Apple TV 4K review: so close, so distant – The Verge

It doesn’t light adult all of a lights.

Listeners of The Vergecast know that I’ve been ridiculously vehement about a new Apple TV 4K for weeks now, since there isn’t a good standalone streaming device that supports Dolby Vision 4K HDR and a new Dolby Atmos approximate sound format. we customarily haven’t been means to use a full capabilities of my home museum — lighting adult both a Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos lights on my receiver and TV — and we was vehement for Apple to put out a polished, high-end product that got me there. Apple is resolutely during a high finish of a market: a Apple TV 4K starts during $179, many some-more than competing 4K HDR-capable inclination like a $89 Roku Premiere+ or a $69 Google Chromecast Ultra. we was unequivocally awaiting — hoping! — this thing would blow me away.

But a new Apple TV doesn’t support Atmos. And it doesn’t support YouTube in 4K HDR. And it doesn’t have Disney or Marvel cinema in 4K HDR. And it creates some 1080p calm demeanour reduction than great.

I’m going to explain since these stipulations exist, nonetheless you’ll have to bear with me. we consider many reviewers will concentration on a interface, a TV app and a several calm deals that stock it, and a unclothed fact that a Apple TV now supports 4K HDR playback. But we need to tell we about video format arcana, since Apple’s decisions around some unequivocally wonky specs directly change what it’s like to use a new Apple TV 4K.

Put some fasten on your glasses. This is going to be nerdy.

The Apple TV 4K is some-more or reduction a processor strike refurbish to a fourth-gen Apple TV, that launched in 2015. Apple took iOS, reworked it for TVs with a crafty name of tvOS, non-stop a TV-focused app store, and announced that a destiny of TV was an unconstrained tide of apps. Last year, it pushed forward with a new TV app that presents a singular interface with many-sided calm from partners like Hulu and ESPN. It’s transparent Apple intends to simply make a TV app a home screen, nonetheless until app support gets built out, it’s customarily another app on a informed idol grid home shade we’ve seen for years.

A brief collection of AV terms

The TV universe is full of acronyms and standards. Here are a critical ones:

HD: You know. A 720p or 1080p video.

4K: The subsequent strike adult in resolution. It’s 4 times a series of pixels as HD. But if we wish to get all technical, it’s generally 2160p.

HDR: High Dynamic Range. HDR TVs can arrangement a many wider operation of liughtness than before, customarily like HDR photos on your phone can constraint a many wider operation of brightness. You wish this in your subsequent TV.

SDR: Standard Dynamic Range. What we’ve got right now.

HDR10: There are dual competing HDR standards. Every HDR TV supports HDR10, that is giveaway to use, and some companies, like Samsung, only support HDR10 on their TVs. HDR10 sends immobile metadata information about a normal and rise liughtness of a given video to your TV.

Dolby Vision: This is Dolby’s exclusive HDR complement that costs income to license. It’s upheld by Apple, LG, Vizio, TCL, and some Sony TVs. Most people (including me) consider Dolby Vision looks approach improved than HDR10. It sends liughtness metadata boldly as a video plays, and supports brighter and some-more colorful video.

Dolby Atmos: Atmos and a aspirant DTS:X are a subsequent era of approximate sound formats, that a attention calls “object-based surround.” Unlike normal surround, that sends specific marks of audio to specific speakers, Atmos allows audio engineers to place sound “objects” in 3D space, and your receiver or soundbar total out how to re-create it.

Since 2015, Apple’s competitors, like Roku and Amazon, have come to browbeat a market, mostly with inexpensive streaming sticks like a Roku Express, a Amazon Fire TV stick, and a Google Chromecast, all of that cost reduction than $50. 4K HDR intelligent TVs have also left mainstream and gotten many smarter, preloaded with apps like Netflix and Amazon Video that support 4K HDR. The new Vizio interface is a passed ringer for a Apple TV. One of a best TVs of a year so distant is a $600 4K Dolby Vision Roku TV. If we buy a new 4K HDR TV, we mostly don’t indeed need an outmost box.

While all of this was going on, a Apple TV was singular to 1080p and had an opening cost of $149. So Apple looked during all of that, combined 4K HDR support to this new Apple TV, and upped a starting cost to $179. Okay then.

