Apple TV 4K review

Review: Apple TV 4K

03 Oct 2017 | Torben R, Rasmus L


Apple TV 4K is more than just a new 4K streaming player from Apple. It represents the company’s foray into the world of 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range, with HDR being the more significant of the two. It supports the HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats.

The company usually waits until it go to market with a complete package. 4K and HDR are not new developments in the TV market but the Apple TV 4K has launched alongside a comprehensive iTunes catalog of movies in 4K HDR, and more importantly free upgrades from HD.

These years, the TV market is changing in fundamental ways. Streaming has set distribution free and TVs are turning into real computers with full operating systems. At the same time, TVs have raced past cinema to adopt 4K and HDR. This seems like the perfect time for Apple to make its grand entrance. So, can Apple TV 4K stand the test? Let’s find out.

This review has been written by Rasmus Larsen with contribution and measurements by Torben Rasmussen


Update 5.12.2017: Apple has released tvOS 11.2 that enables Apple TV 4K to automatically match its output to the native frame rate and dynamic range (SDR / HDR10 / Dolby Vision) of the content. See the added paragraphs in the ’Picture quality’ section. As such, tvOS 11.2 solves the issues that kept us from giving Apple TV 4K our Highly Recommended Award.

Price and retailers:

US retailer


DE retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

4K Ultra HD resolution
HDR: HDR10 & Dolby Vision
(HxWxD) 3.5 x 9.8 x 9.8 cm
0.425 kg
HDMI (1x 2.0a)
Ethernet (Gigabit)
IR receiver
7.1 Dolby Digital Plus surround
WiFi (2.4 & 5GHz – n + ac standard + MIMO)
Bluetooth 5.0
MPEG2
MPEG4
HEVC
tvOS 11.0
Siri Remote
MFI game controllers
Remote
Lightning cable
Power cable
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Apple TV 4K review



First impressions


I have used Apple TV alongside other streaming devices such as Nvidia Shield, Chromecast Ultra, Xbox, PlayStation, Roku, Fire TV, LG webOS, and others since each product was launched, so I am quite familiar with the products and the differences. If this is the first time you have considered Apple TV, I think there are 3 important things that you should know.

The first is that Apple TV is a small, always-on box. What this means is that you never actually turn the Apple TV off. It is based on a very power-efficient chip and whenever inactive, it switches to a sleep mode. That is why there is no power button on the remote. It is always ready to be used within seconds. What actually holds it back is that the time it takes to turn on your TV, which usually ranges from 3-5 seconds to 10+ seconds, depending on your TV. That seems like a challenge for Apple to solve with a television. Just saying.

The second thing is that Apple TV 4K (and the previous Apple TV) can control your TV via a system called HDMI CEC. When you press a button on the Siri Remote, your TV will automatically turn on, if it’s a recent model (check the settings menu for HDMI controls), and automatically turn off when you hold down the Screen button on the remote and select ’Sleep’. It will also control audio volume and automatically switch to the HDMI input that it is connected to.

If you are ready to say goodbye to the built-in tuner in your TV, and want to use Apple TV along with other another devices such as a PlayStation or Nvidia Shield, this means that you can put your standard TV remote away and control everything this way. That is how we do it at home. PlayStation time? Grab the DualShock controller. TV time? Grab the Apple remote. Apple TV will also make sure to automatically turn off your TV if you forget. All of this just works, which is a small wonder.

The third thing is that Apple TV is small enough to be hidden away in TV furniture and because it receives its commands via Bluetooth, no direct line-of-sight is required. Apple TV is not meant to be seen.

Lastly, I want to add that Apple TV 4K is, physically, more or less identical to Apple TV4 (the previous version). The only two physical differences are that Apple TV 4K has a dimmer diode on the front and that the USB port (for service) has been removed. There is apparently a cooling fan inside but if we hadn’t been made aware of this fact we would have sworn that there wasn’t. It’s completely silent, even when you put your ear on top of it.




User experience and operation


It has become very easy to set up the box. You simply follow the on-screen prompts, hold your iPhone/iPad close to the Apple TV, enable home screen syncing (Accounts -> iCloud – One Home Screen) in the menu to have the home screen from your old Apple TV mirrored, and tvOS takes care of the rest. It will even automatically get the password to your WiFi from your iPhone. The only piece missing here is automatic log-in to Netflix, HBO etc.

