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 is also cable or direct to home (DTH) STBs. For the most part, the two have remained distinct devices, albeit with some overlapping functionalities. But streamers haven’t seriously invaded the game console space (the Nvidia Shield series is a rare example, let down by Android TV’s game library). That is, until now.

To be fair, we’d seen hints of this with the 2021 second-gen Apple TV 4K. It has to be said that the gaming credentials have increased the seriousness. We owe that to Apple Arcade. This also remains the slickest (at least in terms of streaming quality and simplicity 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) can say something about it. But based on facts, gaming is the trump card for the Apple TV 4K refresh in 2022, something Amazon hasn’t tried to replicate so far. Apple Arcade, meanwhile, continues to bolster its game library.

Choose wisely: smart home on the horizon?

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

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

Visually, not much has changed, but what it’s worth, the new iteration has delivered a serious weight and bulk reduction. Apart from that, the specifics of the ports (HDMI 2.1 handles the connection to the TV) remain consistent.

The remote control is a testament to the attention to detail

The remote that comes with the Apple TV 4K remains the best in the business. Perfectly chiseled from a single piece of aluminum, soft touch buttons that respond quite accurately, and you have the option to enable the trackpad as well. More as a possible regulatory requirement than anything else, the Lightning port has been replaced by a USB-C port for charging the Siri Remote’s battery.

For whatever your primary way of interacting with the tvOS software the Apple Siri Remote is miles ahead of anything Amazon bundles with the Fire TV devices or any smart TV offering the only exception to that rule is OnePlus which is a high-quality metal remote control with the OnePlus TV Q1 series.

Current? Apple Arcade’s truest game console yet

The processor is the biggest upgrade in this edition of the Apple TV 4K. It’s powered by the A15 Bionic chip, which you’d be familiar with if you’ve used the iPhone 13 series. That chip is barely a year old and a slightly tweaked version is still good to go with the iPhone 14 Plus device. It might feel like overkill for a media streamer, but that’s the solid foundation for the inevitable gaming appointment.

Before we get into that, we need to illustrate our observations about the streaming experience. While the predecessor reached the top with the HDR10 standard (in addition to Dolby Vision in the high dynamic range), this edition also adds HDR10+. That extra support comes in handy when you start HDR content on Netflix, Amazon Video, Disney + Hotstar, Zee5 and JioCinema.

Read also:Android games on TV? Amkette’s EvoFox Game Box trades modernism for simplicity

Whether it’s standard-definition, high-definition, or ultra-high-definition content in apps, there’s the 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 both detail and colors in different scenes.

The predecessor was no slouch and the tvOS interface was snappy. We did not experience any slowness at any point. The only difference between then and now in that regard is the multitasking screen which now doesn’t show the signs of sluggishness it used to, especially when many apps were left open.

If you haven’t tried out Apple Arcade yet, it’s about time you should. We think that’s a crucial app to unlock the full potential of Apple TV 4K. Gear.Club Stradale is just as fun as Lego Brawls, as long as you have a game controller paired up. We had a Sony PlayStation 5 controller on hand – the only shortcoming was that the controller’s battery level isn’t indicated in the list of Bluetooth devices.

Gameplay ran smoothly on the previous generation Apple TV 4K and is now a lot better. With more performance headroom, this will be in a sweet spot as mobile games get more complex and graphics heavy.

tvOS is simple – Consistent or is it 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 still doesn’t engage in any kind of content management or recommendations. The interface hasn’t changed much over time either, the only dynamic element being the carousel that changes as you jump from one streaming app icon to another.

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

What is a big miss, perhaps in this generation, is the handling of Live TV services. For example, in Amazon’s Fire TV operating system, “Live” gets its own tab on the home screen – any apps you’ve subscribed to that also have live TV channels (e.g. Voot, Sony Liv, and Zee5) offer a separate channel list within it. That’s intuitive, convenient, and opens up more content without having to specifically search for it.

But all said and done, tvOS doesn’t fill the home screen with any sort of third-party ads or even suggestions from any of its apps. A stark contrast to Amazon’s Fire TV home screen treatment, which is riddled with ads.

Additional features add real value

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

Second, if you are having trouble switching sources or resolutions on the HDMI you connected the Apple TV 4K to, you can go into the settings and troubleshoot the HDMI connection. We noticed that when the Apple TV 4K and our OnePlus TV turned on, there was no display for a few minutes. Changing the resolution on the Apple TV 4K didn’t help. Troubleshooting and letting the Apple TV manage the HDMI connection worked wonders.

There’s the rather handy voice search key on the remote (it’s on the right back) that gives you quick access to Siri search. Important to note here that the key can easily be accidentally pressed while holding the remote control.

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

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

Like many of the other product lines this year, the Apple TV family has been placed in the incremental refinement bin. A new and more powerful processor, two different variants (one with future-proofing around smart home standards) and the broadening of content support with the HDR10 + standard are the notable changes.

Anyone with last year’s Apple TV 4K won’t need to upgrade right away. For everyone else, regardless of what streamer you’re using right now, this is a definite upgrade. But one thing is clear: we’re gearing up for a pretty big refresh for the Apple TV family. Think of this as the year where the ball just rolls forward with minimal effort. Whether the next evolution takes place in 2023 or sometime later is a mystery.

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