Has Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos
Works great with Apple gear
Pricier than competition
About the Apple TV 4K (2021)
Resolution: 4K, up to 2160p at 60fps (3830 x 2160)
HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HLG
Ports: HDMI 2.1, Ethernet 10/100
- Storage: 32GB (64GB also available)
Networking: 802.11ax simultaneous dual-band, MIMO wireless, ethernet
Processor: A12 Bionic 64-bit chip
Audio: Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, and Dolby Atmos
Remote: Siri remote with IR transmitter, HDMI-CEC control, charging via lightning connector
Smart Assistants: Siri via remote
Video Codecs: H.264/HEVC SDR up to 2160p/60fps, HEVC Dolby Vision (Profile 5), HDR10 (Main 10 Profile), HLG up to 2160p/60fps, H.264 Baseline Profile Level 3.0 or lower (.m4v, mp4, .mov formats), MPEG-4 up to 2.5Mbps (480p/30fps)
Audio Codecs: HE-AAC (V1), AAC (up to 320 Kbps), protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (up to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless, FLAC, AIFF, and WAV; AC-3 (Dolby Digital 5.1), E-AC-3 (Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound), and Dolby Atmos
Size: 3.9 in x 3.9 in x 1.4 in (W x H x D)
Weight: 15 ounces
The Apple TV 4K (2021) keeps the same name as its predecessor, and it also comes in the same two options: 32GB of storage for $179 or 64GB for $199. The two devices are basically the same, and it’s an absurd price to pay for just a little bit of extra storage (a 64GB memory chip costs about $5 total). But if you plan to download lots of photos, videos, and games and play them simultaneously, the extra storage will come in handy.
What we like
Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and 4K in a slick package
Streaming boxes come in many different flavors, but the Apple TV 4K has staked itself out as the most powerful—yet easy to use—option for anyone who wants higher-end features like 4K, High Dynamic Range (HDR), including Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos.
Though you can get all these in cheaper streaming devices, Apple wraps it all up in a nice, slick package. The software is smooth and snappy, the interface isn’t bogged down with 3rd party ads (there are loads of ads for Apple services), and it has the nicest screensaver of all the major streaming devices.
The remote is adequate—finally
The new Apple TV 4K Remote isn’t the best that we’ve ever used, but it’s a massive improvement over previous Apple remotes. It’s simple, intuitive, feels solid in your hand, and it has clicky buttons that make it easier to navigate the largely linear interface of most streaming apps.
It doesn’t have any shortcut buttons that will take you directly to preferred apps like Netflix, meaning you’ll need to navigate around the interface to find what you want. You can use the dedicated Siri button and microphone to ask it to switch apps, find content, or enter passwords, but even still the remote is a little more complicated to use than the Google Chromecast or Roku remotes.
Apple also is using a rechargeable battery, which is a nice improvement over AA batteries in other remotes. It charges by a lightning to USB cable, which you may already have laying around if you use an iPhone or Airpods. It's not the best remote, but it's a huge upgrade over previous Apple TV clickers.
Apple’s software is finally coming around
For streaming devices, it all comes down to apps. The Apple TV 4K finally has access to all the major streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and of course Apple TV+ (its in-house streaming service).
Of course, you can access all this on competing streaming devices. The main difference at this point is how each box surfaces content and how slick the overall presentation is. Apple’s is fairly clear and straightforward, though it is similar to both the Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast interface where the menu is largely geared toward surfacing content, instead of facilitating you towards finding your preferred apps (as with Roku). This means it can take a few seconds to find a show on Netflix, instead of just hitting the "Netflix" button on your remote.
Is one way better or worse? Not really. The main confusion with the content-first approach is that sometimes you’ll be shown things that you have a subscription for and can watch right away, other times you’ll be shown a show you don’t have access to, and sometimes a movie that seems great—until you see that it’s $19.99 to buy it instead of something you can stream with a subscription.
What We Don’t Like
The design is the same old thing
The Apple TV 4K isn’t outdated, by any means, but the design at this point is boring and doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. It has the barest of features, and other than the remote and a faster processor, there’s just nothing else here.
Streaming devices are pretty simple machines, and the most common technology is pretty settled, but when competing devices cost 3-4 times less, it's fair to ask Apple to push boundaries a little harder.
The remote still doesn’t have app shortcut buttons
Apple’s new remote is better, but it’s very much clearing a low bar. It’s stylish, but very basic and other than a dedicated Siri button it doesn’t have any special features. The most notable absence is the lack of any kind of shortcut buttons to head straight to your preferred apps.
For most users, this is just a matter of convenience. If you've already binge-watched all the major shows (which, let's face it, is most of us at this point) popping around your 2-3 favorite apps has taken the place of channel surfing. Having to go back to a main menu in between apps—or even use a voice search—just takes longer.
For users who may have mobility challenges or for whom navigating menus is too complicated, app shortcut buttons also make the streaming services more accessible. Apple's made major strides in improving accessibility with the Apple TV (talk-to-type, including password entries, is massive, as is improve contrast and closed captioning). Having to just hit a single button to go right to Netflix may not mesh with Apple’s design ethos, but it helps everyone.
The price is still absurd
Streaming devices are little more than low-powered computers with a remote control, so it’s no wonder they’ve been falling in price for years. You can easily find a 4K- and HDR-ready streaming device for less than $50, so Apple charging four times that for minimal storage still feels crazy.
Admittedly, the A12 Bionic chip in the Apple TV 4K is way faster than you’ll find in your typical $50 streaming stick, but it’s faster than it needs to be for most people. Even though it’s a 3-year-old processor, streaming apps just aren’t that demanding, and if Apple views the Apple TV 4K as the cloud gaming console of the future, it sure isn’t marketing it that way. There's a real opportunity for Apple to lead the way here and justify this hardware and the price, but Apple seems loathe to get behind a use case that it doesn't own end-to-end.
Should you buy it?
Yes, but only if you’re all about that Apple life
The new Apple TV 4K isn’t the perfect streaming device, but it’s sharp, well-designed, fast, and it plays beautifully with all the other Apple products in the ecosystem.
Whether it’s controlling apps from your iPhone, sharing photos from your iPad or Mac, seeing your HomeKit-enabled video feed on your TV, or broadcasting audio to your AirPods, the Apple TV is at its best when paired with other Apple gear.
Look, if you just want a streamer that can handle the basics like Netflix, Apple TV+, or Hulu, we’d recommend the cheaper Roku Ultra (or even cheaper Google Chromecast). But if you want to bring the Apple ecosystem to the biggest screen in your house, the Apple TV is your best bet.
Though Apple has largely been playing follow-the-leader instead of charting its own path with the Apple TV, it (mostly) just works, especially the few times you do want to share a video or photos from your phone to your TV. Is that convenience worth an extra $80 or $100 over the Roku? It’s up to you! But if it is, the Apple TV is still the way to go—and at least now you’ve got a better remote to control it all with.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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