Afterwards, you are prompted to enable Siri (if it is available in your language) and try HDR. You should be aware that most HDR TVs today need to have "UHD Deep Color" activated (name varies depending on TV brand – see picture 4 for LG below) for the HDMI port that Apple TV 4K is connected to. Otherwise HDR will not be enabled. Some TVs do this automatically but it is typically a manual process.




Since we published our review of Apple TV4 and tvOS two years ago, Apple has released a number of software updates, bringing tvOS from version 9 to version 11. It has gained lots of new features including HomeKit controls, more Siri languages, a Dark UI mode, Continuity for improved text input, a ‘TV’ app, and more.

It is impossible to talk about the user experience without talking about the Siri remote. This is not a typical clicker with left-right-up-down navigation but an integral part of the tvOS (Apple’s TV operating system) experience in Apple TV.

You navigate the user interface by swiping the touch pad that at first feels very lively. You can adjust the level of sensitivity but it requires a little practice to get the hold of it. The Siri remote has been slightly modified with a raised white ring to help make it obvious which way is up. It helps but what is more interesting is this from Apple’s developer documentation:

- "The updated and improved Siri Remote now provides motion data for attitude and rotation rate in addition to the values for acceleration and gravity that the prior version offered."

"Attitude" can be used to determine the position in space on three axis (3D) while "rotation rate" can be used to track motion. That sounds like something that can be used for games on Apple TV – or perhaps augmented reality? It is now up to developers to make something cool out of this.


Apple TV 4K review


Besides the Siri remote and the on-screen keyboard, you can enter text from an iPhone or iPad. Whenever there is a text field on the TV your iPhone will slide down a box from the top of the screen that allows you to instantly input text. It is the fastest, most intuitive and best way to input text on a TV screen that we have seen to date. And if that wasn’t enough, you can, whenever you see a text field on the TV, hold down the microphone button to dictate text, which is simply brilliant for searching for content within apps.

However, tvOS has not changed in fundamental ways and since we described how it works in our previous Apple TV review we want to focus on how it has evolved and where it is heading. To do that we want to focus on two areas, namely 4K HDR and the ’TV’ app.

The ’TV’ is available only in select countries, including the US, but is coming to more countries later this year. It pulls in content from multiple apps to present everything in a unified interface that also suggests new content with "Up Next". The ‘TV’ app reveals a lot about Apple’s long-term plans and the transition from making each app feel mostly like a "content silo" to bringing it all together in an elegant and unified interface. Where Apple wants to go is to a place where you get the full overview and can browse all of your content from within the same interface.

This is also why the Screen button on the remote has been remapped to go to the ’TV’ app instead of the home screen app grid in regions where it is available. You can change that but Apple sees a future in which it aggregates content in an elegant interface, and in which an operating system is the link between content provider and viewer instead of a middle-man such as a cable company. This gives Apple control and, hopefully, solves the big problem in the TV industry, which is the problem of an extremely fragmented user experience.


Apple TV 4K review


tvOS and the ‘TV’ app also ties in with Siri that lets you search for content in a number of ways, including by title, genre, year, and now even ‘4K HDR’. Siri has also been expanded to let you jump straight into live broadcasts such as sports. You simply hold down the voice button on the remote and speak your command. Additionally, Siri supports dictation. The voice assistant is available only in select few languages and countries and the release of tvOS 11 has not changed that fact. Later this year, Apple will launch the HomePod speaker with built-in Siri that we expect to bring hands-free "Hey Siri" functionality to Apple TV, allowing you to say "Hey Siri, play the latest episode of House of Cards" after which HomePod will beam the command to Apple TV that turns on the TV and starts playing the latest episode. This is not something that the company has announced but it would make a lot of sense.

Apple TV 4K offers Airplay, which allows you to wirelessly push videos, pictures, and sound from a iPhone/iPad to the TV screen. It also allows you to output TV sound from Apple TV 4K wirelessly to Airplay-enabled speakers in your home. I personally use it to output sound wirelessly to my Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 9 speakers. Airplay 2 that adds support for multiroom and ties in with HomeKit will be added with a later software update.

Apple wants to control the full TV experience with tvOS, and even more with Apple TV 4K that tries to establish HDR as a container for all types of TV content, including movies, series, games, apps, and more.

We will get back to what that "HDR container" thing means in the ‘Picture quality’ section in a minute but in terms of the user experience tvOS is now presented in 4K resolution and HDR, which looks great. Know that today many 4K TVs still have 1080p HD interfaces and weak processors to run them.