Now, we do get a lot for that $179: a Apple TV is now a customarily standalone box that supports a Dolby Vision HDR standard, that is a vast deal. (The $69 Chromecast Ultra supports it, nonetheless it’s uneven and it lacks a possess interface.) Apple’s worked deals with many vital studios to cost 4K HDR cinema during a cheaper $19.99 instead of a common $29.99 Vudu and Google Play charge, that is terrific. And each HD film you’ve already bought on iTunes will be upgraded to 4K HDR for giveaway as they get remastered. Several of my cinema have already been upgraded, that is unequivocally nice, generally since Apple’s encoding is many improved than other services. If we have a vast existent iTunes library or we buy a lot of movies, we competence come out approach forward by investing in an Apple TV 4K.

What’s more, outward of gaming consoles, custom-built home museum PCs, and a intensely niche Nvidia Shield, a Apple TV 4K is a many absolute mainstream box we can hang underneath your TV. It has a same A10X Fusion chip as a iPad Pro in it, that means it’s as absolute as some laptops. The new processor means a bottom is somewhat reworked, with a round atmosphere vent, nonetheless it’s differently a same distance and figure as a prior model.

New Apple TV remote on a right, and a aged one on a left.

The Apple TV 4K remote has also been subtly redesigned: there’s a white shallow around a menu symbol now, that creates a thing distant easier to collect adult rightly in a dark, and there’s a new three-axis gyroscope in it for improved suit tracking. The touchpad is still frustrating, however: we many cite navigating a Apple TV interface with a D-pad on my Harmony remote. It’s unequivocally cold that opening a text-entry margin sends a presentation to your iPhone. All we have to do is appropriate down and start typing on your phone, that is many nicer than swiping by a why-is-it-horizontal on-screen keyboard. It’s a superb idea. tvOS is full of superb ideas. It’s one of a many maudlin and desirous TV handling systems ever.

But that faith leads to bizarre decisions. Apple is unequivocally unapproachable of a fact that a whole tvOS interface has been reworked to run in 4K HDR, nonetheless it also won’t let a device switch modes on your TV: from 4K to 1080p, from HDR to SDR, or from a 24Hz modernise rate (for movies) to a 60Hz rate (for games and interface animations). That means that, out of a box, any non-4K calm we watch will be upscaled and processed into 4K HDR, regulating during a top modernise rate your TV supports, that is customarily 60Hz.

The Apple TV also automatically preferences modernise rate over any other setting: if your TV supports 60Hz HDR10 nonetheless customarily 30Hz Dolby Vision (like 2016 LG OLEDs), a Apple TV will collect HDR10, even nonetheless HDR10 looks worse than Dolby Vision. Apple told me that’s since it wants a interface and games to run as uniformly as possible; it’s found that a interface judders during 30Hz. So you’ll get worse HDR nonetheless a smoother interface, all since a Apple TV won’t switch modes.

(I pronounced this was going to be nerdy.)

The skip of mode switching also means that Apple’s picking a possess video upscaling and estimate complement over whatever’s in your TV. Your TV customarily thinks it’s removing 4K HDR video all a time. It won’t know that it’s indeed displaying an HD source, and won’t do any of a tricks 4K TVs do to make those sources demeanour better.

If we have a prior Apple TV, this skip of mode switching is familiar, nonetheless remapping SDR calm into HDR is a whole new ballgame, and unfortunately, Apple’s HDR video estimate is strike or miss. It was good when we watched HD calm from iTunes, nonetheless it fell down in other apps. we watched The Dark Knight in HD on HBO Go with a video team, and a Apple TV 4K HDR estimate blew out all a contrariety in a image, sensory all to hell, and incited a film pellet into noise. The same film looked excellent on iTunes, nonetheless it customarily looked bad from HBO Go. we checked on my comparison 1080p Apple TV, and HBO Go looked fine. So there’s unequivocally work to be finished here.

The good news is Apple told me it’s stability to labour a estimate it’s doing with a thought of creation HD SDR calm demeanour normal, and a Apple TV gets unchanging program updates, so it’s not an dull promise. But right now, if we customarily wish to pass along an unmolested HD video feed, you’ll have to change a outlay settings of a whole system.

