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Apple TV 4K review: Apple is finally selling more for less

Apple is covetous of your HDMI ports and wants the Apple TV 4K to be the only streaming device you'll ever use. But is it worthy of that title?
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer

Apple TV 4K

4.5 / 5
Very good

pros and cons

  • Lower price than previous model
  • Better, snappier performance
  • Better image than other competitors
  • Compatible with Bluetooth speakers
  • No HDMI cable
  • Expensive if you're just using it just as a streaming device
  • No remote tracking

It's been a good year for Apple as it launched fresh new lineups of most of its devices: the iPhone 14 models, the new M2 MacBooks and iPads, and more. And a brand-new Apple TV 4K streaming device arrives on Nov. 4, with new price tag to match.

This third generation of the Apple TV 4K is $50 cheaper than the previous model, starting at only $129. However, it's also faster, thanks to its A15 Bionic chip, more compact, and more efficient, consuming 30% less power. It supports Dolby Vision, Atmos, and HDR10+ for high-contrast, clear streaming video. 

With this device, Apple aims to gather everyone around the television, from the cinephiles, to the gamers, to the smart home users, offering snappier performance and more personalization than ever.    


Dimensions 1.2 x 3.6 x 3.6 inches
Remote dimensions 5.4 x 1.4 x 0.3 inches
Remote weight 2.3 ounces
Storage 64GB and 128GB
Processor A15 Bionic chip
Connectivity Bluetooth, Wi-Fi 6, Dual-band 2.4GHz & 50GHz - Thread & Gigabit Ethernet on W-Fi + Ethernet model
Frame rate Up to 60 fps
Video formats 4K - Dolby Vision - HDR10+

What is the Apple TV 4K?

The Apple TV 4K is a small black box that connects to your television to serve two or more of three purposes: to become your new streaming device, make your TV smart, and be a smart home hub for HomeKit. 

The new generation of the Apple TV 4K comes in two versions: The $129 model uses Wi-Fi to connect to the internet, and has power and HDMI ports, and a storage capacity of 64GB. The $149 model supports both Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet as well as Thread networking, and has power, HDMI, and Ethernet ports, and double the storage capacity at 128GB. Both devices feature the A15 bionic chip, and support Wi-Fi 6, 4K, SDR video up to 60 fps, Dolby Vision, and HDR+.

Compared with the previous generation of the product, it's 4mm shorter in height and 5mm smaller, as well as half the weight, at only 7.5 ounces.

Also: 10th-generation iPad review: Confusingly good

Both versions of the new Apple TV 4K also come with the Siri remote, a thin -- yet surprisingly sturdy -- rechargeable Bluetooth remote complete with built-in Siri. Speaking into the remote, you can ask Siri for the usual things like a joke or where your iPhone is, and you can also search for a movie title, ask what the character on the screen just said, or tell it to show you the feed from your outdoor camera.

With new updates, Siri will be able to recognize up to six people, making it so everyone in your home can have a customized profile with tailored selections. If someone was watching TV and left their profile on, you can ask Siri to switch to yours and it will recognize you and do so.

Out of the box

Apple TV 4K from above
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The setup process for the Apple TV 4K is pretty straightforward if you have an iPhone and an HDMI cable: Simply plug in your new device, place your phone nearby, and follow the prompts to set it up.

I found the setup process to be very user-friendly, especially since you can simply use your iPhone to get through it instead of having to input your password several times over on a streaming device. Your iPhone also doubles as a remote control, so you can use it to easily enter login information.

But be aware that while the Apple TV 4K does come with a power cord and the Siri remote, it doesn't come with an HDMI cable -- that needs to be purchased separately. 

Not including an HDMI cable is a very Apple thing to do, I know. But that does make it so this device isn't as accessible as it could be. Someone who's not very tech-savvy could be disappointed on bringing it home and discovering it requires finding or buying another cord to make it work. 

Also, critics have long pointed out that Apple has been selling the same square black box for years while competitors switch to more aesthetically pleasing designs or formats that aren't as noticeable, like streaming sticks. That's still true of the new version: If you're wondering how the latest Apple TV 4K device would fit into your home decor, I'm here to tell you it probably doesn't. 

Better performance for a lower price tag?

Apple TV 4K and remote standing upright on a table
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

In picture quality, the Apple TV 4K outperformed our other 4K-resolution streaming devices at home, which are the Fire TV Stick 4K and the Roku Stick 4K, as well as the quality of the picture when using WebOS on our LG television. The image was not only much sharper and more detailed using the Apple TV 4K, but the dynamic range was superior. 