This is not the case with Apple TV 4K that packs the A10X processor, which also powers the latest iPad Pros. A10X is for a chip this power efficient incredibly powerful – and it shows. The interface runs smoother than any other TV interface out there and you can populate the home screen with thousands of different apps and games from the app store. tvOS is already years ahead of the competition in terms of both user experience and app quality, quantity and consistency, and with the powerful A10X under the hood we predict that it will stay ahead for years to come. Apple TV seems to be on a two-year refresh cycle but we are confident that even two or three years from now A10X will be faster than anything you find inside a Smart TV.

Apple has re-mastered its beautiful video screensavers in 4K HDR and tvOS automatically switches between day and night scenes for screensavers, besides automatically switching between light and dark UI mode, depending on the time of sunset and sunrise in your location. It also makes sure to change them over time so you always have something new to adore. Small details.




Measurements


In the measurement section we will include all measurements. If you want to learn more about our test methodology click here.

Power consumptionWatts
Standby 1.3 W
Menu 2.6 W
4K HDR screensavers 5.8 W
HD streaming (MPEG4) 4.3 W
4K HDR streaming (HEVC) 6 W
HD gaming 5 W
4K HDR gaming ?
Video file / sourceSpecs Status
iTunes 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC 4K works
HDR10 works
DV works
Amazon 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC N/A
Netflix 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC 4K works
HDR10 works
DV works
YouTube 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – Up to 60fps – VP9 Profile2 HD only
Google Play Movies & TV 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 8 bit colors - Rec.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – VP9 N/A
Vudu 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC HD only



Apple TV 4K review


Picture quality


It may seem odd to include a dedicated picture quality section in a review about a box that connects to a TV. How good – or bad – picture quality is depends a lot on the TV you have connected. However, Apple has made some interesting choices and has implemented HDR (High Dynamic Range) in a novel way, not seen before. Not only that, Apple TV 4K now offers a myriad of video output modes based on combinations of resolution, dynamic range format, and frame rate.

We would like the address all of this because what Apple is proposing here is an important step that has serious implications for how HDR TVs are designed, and operate, today. This section will be technical but it is important if you want to make tvOS the platform for all your future TV needs.

If you are still not sure exactly what HDR is the short explanation is that it is a new foundation for video that is based on a much larger color gamut (75% of the colors visible to the human eye, compared to 33% before) and a much wider dynamic range to better reproduce the range from pitch black to bright white. Apple has created a video embedded below that explains HDR very well and for even more information read our article: HDR (High Dynamic Range) on TVs explained.




What Apple has done is to use HDR (either HDR10 or Dolby Vision) as a "container" for all content. Think of it this way: In the transition from black/white to color TV the industry for many years continued to broadcast in both b/w and color. Today, if you want to watch i.e. ‘The Artist’ or something else in b/w it is simply embedded inside the color "container" as grey tones. This container is big enough to hold the limited grey tone information. In much the same way Apple is using HDR as a container for all content because the container is large enough to hold inside all of the parameters that previous video standards are based upon.

It can be illustrated with 3D graph (right). The 2D space at the bottom is the full visible spectrum of colors that the human eye can perceive. X plane represents colors. Y plane represents luminance (from dark to bright). The small "BT.709" box inside is the old foundation for video (today referred to as SDR). The larger "BT.2020" box is what HDR can enable – many more visible colors and higher dynamic range – so you can fit everything old into this larger box (or container).

All of this is a little radical in 2017 but Apple is clearly looking ahead. Imagine us having the same conversation in 5 to 10 years from now where HDR has become the norm. In this near future, we refer to neither 4K or HDR by terms but instead call it simply "video" and refer to the old standards as "SDR" and "HD" in much the same way that we no longer talk about "color TV" as it has become the norm, but instead refer to the old standard as "black/white TV".

But we are still in 2017 and the way that Apple has implemented HDR is not unproblematic. There are two issues, or challenges, here. The first one falls back on Apple. The second one falls back on TV manufacturers.
  1. The HDR container: Apple has implemented HDR in such a way that SDR (non-HDR) content inside the HDR container is not reproduced as intended. Colors are visibly inaccurate and dynamic range is stretched.
  2. TV power consumption: HDR output forces TVs into a HDR picture mode, which for LCD TVs (LED = LCD) means that the backlight gets maxed out, resulting in 2-2.5x higher power consumption than usual. It does not affect power consumption of OLED TVs.

