The Apple TV 4K seems crazy expensive at $179, and on the surface it doesn't really offer a lot more than cheaper competitors. Yet I noticed that I was starting to use it a lot more a few months ago, as I stopped using my Roku Ultra.
Don't get me wrong. I like the Roku Ultra a lot. I bought one for my parents for Christmas last year. But once I freed its HDMI cable in my rat's nest of cords behind my TV, and put that cord into my Apple TV 4K, I have never really looked back. Both are on our list of best streaming devices — heck, the Roku Ultra is ranked higher — but for me, personally, I've made my choice.
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My change of habit was enabled by the fact that as the editor in charge of streaming devices at Tom's Guide, and during quarantine I've basically collected all of the major streaming devices behind my TV, so I can test and compare.
But my decision to start using the Apple TV 4K more, though, is more about how most of these devices do a lot of the same things — and it's the few ways they stand out that can push you to use one over the other. Let's dig in:
It started off with HBO Max, how did it end up like this?
The Harley Quinn animated show is amazing, and it's also the reason why the HDMI plug left my Roku Ultra in the first place.
With the exception of those who subscribe to the DC Universe service (where that show started), I don't know how many people will be able to see the animated antics of Ms. Quinn. And you should, the series delivers an excellently hilarious angle on criminal affairs in Gotham as Harley teams Poison Ivy to ruffle Batman's feathers while she tries to get into the Legion of Doom. HBO Max also is the exclusive home of the West Wing reunion, the Witches remake, and it's getting the Justice League Snyder Cut in 2021.
You can't, though, if your only streaming device is a Roku. That's because Harley Quinn is on HBO Max now, and HBO Max launched without a Roku app (or a Fire TV one either) and it's still not on there. And HBO's remaining Roku app doesn't support logging in with your cable subscription, so I couldn't use that if I wanted.
Apple TV has the perks of the Apple ecosystem
When I want to turn on a streaming device and watch something other than HBO Max, the Apple TV wins again because I own an iPhone. A simple downward swipe from the top right corner of my iPhone's lock screen gives me a Remote button, which then allows me to turn the Apple TV (and my TV, too), on and the Remote app comes up so I can find the apps and such I want.
While I try and keep my iPhone away from myself when I'm watching good TV (live-tweeting bad TV, such as WWE Monday Night Raw, is only natural), that's not always the case. When it's time to make lunch, and I amble into my living room/kitchen, it's much easier to pull my phone out of my pocket than it is to go hunting for a remote.
And I'm always looking to watch YouTube during lunch, as I'm not one of those folks who can watch videos while they work (that's taking multitasking a bit too far). So that pattern became the norm, and the Apple TV continued to become my dominant streaming device.
Yes, I could turn on my Roku from the Roku app, but Apple doesn't give you the ability to customize the Control Center screen where the Apple TV button is. I really wish it would, though.
The integrations don't stop with just the iPhone. The Apple TV app brings Apple TV Plus to other devices, but Apple Arcade games are not on any other device than the Apple TV. Plus, the upcoming Apple Fitness Plus service is also going to be exclusive to Apple's hardware, inside of the Fitness app. That includes Apple Watch integration for sending your personal activity (heart rate, calories burned and more, to your TV screen as you work out).
I'm sticking with the Apple TV — but it needs to change
If I didn't review streaming devices for a living, I probably wouldn't have made this leap. The Apple TV 4K is a hefty $179, that's $80 more than the Roku Ultra, and $129 more than popular 4K streaming devices like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus and the new Chromecast with Google TV.
But with access to all of the above, I'm probably going to keep using the Apple TV 4K (though I am excited to get one of the new Chromecasts in to try out). It's got everything I want (save for a Japanese pro wrestling streaming service that only supports Fire TV and Chromecast), and it's the easiest to use, no matter what's going on.
But if Apple wants to really take TV seriously, it'll take more than making great shows like Ted Lasso (a topic for another article): Apple needs a more affordable streaming device. Because until then, the Apple TV will just be for those with deep pockets.
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