to use with the service.
Apple also expanded the range of 4K HDR screen savers available on the tvOS. The videos included films made in collaboration with the BBC Natural History Unit, the team behind "Blue Planet," to show creatures and other entities that live within the world's oceans.
Other than the new remote, the main addition that the 2021 TV brings is the upgrade from an A10X Bionic chip to the A12 Bionic chip. That change isn't dramatic, as the graphics performance in the A12 Bionic is at best similar to the A10 — at least in the iPhone.
Minor Spec Bump
Without having a Geekbench app on the tvOS App Store, it is difficult to get precise performance metrics of the new Apple TV versus the A10X model. The new model definitely feels a lot more snappy.
While playing games on the 2017 version of the TV, NBA 2K21 had low-resolution textures on player's jerseys. When launching the app on the new Apple TV, the low-res textures still existed. However, the game did seem to load faster on the newer device.
We also tried playing The Pathless on the new device, which is also on Apple Arcade for iOS. It seems to be downscaled a bit to work on tvOS and looks far more beautiful on our iPhone and iPad.
Anyone with the 2017 model probably doesn't need to jump in for the 2021 refresh, particularly if looking for a significant performance boost.
The new Apple TV 4K also features support for Wi-Fi 6. First introduced in Apple products with the iPhone 12, Wi-Fi 6 improves the bandwidth in a network — amongst other improvements.
Prior to the revision, some users had difficulty connecting an Apple Watch to Fitness+ workouts through the original TV. The addition of Wi-Fi 6 appears to have solved that issue with Apple Watch.
AirPlay also works as expected. With the upgrade, users can stream 4K HDR content at 60 frames per second from an iPhone or iPad to the Apple TV.
The new Apple TV features an HDMI 2.1 port, theoretically capable of delivering 120 frames per second with 4K content. At present, it is unclear if an A12 chip is capable of this.
The HDMI port also includes ARC support to stream any audio source from compatible host televisions to the original HomePod. This works well for modern non-interactive devices, including a Blu-ray player or cable box.
However, there is enough lag introduced with Wi-Fi to make streaming to HomePods a problem for time-sensitive gaming. Even with isolating the Apple TV and the HomePods to its own network, the audio to video sync just wasn't there. Given the laws of physics and the non-zero time it takes to process that audio in the A8 processor in the HomePod, it likely won't ever be there for titles that rely on time-sensitive audio cues.
The 2020 TV still comes in 32GB and 64GB versions. The design and operating system are the same.
New Siri Remote
The new Siri Remote is the star of the show. If a user does not like the old remote, they can purchase the remote for their older devices for $59 — including the 2017 Apple TV 4K.
The remote is thicker, and in its reasoning why it didn't include "Find My" support for the remote, Apple says that makes it harder to lose. It has a mute button, and it renames the confusing "Menu" button to a back arrow.
The 2021 Siri Remote has a touchpad that serves as both a directional clickpad and a touch surface. Those who preferred swiping on the original Siri remote can still use the surface as the old remote used the touch surface.
The remote does require a brief adjustment period to the iPod-like scrub wheel. Users can slide a finger around the edge of the wheel to fast forward and rewind, versus the prior method of sliding a finger left to right on the touchpad.
Once the user figures out to hold their finger on the wheel for a half-step before the scrub UI element shows up on the screen, the action becomes second nature. As with all new hardware, you'll need to learn a new trick, but it's intuitive and straightforward in the typical Apple style.
The new 2021 Siri Remote is an improvement in almost every way, addressing most — if not all — of the complaints about the previous model without sacrificing some of the functionality that made the previous model unique and intuitive.
Did Apple just run out of A10X chips, forcing this "upgrade?"
If a user is in the market for a set-top box that doesn't commercialize viewing information for anybody that wants to buy it, AppleInsider still recommends it. At the same time, we're disappointed by very little else of any real appeal being added to the device after all this time.
If a prospective user is new to the Apple TV platform or hasn't updated in 5 or more years, the 2021 refresh is fine. Everyone else can buy the new Siri Remote for $59 and hope that Apple's hobby someday turns into a passion.
Apple TV 4K Pricing
The Apple TV 4K costs $179 for 32GB and $199 for 64GB.