1. The HDR container

The effect is visible to the naked eye. Some things such as iTunes HD movies look pretty good, at times even unproblematic (we come back to that later). Any deviations for iTunes content may even be caused by the HDR color mode on your TV, which is not necessarily 100% color accurate. However, for other apps it is evident that something is going on. Colors in many instances look off.

Finding Dory is perhaps not the best example but it was one where we were able on camera to capture the effect between SDR content in Apple TV 4K’s SDR output mode and SDR content in Apple TV 4K’s Dolby Vision output mode, respectively. Don’t take it as a 100% accurate representation of what we saw – it’s very hard to capture on camera – but notice the differences in color between the "SDR in SDR mode" and "SDR in Dolby Vision mode". Colors are more saturated. Dory’s father’s eyes lack color detail. Also notice the dark grey tones in the lower corners and highlights in the center of the picture. Ideally, these two photos should look the same but Apple TV 4K is applying some tone-mapping to colors.


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So, we checked and measured what is going on and it seems that Apple is applying tone-mapping that pulls SDR content created in the Rec.709 color gamut into a larger DCI-P3 color gamut (not fully, though).

This is bad practice and something that Apple itself avoids when designing color management for Mac.

Here’s our results:




  • SDR reference is the reference measured on the TV via USB. It shows how the TV reproduces SDR content accurately. Notice that both grey scale and colors are spot-on.
  • 4K SDR output mode shows Apple TV 4K set to 4K SDR (60Hz) output mode and with SDR content. Notice that colors and grey scale are still spot-on and reproduced accurately. The color space is also correct (right triangle). The white boxes are the targets and the colored dots are the measurements.
  • 4K HDR output mode shows Apple TV 4K set to 4K Dolby Vision (60Hz) output mode and with SDR content. Notice that colors and grey scale are off, and that colors are pulled into a larger color space (right triangle). The white boxes are the targets and the colored dots are the measurements. Peak brightness is also much higher (627 cd/m2 or nits).
  • Apple’s HDR tone-mapping shows the color gamut from picture 3 as an overlay on top of the native color space of the 2017 OLED panel used for testing. It shows how Apple’s HDR tone-mapping is applied in practice, revealing that primary colors are not pulled all the way out into the DCI-P3 primaries but still visibly too saturated compared to the Rec.709 SDR color gamut.

    Test patterns were transferred to Apple TV via Airplay and measurements were confirmed via the Infuse app afterwards.

    We have presented our measurements to Apple but has not heard back yet. Apple has said to The Verge said that it is still working on the tone-mapping algorithm, with the goal of making SDR content look like SDR content. That is good news but we had of course hoped to see it implemented at launch.

    Apple TV 4K does not apply other techniques such as motion smoothing etc. All HDR TVs have separate picture settings options for HDR mode so check your menu to see how the picture settings, including color settings, are set. 2016 LG OLED TVs for example have TruMotion (motion interpolation) activated per default in HDR mode but you may not have noticed it in the past if you had the old Apple TV (with SDR output) connected to the same HDMI port that Apple TV 4K now inhabits.

    Update 5.12.2017:
    Apple has in December 2017 released tvOS 11.2 to allow Apple TV 4K to automatically match its output to the frame rate and dynamic range (SDR / HDR10 / Dolby Vision) of the content. The options are off by default because it involves a short black screen whenever switching. The next generation of HDMI (version 2.1) will eliminate black screens whenever switching more but it is not clear if existing devices can be updated to take advantage of HDMI 2.1's so-called Quick Media Switching (QMS).

    As such, As such, tvOS 11.2 solves the issues discussed above in regards to SDR/HDR and native frame rate. However, it should be noted that these options may not be optimal for everyone as it involves black screens before and after video playback. Your TV alone determines the duration of the black screens.

    You can watch this video for a quick introduction to the new features. It was filmed while using one of the first betas so Apple and developers have made further refinements. The app Infuse mentioned in the video has been updated to support auto mode switching. Apps that use Apple's default video player in tvOS already work.





    2. TV power consumption

    This is not a pretty one. Remember when we said that sometime in the future HDR will become the norm? Well, HDR-capable LCD TVs (LED TVs = LCD TVs) are not designed for this future. LCD TVs are instead designed for a time where HDR content still represents a very small portion of what you are watching. Why? Because whenever an LCD TV detects a HDR input it maxes out its LED backlight, which increases power consumption 2-2.5x times compared to SDR. Power consumption of an LCD TV is fairly constant (except for high-end zone-dimming LCD TVs). We said it was not pretty.