All of this adds adult to a genuine devil’s discount that wouldn’t exist if a Apple TV would simply switch modes on your TV. we asked about it, and Apple told me it thinks mode switching is “inelegant,” since TVs mostly flutter and arrangement built-in interface elements when they do it. (There’s some classical Apple-ness here.)

So from a jump, a Apple TV army we to run your good new 4K HDR TV during a suboptimal environment during some indicate during a march of regulating it. The specifics of this problem competence customarily be of seductiveness to A/V nerds, nonetheless a approach it looks in a finish will impact each singular Apple TV 4K owner. we consider Apple will eventually supplement an modernized environment to concede for mode switching, nonetheless out of a box right now, this is what we get.

After years of absence, an Amazon Prime Video app will come to a Apple TV in a few months, nonetheless it’s not here yet. When it does arrive, it’ll confederate into Apple’s TV interface, that is unequivocally nice. Apple’s also high on Hulu and DirecTV Now, that integrates live TV into a TV app. But Netflix is still a holdout, so you’ll be bouncing into a Netflix app eventually.

While removing 4K HDR cinema for $20 (and $6 to rent) is great, not each studio is on board. Specifically, Disney hasn’t sealed on, that means Disney cinema and Marvel releases like Guardians of a Galaxy 2 and Captain America: Civil War are still in HD, even nonetheless they’re in 4K HDR on other services like Vudu. The cinema that are in local 4K HDR demeanour terrific, of course, and a 4K HDR library is flourishing rapidly, according to Apple. There’s unequivocally things in iTunes we haven’t seen anywhere else. You can also ask Siri to uncover we 4K HDR cinema and they’ll cocktail right up, that is good fun.

There are wonkier calm issues, as well. (Of march there are.) Apple doesn’t support YouTube’s VP9 video format, that means YouTube on a Apple TV 4K doesn’t support 4K HDR playback. Apple doesn’t have any timeline as to when or if that competence happen; it’s a problem that affects Safari on a Mac and iOS inclination as well.

Again, a specifics of a emanate are nerdy, nonetheless a outcome is that no one who buys a new Apple TV can watch 4K YouTube videos — and YouTube is a singular largest source of 4K video. Until Apple and Google figure it out, MKBHD and #teamcrispy will all be regulating during 1080p on a Apple TV 4K. Sorry, boys.

Apple also doesn’t support difficult approximate sound standards like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, that place sound effects in 3D space around you. we have an Atmos setup, and it’s simply a many considerable approximate sound ascent I’ve finished in ages. The Apple TV supports a decent operation of approximate formats, nonetheless not Atmos, and Apple insists on doing a decoding on a Apple TV and promulgation out possibly PCM audio or downmixed Dolby Digital 5.1.

This is mystifying: roughly each new film that’s been remastered in Dolby Vision has also been redone in Atmos, and support is fundamentally everywhere now. The cheapest Roku players support Atmos passthrough. The Xbox One S handles Atmos. Atmos soundbars were all over CES and they’re customarily removing cheaper. Netflix is rolling out Atmos support. It’s about to be as mainstream as 5.1 surround.

Apple told me that a skip of Atmos isn’t a hardware limitation, and that support is on a roadmap. we strongly consider that getting Siri’s voice into a Atmos mix is a vast thought here, and it’ll be cold when a association total it out. But right now, for $179, during slightest charity a choice of losing Siri in preference of Atmos passthrough should be a no-brainer. The Apple TV is definitely contingent on other inclination in your vital room to outlay any audio or video, and it simply doesn’t seem to acknowledge a thought that they competence be improved during doing those things.

Part of a reason these wonky settings issues are so frustrating is that a Apple TV is full of intensely good ideas. we adore that Apple’s singular sign-on complement lets we record into your wire provider once and afterwards now substantiate each app that’s upheld opposite each tvOS and iOS device, even if vital players like Comcast are holding out for now. The speed and iOS roots of a Apple TV allows streaming apps supplement layers of interactivity and gloss that customarily aren’t probable on other boxes: a ESPN app lets we fast arrange a quadbox of 4 coexisting live feeds and now go to fullscreen and behind with 0 lag. It’s a small malnutritioned right now, nonetheless a TV app unequivocally is a commencement of an wholly new TV home shade experience, generally with a further of live sports and violation news alerts.

