At first, I was really excited about the new Apple TV 4K 2021, so much so that downloaded the beta version of tvOS 14.5 onto one of our Apple TV 4K's to try out the new display calibration feature for myself. It sounded cool: you can make sure your TV screen is producing color accurately, with your phone.
But once I got everything set up, I realized that I couldn't use Color Balance, as I've got Dolby Vision, which has its own color calibration profile. And that's when I started to look more closely at the new Apple TV 4K and wonder if it was really the upgrade we needed.
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The new Siri Remote is a big win ... you can buy solo
While my overall mood about the new Apple TV 4K isn't exactly excited, that's because of something good that Apple's done. The old Siri Remote is gone, and in its place is a new Siri Remote, one with navigation buttons you can click, and not the much-maligned touchpad of previous models.
Most of the time, I'd gotten used to the old remote. That was until those moments where I would try and perform the rewind or fast forward 10 seconds command. And then I fumbled, and fumbled frequently. The new remote also improves on the old one by moving the Siri button to the side of the remote — and filling its original spot with a mute button.
And this looks like the remote that the Apple TV should have shipped with. Those who liked the gestures of the original remote can skim forwards and backwards by dragging your finger around the edge of the remote's circular D-Pad, while the rest of us can click the directional buttons. It's a win-win.
Oh, and just like the previous Siri remote, you can buy it separately. Frustratingly, though, it ain't cheap. You'll spend $59 to get the new Siri Remote on its own, which is twice as much as the new Roku Voice Remote Pro costs. That said, I think many are much more likely to buy this on its own than upgrade from the existing Apple TV 4K.
The Apple TV 4K doesn't need for speed, yet
As someone who loves the Apple TV 4K (even though it's quite expensive), I can say with some confidence that I didn't think it needed a new processor. But with the new Apple TV 4K, the A10X Fusion chip is out and the A12 Bionic processor is in. And having reviewed iPads that pack both of those chips, I'm not certain how much of a boost that will provide.
The A10X Fusion-based 2017 iPad Pro (10.5-inch) netted a 9,233 on Geekbench 4 general performance benchmark, while the A12 Bionic-based iPad Air 2019 landed a little north of that, with a score of 11,471. So while there is some difference, both tablets were pretty fast as is. Apple boasts that this will enable a "significant boost in graphics performance, video decoding, and audio processing."
And while I've never thought "oh, the Apple TV 4K is too slow" (its menu navigation is faster than any other streaming device I've tested), Apple does have a use case for this: HDR and Dolby Vision video at up to 60 frames per second. This should make a lot of content (Apple focused on sports) look more realistic and smooth, and Apple listed FOX Sports, NBCUniversal, Paramount+, Red Bull TV, and Canal+ as partners it's working with for this project.
And this would be huge news, if the Roku Ultra didn't already offer Dolby Vision at 60fps. And the Roku Ultra is only $99.99, which is $79 less than the entry-level Apple TV 4K.
So, what does the Apple TV 4K need?
About a month ago, I broke down my wish-list for the Apple TV 4K 2021. First on my list was a new remote, and kudos to Apple for providing. It's just missing one thing: the Apple U1 chip. That's the mechanism Apple's using to track its devices, including the Apple AirTag trackers. Since the remote is one of the devices we have a hard time keeping track of, it's a frustrating shame that you can't use the Find My app to figure out which couch cushion your remote is under. Even the Roku Ultra has a way to help you find a lost remote.
Also, I was really hoping a new Apple TV would come with a video game (Apple Arcade still seems to be more of a promise than a success) or two that drove home the need for a new processor. Image processing is great and all, but the Apple TV 4K's high price of $179 (which is $130 more than the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, and the Chromecast with Google TV, two of our higher-ranking picks for the best streaming device), the Apple TV 4K 2021 needs to do a lot more than those other devices to explain its value.
I also would have accepted Apple offering a more affordable Apple TV streaming box, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards.
New Apple TV 4K outlook
For now, the Apple TV 4K will be good for some (not everyone can do Dolby Vision), but it's still hard to make a serious sales pitch for it. That is, unless you're like me, and value its super-clean interface and the integration to the iPhone command center.
If you're still using the Apple TV HD, and you've been waiting for a reason to upgrade, this might be the time if you're like me and prefer the tvOS way (even if it costs an arm and a leg more). But upgrading from the old Apple TV 4K to the new model doesn't seem quite right.
Hopefully the next Apple TV provides the significant jump this box needs. For now, I'm mostly excited about a new remote.