    Power consumption of an OLED TV is variable and OLED TVs are therefore not affected since these are not based on a backlight. Each pixel is its own LED so power consumption depends on the picture composition. Dark colors require very little power, whereas bright colors require more.

    We took some measurements to show you how it will affect your TV:

    Power consumption (variable): LG 2016 OLED TV

    Apple TV 4K output mode: SDRHDR10 Dolby Vision
    Apple TV main screen 200W 201W 193W
    Netflix UI 123W 111W 106W
    Netflix video streaming 266W 238W263W
    Video streaming (Chasing Coral HD SDR) 228W 202W 210W
    Alto’s Adventure game 230W 179W 216W
    Finding Dory (semi-bright scene) 191W 124W 135W
    Finding Dory (very bright scene) 282W 257W 247W

    Power consumption (constant): LCD TVs

    Apple TV 4K output mode:SDR HDR10
    Samsung Q9 130 W 307 W
    Samsung MU7000 65W 140W
    Sony XE85 69W 124W
    Sony XE93 100W 225W
    Panasonic EX700 68W 136W

    As you can see, the LG OLED TV in Dolby Vision and HDR10 mode, respectively, actually most of the time consumes less power than in SDR mode because power consumptions is variable and depends entirely on the picture composition (which is more or less the same from Apple TV 4K) and because the Dolby Vision mode is per default slightly dimmer. There is absolutely no reason for concern if you own an OLED TV.

    LCD TVs on the other hand completely flip out, consuming 2-2.5x more in HDR mode than in SDR mode all the time because power consumption is constant, determined by the backlight intensity. These measurements were taken in previous reviews but apply equally to any HDR video source because HDR content forces LCD TVs into the HDR mode that maxes out the backlight. This is a very serious problem and a problem that forces us to recommend against using an LCD TV in HDR mode with Apple TV 4K because it will force your TV into overdrive all the time.

    It is becoming increasingly clear to us that LCD TVs, especially edge-lit LCD panels, are simply not fit for the present of HDR, and even less for the future of video where HDR becomes the norm.

    We agree with Apple that the TV industry will eventually have to use HDR as a container for all content. These transitions have happened many times in the past across different industries. Apps are also containers. A single app can hold the entire "experience" that a cable TV provider offered 10 years ago. That’s how the tech industry evolves. However, right now and here, Apple’s decisions pose some issues.


    Frame rates

    Apple TV 4K automatically detects which combinations of resolution, HDR format, and frame rate your TV supports, and picks the one that it thinks is optimal. It prioritizes frame rate over HDR format, meaning that if you have a 2016 LG OLED it will select 4K HDR10 60Hz instead of 4K Dolby Vision 30Hz. 2017 LG OLED TVs support 4K Dolby Vision at 50/60 Hz.

    Only supported options will be available from the video output menu. Once a frame rate has been selected, Apple TV 4K converts and outputs everything in this frame rate. It currently has no mode switching option.

    Surprisingly, Apple has added the option to output video in 24Hz, which is the native frame rate that movies are shot in. This option is not available on the previous Apple TV and you have to enter an advanced "Other Formats" menu at the bottom to gain access.

    If you only watch movies on Apple TV 4K you could theoretically leave it in 24Hz output but be aware that the menus feel terrible to navigate in anything below 50 Hz. So there will be some manual switching involved if you want to output in native 24Hz for movies.

    Most users should be perfectly happy with the default frame rate that Apple TV 4K selects. Apple TV 4K works just like the previous Apple TV in this regard. If you are unsure about all this, just leave the output mode as is.

    It is fair to criticize Apple for the way HDR has been implemented but, really, this type of frame rate conversion is the norm in the TV industry. If you have watched any movie on a TV channel over the past few decades, it has been frame rate converted and even sped up by 4%, if you live in Europe. Frame rate conversion happens all the time, everywhere. It happens on Android TV, FireTV, Roku, and Smart TVs. It is the norm.

    Frame rate conversion can lead to issues such as judder or stuttering. For example, there is no easy way to convert 24fps (movies) to 50Hz but it is very easy to convert 25fps (European TV content) to 50Hz by simply doubling up. Same for 30fps (US TV content) to 60Hz, whereas 30fps to 50Hz is problematic. Et cetera.

