Apple

I was wrong. Apple TV 4K is the best streamer you can buy

I was wrong.  Apple TV 4K is the best streamer you can buy

I haven’t shown much love for the Apple TV 4K box in the past. A $179 set-top box never made much sense to me when Roku sells one for $40, even though I own several other Apple devices. Recently, however, I have changed my tune.

Considering all that has changed in the smart TV and streaming landscape, I now think the Apple TV 4K is the streaming box you should buy.

My recent 180 degree turn took a few years and came with a heavy dose of reluctance, which is why I want to share the reasons for my about-face. If you’re frustrated with your TV streaming experience, the Apple TV 4K box could be the solution, especially if you’re tired of ads on other streaming platforms.

As for you readers who have long been followers of Apple TV? Go ahead and give yourself a little “I told you so” moment. You deserve it.

the old me

In my previous coverage of the Apple TV 4K and the Apple streaming boxes that came before it, my objections basically boiled down to the fact that it was too expensive. Why spend so much on such a chunky box when there are so many more portable streaming sticks that do just about everything you need at a fraction of the price? Maybe it’s great for die-hard Apple fans, but not for everyone.

I still maintain that was true two years ago. But in recent months, gradually – some might even say sly – developments in smart TVs and streaming platforms have taken place. The landscape is very different, and it makes me look at Apple TV in a different light. So, let’s take a look at what the Apple TV 4K looks like now, with hindsight being 20/22.

Power

An Apple TV 4K sits on a media stand.

Apple TV has always been a powerful device. Even though the current-gen Apple TV 4K is almost a year old now, its A12 Bionic chip is an order of magnitude more powerful than what’s in just about any competing box, Nvidia’s Tegra X1. Shield being the only exception. I recently suggested that smart TVs need chips about as powerful as what we see in smartphones today, and that’s exactly what you get with the Apple TV 4K.

That means there’s virtually nothing you can throw at the Apple TV 4K that it can’t handle. As a streamer, he’s almost comically overpowered, but he won’t be leaving any time soon. I can’t say the same for the hardware built into today’s smart TVs or streaming sticks and boxes. Whatever Apple TV 4K apps need or want to do in the future, they can do it.

Apple 4K TV “Watch Now” page on a TV.

Although not the number one streaming platform, Apple TV OS has a history of getting timely app updates, usually with the best features and functionality. Why? Because Apple is like that.

OK, so it’s more involved than that. I think if you’re in charge of app development at Netflix, you know that the iPhone app is one of your big priorities and the Apple TV OS app isn’t a big leap forward, it therefore stands to reason that the Apple TV application is going to be kept up to date. And, yes, you can use the same reasoning with Android and Google TV, but for some reason I see some advanced features taking a while to drop on other platforms.

Better picture, better sound

If you want reliable Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos streaming, you can count on the Apple TV 4K. Analyzing what combination of devices and services work together can be a nightmare. With the Apple TV 4K, you have less to worry about – it’ll even do Dolby Atmos music for Tidal.

That’s not to say the Apple TV 4K supports all desirable formats. Apple TV does not, for example, have built-in support for DTS. It also doesn’t support lossless Hi-Res Audio – not yet anyway. So it’s not a perfect device. But I think for most people it ticks the most important boxes.

Pleasant and familiar user interface

Close up of Apple TV 4K icons on home screen.

I’ll admit to being enamored with Roku’s interface in its early days, but the novelty has since worn off. I just can’t even with Amazon Fire TV, and while I dig Google TV pretty well, its performance is a roll of the dice.

Apple TV has a more attractive and vivid interface. It’s just prettier to look at, and not just for Apple fans familiar with the look and feel. The home screen is one of the few to come in 4K, believe it or not. I remain flabbergasted that so many streaming platforms still have pixelated home screens and logos.

There’s a lot more to love about the Apple TV 4K, especially if you’re already an Apple device user. Yes, all of those things have been true for a while, but as long as I’m playing Captain Obvious, here are some other features that Apple TV users love:

  • The Apple TV operating system supports multiple user profiles, which is great for customizing app layouts and suggested content, as well as personalized access to Apple Music.
  • For Apple users in particular, the Apple TV 4K has a familiar interface and remote interactions – for example, double tapping the home button brings up an app drawer for quick access.
  • It runs multiple apps in the background, so switching between apps is super fast.
  • Apple TV’s search function is now pretty solid. It shows you where you can watch what you want to watch and whether you can watch it for free or not.
  • You can easily use AirPods with Apple TV for private listening.

But the main reason why I think Apple TV might be my favorite streamer for the foreseeable future? No ads. And with that, more privacy.

The Apple TV High Road

An Apple TV 4K set-top box and remote sit on a media stand.

The gradual and sneaky changes I alluded to earlier are related to ads. They’ve started creeping into every conceivable nook and cranny of LG’s WebOS, Samsung’s Tizen, and Roku, albeit to a lesser extent than other Androids and Google TVs. But even with Google’s offerings, you have the world’s largest search engine that ties everything you do online with your TV viewing – something I’m increasingly unhappy about.

Apple TV isolates you from it all. Say what you will about Apple as a company, but when it comes to the Apple TV experience, it’s always about finding and watching content on your TV, without a second thought. For me, using Apple TV has become a breath of fresh air – it’s new to me. That’s why I’m here doing a 180 on the Apple TV.

Yes, it’s more expensive, but even if all it offered was an ad-free experience, I’d say the price you pay is worth the admission. I don’t know who said it, but it rings pretty true: if everything you use online is free, the price is your privacy.

How long will this last? I do not know. I hope Apple sticks to its guns here and keeps the Apple TV experience like it does now. But for now, I think if you’re frustrated with the experience you’re getting from your streaming set-top box or smart TV, take another look at the Apple TV 4K… that may be some relief of this stress. Of course, it took me a few years of growing frustration to figure this out, but… better late than never, right?

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