The second-generation Apple TV 4K gets a faster processor and future-proofed specs, but is really all about its new iPod-inspired Siri remote. And it all comes at a price.

Costing £169, the Apple media-streaming box is very much at the top of the market despite being £10 cheaper than its predecessor, with direct competitors priced between £50 and £130. But the Apple TV 4K offers something most others cannot: full integration with all of the iPhone-maker’s services including Siri, iTunes, TV+, Music, Fitness+ and the AirPlay 2 streaming system.

The new model looks identical to the previous generation: a nondescript black box with a matt top, glossy sides and has a small LED on the front to show you that it’s on.

Redesigned Siri remote

apple tv 4k remote
The second-generation Siri remote has back and home buttons for navigation plus power, volume and mute buttons to control your TV or sound system. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The remote has been completely overhauled, introducing more traditional navigation buttons and a new touch-sensitive ring for scrolling reminiscent of the “click wheel” on the old iPods. It is a significant improvement over the old model.

The new “clickpad” at the top of the remote comprises a pad with up, down, left, right and a centre button for select. The whole thing is touch sensitive so you can also swipe across it to navigate the interface and scrub through video.

In apps that support it, users can press the pause button and then hold their finger on the outside ring for 0.5 seconds before moving it clockwise or anti-clockwise to scrub forward or backwards through videos, in a similar way to using old iPods. Note Disney+, YouTube, BritBox and a few others do not yet support the new gesture.

tvOS 14.5

apple tv 4k review
The software on the Apple TV is a derivative of Apple’s iOS called tvOS that is generally easy to use and has multi-user account support for different members of your household. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Apple’s ace-in-the-hole is comprehensive app developer support that outstretches competitors from Amazon, Google and Roku. Essentially every streaming service is available on it, including big brands such as Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube (with Google Play Movies), plus all the usual UK TV services such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5, STV Player, UK TV Play, Now, BT Sport, BritBox, Acorn and others. If you want one box for all the apps, the Apple TV is it.

Then there are Apple’s iTunes, TV+, Arcade, Music, Fitness+ and Photos services, games and various utilities. It supports AirPlay 2, which allows you to send music and video from an iPhone or other Apple devices to the TV, but it does not support Google Cast.

Specifications

  • Processor: A12 Bionic

  • RAM: 3GB

  • Storage: 32 or 64GB

  • Connectivity: wifi 6, gigabit ethernet, Bluetooth 5, HDMI 2.1

  • Software: tvOS 14.5

  • Format support: up to 4K@60Hz, HLG, Dolby Vision, HDR10 (high frame rate); Dolby Atmos, Digital and Digital Plus

  • Dimensions: 35 x 98 x 98mm

  • Weight: 425g

A12 Bionic chip from the iPhone XS

apple tv 4k chip
The new Apple TV 4K is slightly faster than its predecessor with the A12 Bionic chip that first appeared in 2019’s iPhone XS. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The new box uses the latest HDMI 2.1 specification to connect to the television, which is required for larger resolutions, higher frame rates and the eARC audio connection that are increasingly common on new TVs and soundbars. But it is also compatible with TVs that use older HDMI connections.

It also has the newer wifi 6 standard, which should help those with poor overage get faster speeds to the Apple TV once they get a new router with wifi 6.

Sustainability

The Apple TV 4K uses 100% recycled tin in the solder of its logic board, 100% recycled aluminium in the remote and 20% recycled plastic in multiple components. Apple is also using renewable energy for final assembly, and breaks down the streaming box’s environmental impact in its report.

The box is generally repairable costing £146.44 out of warranty. Repair specialists iFixit gave the Apple TV 4K a repairability score of eight out of 10, but noted that replacing the battery in the remote was difficult. Apple offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

Observations

apple tv 4k review
You can press and hold the Siri button on the side of the remote for voice control, including playback control, unified search across all your streaming apps, or to ask questions as if you would on an iPhone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • It has a built-in Thread radio for connecting directly to compatible smart home devices.

  • A clever feature calibrates the colour of your TV using the sensors on an iPhone to make the colour output more accurate, but isn’t needed if your television supports Dolby Vision.

  • Apps that support high frame rate HDR (60 frames a second in 4K HDR) are very limited at launch.

  • You can use an iPhone or iPad as a remote or to enter text, including pasting codes from password managers.

  • Two pairs of Apple’s AirPods or Beats headphones can connect to the Apple TV for late-night movies without disturbing the neighbours, which is a killer feature.

  • The box can output audio to AirPlay-compatible speakers instead of your TV, including the firm’s HomePod and HomePod mini.

  • You can connect most Bluetooth joypads including Xbox and PlayStation controllers to play games.

apple tv 4k review
The new remote (right) does away with the divisive top touch panel of its predecessor (left) and is thicker and heavier with hard metal sides and a curved back that make it easy to grip. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Price

The second-generation Apple TV 4K costs £169 with 32GB of storage or £189 with 64GB.

The new Siri remote can be bought separately for £55.

For comparison, the Apple TV HD costs £139, the Nvidia Shield TV costs £129, the Google Chromecast with Google TV costs £59.99, the Roku Streaming Stick+ costs £49.99 and the Amazon Fire TV Cube costs £109.99.

Verdict

The new Apple TV 4K is essentially the same as the old one, with all its qualities and capabilities, but with future-proofed specs and a really great, iPod-like remote.

That means you get a highly capable streaming media box with wider app support than competitors and full integration with Apple’s various devices and services, including killer features like being able to use two sets of AirPods for late-night listening.

But it is very expensive compared with competitors, costing less than half as much, and lacks Google Cast, so is less useful for Android users.

It is not worth upgrading from the previous model, but for those looking to replace older kit or just for the best smart streaming box available for iPhone users, the second-generation Apple TV 4K is it.

Pros: widest streaming app support, good remote, Dolby Vision/Atmos, HDR10, HDMI 2.1, wifi 6, AirPlay 2, full iPhone/Apple services integration, Siri/voice control, connect two pairs of AirPods at the same time for private listening.

Cons: very expensive, no Google Cast, not as easy to use with Android, new remote features don’t work with every app.

apple tv 4k review
The nondescript box is still a magnet for dust, but can be hidden out of line of sight because the remote uses Bluetooth to communicate with it. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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