    Some will argue that WD TV or Nvidia Shield can switch frame rate mode but the reality is that it works only in select few apps. It is not platform-wide, system-level support. And one the few apps is Kodi, which doesn’t has to handle copyright protection and HDCP 2.2. When you add these things to the equation, have a full user interface, apps, games, and much more, it gets a lot more complicated.

    The thing is, the HDMI standard was not designed for this kind of on-the-fly frame rate switching, and the 50 and 60 Hz frame rate defaults go way back to the time where TV signals would follow the frequency of the country’s electric current (60Hz in the US, 50Hz in Europe). Heavy baggage.

    The PC ecosystem has already started to deploy adaptive, or dynamic, frame rate systems in the form of AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync. So if for example a game fluctuates between 30-55fps, the PC and monitor will stay in constant sync in real-time and without delay. Adaptive sync was pioneered with the DiplayPort 1.2a interface, which is a competing standard to HDMI.

    The HDMI organization will with HDMI 2.1 add adaptive frame rate to the standard, basically in the form of FreeSync. It is intended for use with game consoles but it is possible that it can be leveraged even by TV operating systems such as tvOS for adaptive frame rate switching in real time. It would also have to be supported by the TV. No TVs support it today.

    Here’s an interesting detail found by iFixit in its tear-down of Apple TV 4K:
    "Megachips MCDP2920A4 DisplayPort 1.4 to HDMI 2.0 converter"

    DisplayPort 1.4 has a lot more bandwidth than HDMI 2.0 and is more flexible. If – and this is pure speculation – Apple could firmware update the HDMI end of the circuit it may theoretically be able to add some elements of the HDMI 2.1 standard. Manufacturers are allowed to use only some elements of HDMI 2.1 instead of the full specification. Microsoft has already announced that it will update the HDMI 2.0 port on Xbox One X to HDMI 2.1’s adaptive frame rate feature (Game Mode VRR).

    The HDMI 2.1 specification is expected to be ratified in November 2017 so let’s see what happens by that time.


    Apple TV 4K review


    Apple TV as a media player


    With the launch of Apple TV 4K, Apple has also started offering movies in 4K and HDR quality through iTunes. Movies are offered in either HDR10 or Dolby Vision format and there are at the time of writing close to 170 titles available in the US store, with 90 titles available in Dolby Vision. More are added almost daily.

    There is absolutely no doubt in our mind that the iTunes launch is a game changer for 4K HDR and especially Dolby Vision. Three factors have convinced us. First, iTunes is selling 4K HDR movies for the same price as HD, which typically means between 10-20 dollars to purchase and less for 48-hour rentals. Second, Apple will upgrade all of your HD movies to 4K HDR as soon as there is a version available in iTunes. Apple did the same when it transitioned from 720p to 1080p in iTunes. Third, the number of Dolby Vision on iTunes surpass the number of Dolby Vision titles on UHD Blu-ray by a factor of 4-5x.

    We maintain a list of 4K HDR titles on iTunes here.


    Apple TV 4K review


    UHD Blu-ray will not bring 4K HDR movies to the masses. iTunes is much more likely to do it together with streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

    We have had a chance to watch a handful of 4K HDR titles on iTunes and, yes, movies are more heavily compressed than movies on UHD Blu-ray but they still look incredibly good, especially in HDR. And given the choice between the same movies in Dolby Vision on iTunes or HDR10 on UHD Blu-ray, we think that even some enthusiasts will simply pick up the remote instead of buying and waiting for the disc. It is more convenient and still delivers a great viewing experience.

    Disney/Pixar is not yet offering 4K HDR movies through iTunes. We should also note that 20th Century Fox is the only major Hollywood studio not to offer its movies in Dolby Vision. 20th Century Fox has partnered with Samsung and Panasonic to push the open HDR10+ format as front against the proprietary Dolby Vision format.

    There is no indication that Apple TV 4K will support the HDR10+ format but let’s see how things evolve. tvOS gets regular updates and it will need the HDMI port to be updated to version 2.0b anyways to deliver live content in HDR (with the HLG format). References to HLG support have been found in the tvOS software. HDMI 2.0b is what is required to output in HLG and in HDR10+.