Apple says a Apple TV is a “video-first” device, and that it’s not focused on games as a primary experience, nonetheless it’s also unequivocally fun to customarily click around a App Store and learn a medium-sized collection of games to play. It’s not a PS4, nonetheless a garland of iOS games have jumped to tvOS, and many of them are free-to-play, that feels reduction scammy on a TV for some reason. we spent some-more time personification a cheapo tennis diversion than I’d differently caring to admit, and we got mislaid personification a giveaway chronicle of Sonic a Hedgehog. It wasn’t a console, and a controls weren’t great, nonetheless it was still fun.

Siri on a Apple TV is still a subset of Siri on iOS, with some-more concentration on TV and film formula and small personality. Competitors like Google and Amazon are integrating their practical assistants with their TV products during a low level. You can tell a Google Home to play something on a Chromecast, and Amazon is rumored to be building a Fire TV box with an Echo-like far-field mic array built right in. That’s not a Apple TV; you’re still holding a remote (or your iPhone with a remote app open) adult to your face. We’ll see if and how that changes when a HomePod comes out.

I wish to adore a Apple TV 4K. we wish to adore it a lot. It is by distant a closest thing to being a entirely satisfied prophesy for a destiny of TV that exists. But since it’s so ambitious, it’s also a farthest divided from a prophesy it’s perplexing to achieve. Cheaper inclination with fewer dreams about one interfaces are many improved during simply branch on and putting some video on your TV, with reduction assertive video estimate and improved approximate support.

For Apple to clear a Apple TV 4K’s $179 cost tab opposite a apps already built into your TV and those unequivocally renouned inexpensive streaming sticks, it needs to offer a ideal paradise of a best technical capabilities, a finish calm catalog, and a simplified interface. we know a lot of video nerds, and all of them were anticipating a Apple TV 4K would be a One True Box. That’s what Apple does: it rolls in and quietly fixes difficult tech problems with superb solutions.

The Apple TV 4K does not do that. Worse, a attempts to solve a troublesome technical problems of home theaters are reduction stretchable and infrequently not as good as other, cheaper boxes. If we buy one of a many costly TV products on a market, we shouldn’t have to consider about either you’re removing entrance to a finish calm library, a best audio and video peculiarity possible, and YouTube in 4K. You should get it all, and never consider about it again. It should light adult all of a lights.

If you’re already invested in a outrageous iTunes film library, or we buy so many cinema that Apple’s cheaper pricing creates a vast disproportion to you, you’re not going to be unfortunate about shopping an Apple TV 4K. It’ll be fine, and carrying your existent library get upgraded will be nice, nonetheless a HDR upscaler will spasmodic make we sad.

But if we customarily wish to watch some Netflix and you’re excellent with renting cinema from a use like Vudu or Amazon, hang with a apps on your existent 4K HDR intelligent TV for now or collect adult a Roku. If we positively contingency spend a garland of money, buy an Xbox One S gold for $249 — you’ll get 4K Blu-ray actor and a giveaway diversion out of it as well. All of this things will be disorderly and irritating in opposite ways, nonetheless they’ll get a pursuit done.

I am unequivocally assured Apple is going to figure this TV thing out. It’s a customarily association that has a multiple of energy and caring to indeed do it. But a Apple TV 4K’s unrealized intensity customarily creates it apparent that a destiny of TV is still flattering distant away, and it’s simply too costly to play on in a meantime.

Good Stuff

• Ambitious, easy-to-use interface

• Lots of apps, with Amazon on a way

• Cheaper 4K HDR film rentals and purchases than a competition

• Existing iTunes libraries get updated to 4K HDR for free

Bad Stuff

• HDR estimate creates some HD videos demeanour bad

• No YouTube 4K HDR support

• No Disney or Marvel cinema in 4K HDR

• No Atmos support

• Expensive

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