The new Apple TV 4K combines serious gaming with evolving video streaming capabilities

The new Apple TV 4K combines serious gaming with evolving video streaming capabilities

There are generally two different categories of “boxes” that we end up connecting to our TVs – game consoles and media streamers. There are also cable or direct-to-home (DTH) STBs. For the most part, the two have remained distinct devices, albeit with some overlapping functionality. But streamers haven’t really made inroads into game consoles (the Nvidia Shield series is a rare example, let down by Android TV’s game library). That is, until now.

To be fair, we had seen hints of this with the second-generation Apple TV 4K from 2021. It has to be said that the gaming credentials have trumped the seriousness. We have Apple Arcade to thank for that. What’s more, this remains the smoothest (at least in terms of streaming quality and ease of experience) media streaming device money can buy.

Mind you, the Amazon Fire TV Cube (2021 Edition) is still on sale in India for 12,999) may have something to say about it. But in terms of facts, gaming is the trump card for the 2022 update of Apple TV 4K, something Amazon has not tried to replicate so far. Apple Arcade, meanwhile, continues to strengthen its game library.

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There are two variants of Apple TV 4K that you have to choose from. The Wi-Fi only specification with 64GB of storage is priced at 14,900 while the higher configured Wi-Fi + Ethernet connectivity with 128GB storage has a sticker price of 16,900. The latter is a better bet if you have inconsistent Wi-Fi coverage (it’s not great for Ultra HD streaming as well as gaming) and prefer to run an Ethernet cable from your router to the Apple TV 4K.

Interestingly, the Ethernet version also adds support for Thread and Matter enabled smart home accessories. Don’t get us wrong, both models support some level of smart home hub functionality, but for the more affordable model, Matter smart home devices will require an additional hub for seamless controls.

Not much has changed visually, but for what it’s worth, the new iteration has made some serious weight and bulk reductions. Other than that, the details of the ports (HDMI 2.1 takes care of the connection with the TV) remain consistent.

The remote control shows attention to detail

The remote control that comes with Apple TV 4K continues to be the best in the business. Perfectly chiseled out of a piece of aluminum, soft touch buttons that are quite precise with response and you have the option to activate the trackpad as well. More as a possible regulatory requirement than anything else, the Lightning port has made way for a USB-C port to charge the Siri remote’s battery.

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For what’s your primary mode of interacting with the tvOS software, the Apple Siri Remote is miles ahead of anything Amazon packs with its Fire TV units or any smart TV offering, the only exception to that rule being the OnePlus, which pairs a high-quality metal remote control with the OnePlus TV Q1 series.

Power? Apple Arcade’s truest gaming console yet

The processor is the biggest upgrade in this edition of Apple TV 4K. It is powered by the A15 Bionic chip, which you would be familiar with if you have used the iPhone 13 series. That chip has barely aged a year, and a slightly shifted version is still well and truly in use with the iPhone 14 Plus device. It may feel like overkill for a media streamer, but it’s the solid foundation for the inevitable foray into gaming.

Before we get to that, we need to illustrate our observations about the streaming experience. While its predecessor topped out with HDR10 standard (along with Dolby Vision in its high dynamic range effort), this edition also adds HDR10+. The added support will come in handy when you start HDR content on Netflix, Amazon Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5 and JioCinema.

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Be it standard definition, high definition or ultra high definition content across apps, there’s a distinct sense that all apps deliver streaming quality that’s half a notch above the Fire TV Cube. That is, in terms of the dynamic range, to be specific, which has a positive spin on detailing as well as colors across different scenes.

Its predecessor was no slouch, and the tvOS interface was snappy. We encountered no lag, at any point. The only difference between then and now, in that regard, is the multitasking screen which now shows no hint of the sluggishness of before, especially if many apps remained open.

If you haven’t tried out Apple Arcade yet, it’s about time you did. It, we feel, is a crucial app to unlock the full potential of Apple TV 4K. Gear.Club Stradale is as much fun as Lego Brawls, as long as you have a game controller connected. We had a Sony PlayStation 5 controller on hand – the only shortcoming is that the controller’s battery level is not listed in the list of Bluetooth devices.

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Gameplay was smooth on the previous generation Apple TV 4K and is a notch better now. With more performance headroom, this will be a good place as mobile games become more complex and graphics heavy.

tvOS is simple – consistent or is there a lack of excitement?

Compared to Google’s Android TV or Google TV platforms, there’s a distinct sense that tvOS hasn’t tried to get into the fun stuff. Apple TV 4K continues to not mess around with any kind of content curation or recommendations. The interface hasn’t changed much over time either, the only dynamic element being the carousel that changes when you jump from one streaming app icon to the next.

Within the tvOS interface, all streaming apps reside in their own property. We didn’t see any aggregation of content recommendations or watchlists on the home screen (you can get a whiff of that in the TV app, but that’s about it). Netflix remains in its own app, as does Amazon Prime Video. Much like Apple TV+, which also doesn’t seem to have an unfair advantage.

What is a big miss, perhaps with this generation, is the handling of Live TV services. In Amazon’s Fire TV OS, for example, “Live” gets its own tab on the home screen — any apps you’ve subscribed to that also have Live TV channels (such as Voot, Sony Liv and Zee5) will offer a separate channel list within that. It’s intuitive, convenient and opens up more content without specifically searching for it.

But all said and done, tvOS doesn’t clutter the home screen with any kind of third-party advertising or even suggestions from any of the app family. A stark contrast to Amazon’s Fire TV home screen treatment, which is full of advertising.

Additional features add real value

There’s more to Apple TV 4K than meets the eye, even after you’ve spent some time with it. You can use your iPhone to calibrate your TV screen if you’re worried that the picture settings aren’t up to par (and most likely they wouldn’t be). It will calibrate the color of the TV screen, which should help with separation and richness.

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Second, if you’re having source switching or resolution issues on the HDMI you’ve connected your Apple TV 4K to, you can go to settings and troubleshoot your HDMI connection. We noticed that when the Apple TV 4K and our OnePlus TV were turned on, there was no screen for a few minutes. Changing the resolution on the Apple TV 4K did not help. Troubleshooting and letting the Apple TV manage the HDMI connection worked wonders.

There’s the rather useful voice search key on the remote (located on the right spine) that gives you quick access to Siri search. Important to note here is that it is easy to press the key by mistake while holding the remote control.

The hidden gem, true only if you also have a HomePod speaker, is the Bluetooth functionality that makes the HomePod (as long as it’s connected to the same Wi-Fi too, and within range) the default speaker for the Apple TV 4K. Think of it as double the fun if you have the two HomePod speakers set up in stereo mode.

How much power do you need in Apple TV 4K?

Like many of the other product lines this year, the Apple TV family has been put into the gradual refinement bucket. A new and more powerful processor, two distinct variants (one with future-proofing around smart home standards) and the expansion of content support with the HDR10+ standard are the prominent changes.

Anyone with last year’s Apple TV 4K doesn’t need to upgrade immediately. For everyone else, regardless of what streamer you’re using right now, this is a definite upgrade. But one thing is clear – we’re planning a pretty big refresh for the Apple TV family. Think of this as the year when the ball just keeps rolling with minimal effort. Whether the next development happens in 2023 or sometime later is anyone’s guess.

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