    Netflix is the only other streaming service to offer 4K HDR, including Dolby Vision, via Apple TV 4K. The promised Amazon app has yet to emerge from the shadow. It seems a little weird that Apple has not lined up partnerships to have lots of 4K content available at launch. Vudu, Vimeo, Hulu. There are several to pick from…

    Another important limitations of Apple TV 4K is missing support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which are two object-based audio formats that can expand the sound space. Apple says that it is not a hardware limitation and that Dolby Atmos support is coming with a later firmware update. If we had to guess, all of this is tied to Apple’s upcoming launch of Airplay 2 and the HomePod, which uses special microphones to optimize sound for your living room. We’ll see.

    And then there’s the elephant in the room. YouTube is available on Apple TV 4K but in up to HD resolution only.

    Google is using its own VP9 codec to stream 4K and VP9-2 to stream HDR, and Apple has for years refused to implement it in Safari so it is hardly a surprise that it is not included in Apple TV 4K either. Apple is instead putting all of its eggs in the HEVC basket that Google on the other hand tries to counter with VP9.



    Infuse
    Plex
    VLC
    We can note that it is in fact possible to play VP9 video files on Apple TV 4K via software decoding. That doesn’t help you enjoy YouTube in the highest possible quality but if you have VP9-encoded video files stored locally, you can use apps such as Infuse (see below).

    Besides all of the streaming apps and iTunes, there are apps available from the tvOS app store that allows you to play local media stored on a network hard drive. You cannot store media files on the internal storage in Apple TV.

    In our review of the original Apple TV (tvOS), we examined its usefulness as a media player. We highlighted Plex as one of the best options but since launch a number of other apps have emerged, including VLC and Infuse, with the latter being our favorite for playback of local media.

    Infuse can access folders on your network drives so unlike Plex there is no need to set up an active server. All your media is presented in an intuitive interface and the app makes sure to download cover art, descriptions, and more. Infuse is even connected to an online database of user-generated movie subtitles in many languages. If you buy the Pro version you also gain access to features such as DTS audio support.

    Infuse plays almost everything up to 4K that you throw at it. Infuse already supports 4K resolution and HEVC decoding, and the team has said that they’re working on adding support for HDR on Apple TV 4K.

    If you can live with an unintuitive folder-structured user interface, VLC is a good alternative. It also supports almost every video format that we have tried over the last few years. VLC can access your network hard drive’s folder structure.

    Plex is also an excellent app but as said it requires that you set up server on a PC or NAS. It is not difficult but takes a little more effort than just having video content stored on a hard drive connected to a router.

    VLC and Plex do not yet support HDR either. The developers will need to implement support first.

    Playback of video in 4K resolution over the local network can be bandwidth consuming and Ethernet is perhaps preferred in most environments. However, my 5GHz ac-based Wi-Fi network handled some 4K videos fairly well after a short buffering period so it is definitely possible. Apple TV 4K is equipped with ‘ac’ 5GHz WiFi antennas.

    There are many more options that we have not highlighted here and with the added option of setting video output to 4K, HDR, and 24 Hz, Apple TV 4K is an even better media player than the previous version. Our only caveat here is that 24Hz output is a general setting, meaning that the user interface also runs in 24Hz, which is very choppy inside apps such as Infuse. As soon as the video plays, you are good.


    Apple TV 4K review


    Apple TV 4K as a game console


    Apple TV 4K is based on the A10X Fusion, which is Apple’s most powerful graphics chip. It is more powerful than even the newer chip in iPhone X. The A10X has previously been reserved for the iPad Pro and signals a change for Apple TV. The previous box was at the bottom of Apple’s GPU ladder whereas Apple TV 4K is at the top.

    Game consoles: Graphics performance

    Apple TV (2015)
    0.1 tflops
    PlayStation 3
    0.23 tflops
    Xbox 360
    0.24 tflops
    Apple TV 4K
    0.5 tflops (est.)
    Xbox One
    1.3 tflops
    Xbox One S
    1.4 tflops
    PS4
    1.8 tflops
    In terms of raw power Apple TV 4K is more than 4x as powerful as the previous version, the company said. It is estimated to be more than twice as powerful as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 but still significantly less powerful than PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. However, Apple’s A series chips are based on mobile ARM, which consumes only a fraction of the power, whereas PlayStation and Xbox are today based on PC hardware consume more than a hundred Watts – and produce heat and noise accordingly.

    While playing games such as Leo’s Fortune and Rayman, we measured power consumption on Apple TV 4K to 5W. It is likely to be higher for games that take full advantage of the A10X. For comparison, PlayStation 4 consumes around 120W and PlayStation 4 Pro up to 150W.

