Apple TV 4K review: the best of the best, but only if you're an Apple user

We test the Apple TV 4K device to see if it's really the streaming savior its reputation suggests.

Apple TV 4K and remote viewed from above on TV unit in writer's home
(Image credit: Future)
Livingetc Verdict

The Apple TV 4K may not cater to all users, but it excels in delivering high-quality visuals and audio, and offers user-friendly accessories like the Siri remote. Its compatibility with other Apple devices and services is a bonus, and overall, it's a top-tier streaming device.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Support for 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos

  • +

    Smooth streaming experience

  • +

    Siri remote

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    More expensive than other streaming devices

  • -

    Works best for owners of other Apple products

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Although the world of streaming devices and smart TVs has become more and more crowded over the last decade, it's a testament to Apple's brand trust that its streaming box has remained at the top of many people's lists despite its considerably higher price tag compared to models from Google, Amazon, and others.

With the latest Apple TV 4K, we wanted to test whether the reputation was still deserved. The device works seamlessly with the Apple ecosystem, including HomePod speakers, iPhones and iPads, and even AirPods, so those already immersed in the company's products will likely get a lot out of including their television, but what about everyone else?

We took a look to see how it performed, also looking at the design and improvements made since the last iteration. Take a look at our guide for more on the best streaming devices.

Apple TV 4K: Design

The Apple TV 4K looks sleek and modern and would look good as part of most people's entertainment set-ups. It's small and unobtrusive for a TV box but makes more of a statement than many dongles at the same time. The lack of wires (just the power and HDMI) helps it remain diminutive, but you can equally hide it away in your TV stand if you'd prefer a completely clean aesthetic.

Nevertheless, the matte black finish and materials mean it looks high-end, even if its main purpose is to be simple and functional. The remote control has a similar look, being small and lightweight with a touch-sensitive pad that you can use to navigate around Apple's interface. Be careful, though - the touchpad is incredibly sensitive and took us a while to get used to.

Apple TV 4K box and components laid out side by side in writer's home

(Image credit: Future)

Apple TV 4K: Set-up

Setting up the Apple TV 4K is predictably simple, though getting things just how you want them could take a bit more fiddling around before you're happy.

Once you've connected the device to the power and attached it to your TV via HDMI cable, you should see a page asking you to select your language and region. Once this is done, you can connect things to your home WiFi. After this, you will either need to create a new Apple ID or log in using your existing one. If you're already an Apple TV+ subscriber or have other content tied to your Apple account, it will be pulled in. 

That's the device itself set up, but you also need to configure Siri on the remote. This is also very simple and will feel familiar to anyone who's set up a smart assistant before.

Apple TV 4K set-up interface

(Image credit: Future)

Apple TV 4K: Streaming experience

Performance is really where Apple is better than any other streaming device on the market, and it almost single-handedly justifies the high price tag. The box has support for 4K and HDR content, as well as Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision for super-charged audio and visuals for applicable content. You'll also find pretty much every streaming app you'd want, from Netflix and Prime Video to Hulu and Shudder.

Digging down into the specs, the device uses the Apple A12 Bionic chip, which helps with computing power and graphics rendering. This allows it to run apps, games, and more without stuttering or freezing.

You can use the Siri remote - which has seen a big upgrade for this iteration of the streaming device - to navigate and search - good for those who can't remember where that series they were halfway through is currently streaming. The touch-sensitive pad is also a much faster and more intuitive way to scroll around, and there are dedicated buttons for most-used services.

As with Google TV, the 'Up Next' feature is a balm for anyone who juggles several movies and TV shows at one time. Even if you start watching something on your phone or laptop, Apple will recognize where you're up to and update accordingly. And you can also use AirPlay to immediately switch viewing from an iOS mobile device to your TV.

Having said this, it's surprising how 'blocky' the Apple TV interface looks when compared to Google or even the UK's Sky Stream platform. The content is there, but it's wrapped in a slightly uglier package.

There's still the bias towards iTunes and Apple TV+, but you would expect that with any streaming device that comes from one of the big players (even Roku is somewhat guilty of this, though to a lesser extent). You'll also be rewarded for an Apple Music subscription, with support for Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio.

Apple TV 4K menu interface

(Image credit: Future)

Apple TV 4K: Our verdict

Though it loses a few points for its Apple-focused offering, you can't argue with the brand's commitment to offering the best in class regarding visual and audio performance, intuitive accessories like the Siri remote, and integration with its other devices and services. The advent of Apple TV+ and Apple Music becoming a closer competitor to Spotify makes the Apple TV 4K an even more tempting proposition, and it's really a cut above when it comes to streaming devices.

Caroline Preece
Smart Homes Ecommerce Editor

Caroline is the smart home ecommerce editor for Livingetc, covering everything tech for the home, from smart speakers to air purifiers and everything in between. She is passionate about the role that technology and smart devices can play in daily life, enhancing the home without sacrificing personal style and carefully chosen interiors. In her spare time, she can be found tinkering with bulbs, soundbars, and video doorbells in an effort to automate every part of her small home. Previously, she lent her expertise to the likes of Expert Reviews, IT Pro, Coach, The Week, and more.