The $129 Wi-Fi-only model has the same storage capacity as the most expensive model of the previous generation, which had a retail price of $199 (it's usually available for a discount now). Even without the Ethernet port, the new basic version is still an upgrade over the best of the previous models, with faster performance, a smaller footprint, and less power consumption for a lower price.

That said, it still ranks as one of the most expensive streaming devices on the market, with competitors like the Fire TV Stick 4K, Roku Streaming Stick 4K, and Chromecast going for as little as $50 retail price, even lower during deals.  

Still, if you enjoy Apple products and the way they work together, then this is the streaming device for you -- it even lets you control compatible smart devices.

Apple TV 4K as a smart home hub

Apple TV 4K and remote on a table with home decor

The Apple TV 4K maintains the previous design with a matte top and glossy Apple logo and sides, albeit in a slightly more compact box.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

HomeKit, which is Apple's smart home automation system, requires either a HomePod Mini or an Apple TV 4K as its hub. If you're in the market for a new smart home system or already have smart home devices but want to control them with a single app, then the Apple TV 4K gives you this capability.

Once you set up your new Apple TV 4K, simply follow the steps to add it to the Home app on your iPhone. Then, just add your HomeKit-compatible devices on your iPhone and you'll be able to control them using Siri through your TV. You can ask Siri to run scenes or show you the live feed from a security camera.

Though HomeKit is one of the pickiest smart home systems for security and data privacy reasons, the launch of Matter should broaden the spectrum of compatible devices available in a matter of months. The Apple TV 4K Wi-Fi  + Ethernet model also supports Thread, a wireless communication technology for smart home devices, making it a better choice for smart home users than the Wi-Fi model.

I already have a HomePod Mini at home, so I didn't need to use the Apple TV 4K as a hub. I did enjoy using the HomePod Mini with the Apple TV 4K, combining its streaming video with the rich audio of the speaker, for a more immersive listening experience.

You can also create a stereo pair of two HomePod Minis for a full home theater feel, and I've had a good experience pairing the Apple TV 4K with an Echo Studio. You can even connect the device to another Bluetooth speaker, like a soundbar.

The Siri remote

Siri Remote on a table
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The design of the Siri remote is thicker and larger than the original Siri remote that came with the first-generation Apple TV a few years ago. This is purportedly so it'll be harder to misplace or lose between the couch cushions, but I'm not too sure about that. Apple hasn't met my husband. 

This man is the reason we switched to keyless door locks: He's lost phones, more keys than I can count, and about three pairs of earbuds -- he even accidentally flushed his car keys once.

No more than 12 hours into the Apple TV 4K's temporary housing with us did he go and lose the remote. (As you might expect, we found it later between the couch cushions.)

It turns out you can see the remote when it's connected via Bluetooth to the Apple TV 4K device, but you can't track it. Apple, maker of AirTag, didn't think putting a Find My-compatible tracker in the Siri remote would be a good idea. 

An AirTag is, what, $30? But then this is the same company that sells a 4K-quality streaming device without an HDMI cable.

Which Apple TV 4K should I buy?

Model comparison
Maria Diaz/ZDNET | Apple
ComparisonWi-Fi onlyWi-Fi + Ethernet
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6Wi-Fi 6, Ethernet, Thread
ProcessorA15 Bionic chipA15 Bionic chip

Both the Wi-Fi and the Wi-Fi + Ethernet models are excellent choices, especially if you're deep within the Apple ecosystem. If you're an Apple fan and just need a great streaming device that will deliver fantastic picture quality, then I'd recommend the 64GB Wi-Fi-only model.

If you're a smart home user, and especially if you like HomeKit, then the Apple TV 4K Wi-Fi + Ethernet will give you all the benefits of the basic model, plus a future-proof smart home hub with Thread, Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, and double the storage capacity. 

When making these comparisons, consider that if you choose the Wi-Fi model, you can still use your Apple TV 4K as a HomeKit hub and add a Thread router to your home, like a HomePod Mini, Echo, Nest Hub, or Hub Max, or an Eero mesh system, for example.

Bottom line: Is an Apple TV 4K worth it?

This device costs more than its competitors, and that's mostly because of all the extra features you get with it. You're not just buying a streaming device; you're buying into an ecosystem, one that can make your home smarter, more convenient, and more enjoyable. So I'd say that if you're looking only for a streaming device, then this may not be worth it for you.

The Apple TV 4K is definitely worth it for those who'll enjoy more of those features that go beyond everyday streaming, like smart home control and immersive home theater. And it increases image quality to a noticeable extent, so I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an upgrade over their current streaming device's video.

Are there any alternatives worth considering?

If you're looking for a great-quality 4K streaming device and you're on the fence about whether the Apple TV 4K is the best one for your needs, there are many alternatives worth considering. Here are just a few:

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