    It is estimated that the A10X Fusion in the iPad Pro delivers around 500 Gflops. However, it should be noted that A10X in the iPad is constrained by the battery so it very likely to be clocked higher in Apple TV 4K that is connected to a wall output.

    This is exciting, except for the fact that there is not a single game that has been optimized to take advantage of the muscle power yet. Apple highlighted a new title by the studio that created Journey for PlayStation and other platforms. It will be called Sky but there is no release date yet. Another confirmed title is Inside by studio Playdead. This is the critically acclaimed successor to Limbo. Inside has already been released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

    These titles give us a glimpse into the future but here and now Apple TV 4K delivers largely the same game experience as previous box. You can play most games with the Siri remote but we recommend a game controller. We use the SteelSeries Nimbus, which has incredible battery life and a nice grip.

    As mentioned earlier, the new Siri remote has gained some additional sensors that can better detect its position in the three-dimensional space, which could lead to some interesting gaming scenarios.

    Some of our favorite games on Apple TV include:
  • The Silent Age
  • Machinarium
  • Rayman Adventures
  • Alto’s Adventure

    We have made a list of the 10 best games for Apple TV and will release an updated list next year. By that time there should be some interesting titles available. There’s certainly potential but let’s see it unlocked first.





    Conclusion


    Apple TV 4K is the successor to Apple TV4 from 2015, and over the years tvOS has been refined in a number of ways. Siri is the best voice assistant on a TV, and the new ‘TV’ app has the potential to be a TV guide for the modern streaming age. The app store offers thousands of apps and games, and no other TV platform can match the quality and consistency of apps. tvOS is quite simply the best TV user experience. Give it a few more years and it will be ready for prime time.

    Apple TV 4K is a very powerful, yet highly power-efficient small box. It now supports 4K resolution and more importantly two HDR formats (HDR10 and Dolby Vision). With the right content and the right TV, pictures look absolutely stunning. However, the way Apple has implemented HDR means that Apple TV 4K always outputs in HDR mode, which makes SDR – your normal non-HDR content – look a little off, with slightly too saturated colors and an inaccurate grey scale. Apple has stated that it is still working on improving its tone-mapping algorithm to make SDR content look normal. This implementation also forces LCD/LED TVs into constant overdrive because they max out the backlight whenever a HDR signal is detected (which is always with Apple TV 4K). Power consumption rises to 2-2.5x normal. OLED TVs are not affected. The way Apple has implemented frame rate modes also begs for true adaptive frame rate, which the HDMI 2.1 standard will support. Fingers crossed – Apple already has ‘ProMotion’ in its iPads. But you need a new TV, too. There is a strong case for Apple to make its own television here.

    Also read: List: Best HDR TVs

    Having movies in 4K HDR available from iTunes for the same price as HD is a game-changer, especially because Apple will upgrade all of your HD titles to 4K HDR whenever available. In addition, there are on iTunes 4-5x as many titles in Dolby Vision as on UHD Blu-ray. It has been worth the wait and then some!

    There are no games that take advantage of the powerful A10X chip in Apple TV 4K yet but seeing that it is 2x or perhaps even more powerful than PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, there is a rich back catalog of games that can be ported, and many new ones to come. The first two confirmed games that will take advantage of the A10X are Sky and INSIDE.

    The only thing keeping us from giving Apple TV 4K our warmest recommendation is the inaccurate HDR implementation. We will reexamine things if/when Apple releases a firmware update. Update 5.12.2017: Apple has released tvOS 11.2 that solves the SDR/HDR issues and improves frame rate handling. Apple TV 4K is an amazing streaming player that, with tvOS, offers the best TV user experience.


    Update 5.12.2017: Apple has released tvOS 11.2 that enables Apple TV 4K to automatically match its output to the native frame rate and dynamic range (SDR / HDR10 / Dolby Vision) of the content. See the added paragraphs in the ’Picture quality’ section. As such, tvOS 11.2 solves the issues that kept us from giving Apple TV 4K our Highly Recommended Award.

    Price and retailers:

    US retailer


    DE retailer
    UK retailer



    Best TV user experience
    4K, HDR10 & Dolby Vision
    Lots of apps & games
    iTunes in 4K HDR
    Free upgrades to 4K HDR in iTunes
    24Hz output


    Always-on HDR makes SDR look off
    Dolby Atmos support missing
    TV app & Siri missing in most regions
    No YouTube in 4K HDR
    Forces HDR LCD TVs into overdrive







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