In a world of $50 streaming sticks, the $180 Apple TV 4K looks like an outrageous purchase. But even the biggest Android nerds swoon over Apple TV 4K when they see it in person. Its high price comes with premium features, and for some people, it’s the best streaming device available today.
Note: To be clear, this article focuses entirely on the Apple TV 4K (2021). The cheaper Apple TV (4th Gen) came out in 2015 and isn’t worth buying at full price anymore.
Apple tried to produce television hardware throughout the 1990s. But products like the Macintosh TV proved unsuccessful, likely due to their high price tag and lack of useful features. As people often say when describing half-baked technology from the past, these early products were “ahead of their time.”
But with the rise of iTunes in the early 2000s, Apple suddenly had a reason to sell television hardware. It launched the original Apple TV set-top box in 2006, providing an easy way for customers to watch their collection of iTunes movies, shows, and music videos on the big screen.
Modern versions of the Apple TV focus more broadly on streaming, though they also integrate with services like Apple Arcade, Fitness+, and HomeKit. And notably, these streaming boxes run on Apple A-series chipsets—the same chipsets used in iPhones and iPads.
Of all the streaming sticks and set-top boxes, Apple TV 4K is the most powerful. And I’m not overstating things here—Apple TV 4K runs on the A12X Bionic, a 2.5GHz chipset that originally debuted in the third-gen iPad Pro.
To put things in perspective, the Apple TV 4K outperforms many Windows laptops. With Apple’s software optimizations, this power provides a very reliable system. It also enables a bevy of features, including 4K HDR 60FPS video with Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos surround sound, gaming support, smart home integration, AirPlay, and quick pairing with AirPods.
Now, you don’t need a ton of horsepower to stream video, and some streaming sticks offer these features for less than $70. But raw power isn’t the only benefit of Apple’s A12X Bionic chipset—device longevity is also a factor.
Most streaming sticks last two or three years before they become unbearably slow or unreliable. But because the Apple TV 4K runs on powerful hardware, it will keep chugging for a very long time. The fact that it runs an A12X Bionic chipset is just icing on the cake. Apple tends to support its iPhones and iPads for nearly a decade, and the same goes for Apple TV boxes.
Just look at the old fourth-gen Apple TV—it’s still on the market seven years after its launch. I wouldn’t suggest buying the old device, as the Apple TV 4K is obviously a much better (and newer) option, but the proof is in the pudding.
Power and longevity are, in my opinion, the best reasons to buy an Apple TV 4K. But I will note one thing—the similarly-priced NVIDIA Shield TV also runs on respectable hardware and offers some unique features, such as AI upscaling.
The streaming interfaces you’re most familiar with, like Fire TV and Android TV, are a bit cluttered. They look very impressive, but they make apps harder to find by filling your screen with ads, promotions, and flashy junk.
Apple took on a minimalist design language when building its streaming interface. Apps are plainly laid out on the home screen, without any crazy distractions or a flood of “recommended” content.
Obviously, Apple TV isn’t perfect. There’s a big banner ad above your apps, and recommended content occasionally finds its way to the top app row. But for the most part, Apple TV avoids turning your TV into a billboard and makes it easy to perform simple tasks.
This simple interface makes Apple TV 4K a solid option for people who want a clean streaming experience. However, I should note that Roku’s interface offers a similar level of simplicity at a much lower price.
With Apple TV, you can binge all your favorite TV shows and movies from different streaming apps, including Apple originals.
This is where things get really neat, especially if you’re deep in Apple’s “walled garden.” The Apple TV 4K packs a ton of advanced features, many of which rely on an iPhone or one of Apple’s subscription services.
My favorite of these features, called “Adjust Color Balance,” turns your iPhone into a calibration tool for your TV. You just place your iPhone (with Face ID) up to the TV screen, wait a bit, and let Apple TV 4K calibrate itself with accurate color, brightness, and contrast ratios.
But I’m also a huge fan of typing on Apple TV 4K. Other devices force you to type using the remote, which sucks, but Apple TV 4K will automatically bring up a keyboard on your iPhone every time you want to log in or search through an app. (You can also type with the remote, obviously. And since the remote has a microphone, you can use it to control Apple TV 4K with Siri.)
Additionally, Apple TV 4K supports AirPlay. This feature lets you cast content from an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple Watch directly to the big screen. (To be fair, Roku devices and Vizio smart TVs also support AirPlay.)
And if you have an Apple Arcade subscription, you can use the Apple TV 4K for gaming. It’s an interesting feature that should appeal to families with young children, as it opens a huge library of games without the need for a console.
I should note that Apple Arcade has some great games for adults. There’s Fantasian, an exclusive game developed by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. And for gamers who can’t get enough of Alto’s Odyssey, Apple Arcade offers a unique version of the game with extra content.
Like Amazon’s Fire TV devices, the Apple TV 4K places a huge emphasis on smart homes. In fact, it doubles as a HomeKit hub and acts as a Thread Border Router. It also comes with a microphone-equipped Siri Remote, which you can use to control the TV or other devices in your home.
Now, HomeKit smart homes do not require a hub. But using an Apple TV 4K or HomePod as your hub lets you access the smart home remotely. And the Thread protocol that’s built in to these devices actually increases smart home performance, reducing the delay between giving and executing a command.
Apple TV 4K also comes with some unique smart home features, like the ability to stream content from smart cameras.
And oddly enough, Apple TV 4K integrates perfectly with Apple’s Fitness+ program. The Fitness+ subscription requires an Apple Watch, but it comes with some amazing guided workouts that you can watch on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV device.
Unless you’re exercising on a treadmill, using an iPhone for guided video workouts isn’t too enjoyable. Apple TV 4K offers a much better experience, especially when practicing yoga, core training, or dancing.
Apple HomePod Mini
Fill your room with 360-degree audio, control your smart devices, and call on Siri at any time using Apple’s HomePod Mini smart speaker.
The benefits of Apple TV 4K are hard to overstate. It’s the most powerful streaming device on the market, it’ll receive nearly a decade of support from Apple, and it integrates perfectly with Apple’s ecosystem.
For many people, and especially Apple fans, these features are worth the $180 price tag. It certainly helps that the Apple TV 4K doubles as a HomeKit hub, which could eliminate the need to buy a $100 HomePod Mini.
But dropping $180 on a streaming box isn’t the most appealing idea. Other streaming products, such as the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, Fire TV Stick 4K, and Chromecast with Google TV, cost just $50 and deliver content with 4K HDR, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos. If those are the only features you actually care about, you may want to skip the Apple TV box.