Apple TV 4K (2022) review: Excellent streaming, but still too expensive

Apple TV 4K (2022) review: Excellent streaming, but still too expensive

apple dropped a surprise last month when it revealed a new Apple TV 4K power unit at a starting price of $129 (£149, AU$219), $50 less than previous version. The new box has a faster A15 Bionic processor under the hood and an updated one Siri remote control which replaces the proprietary Lightning connector for USB-C. The company also killed the Apple TV HD, a long overdue grace for an overpriced box that made little sense.

If these changes sound small, that’s because they are. Using the new Apple TV 4K over the past week, I’ve yet to see any real difference compared to last year’s device. However, those who have held onto an Apple TV HD, or perhaps bought the first Apple TV 4K a few years ago, will notice and appreciate the added speed of a modern chip and may want to upgrade at this point.

As

  • Cheaper starting price than previous Apple TV 4K
  • Fast performance
  • Modern A15 Bionic chip
  • Robust app and format support, integration with other Apple services

Do not like

  • Still much more expensive than rival capable streamers
  • No noticeable apps or experiences to take advantage of new chip
  • TV gaming on Apple Arcade is still missing
  • Ethernet is only on the most expensive model

For everyone else, the new Apple TV 4K is still an excellent streaming device overall, but it’s still too expensive. If you are looking for a solid streamer for Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Hulu and the rest, you’re better off saving money and getting something like that Roku Express 4K Plus or Roku Streaming Stick 4K, Amazon Fire TV 4K Max or Chromecast with Google TV 4K. Everything flows in 4K HDR perfectly fine and costs less than half as much.


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The two types of Apple TV 4K in 2022

Before we go too deep, I think it’s worth explaining the two different types of Apple TV 4K. For $149, you get a similar-looking device that doubles the storage to 128GB and adds an Ethernet port along with support for Thread smart house standard.

Both devices support all the same audio and video formats, run the same apps and have the same A15 Bionic chip. Apple also doesn’t change what’s in any of the packaging. You get the device, a power cable and the remote control. No USB-C cable to charge the remote control and no HDMI cable to connect to the TV.

The model I tested is the 128GB version, but for most people who don’t need wired internet or wire, the cheaper 64GB version should be fine.

  • Apple TV 4K (2022) 64 GB
  • Apple TV 4K (2022) 128GB with Ethernet and Wire

The same black puck, slightly smaller

The new 2022 Apple TV 4K versus an older Apple TV box

The new Apple TV 4K, left, compared to an older model.

David Katzmaier/CNET

The box itself is a little shorter and slimmer than the older Apple TV 4K and HD boxes, but it still looks like a hockey puck. While it won’t stick behind a TV like a power stick, the updated design should be a little less conspicuous on a shelf or entertainment console.

The device was a simple matter to set up with mine iPhone and 2019 TCL 6 Series TVs. It required no fiddling with settings to activate Dolby Vision or to let the remote control the volume and power on my TV. Apple TV 4K supports a wide variety of formats, including Dolby Atmos and HDR10 Plus (the latter is also new for this year’s version, but hardly a necessary upgrade).

Apple TV 4K streaming box

The new Siri Remote for Apple TV 4K, left, has USB-C instead of Lightning.

David Katzmaier/CNET

The Siri Remote looks identical to last year’s model except for the USB-C charging port. Functionally, both are the same, and there still no remote finder or Find my integration to find it when it inevitably gets misplaced in the sofa cushions. Competitors Roku and Amazon Fire TV both offer remote viewer functionality. I guess Apple TV users will have to keep using cases with AirTags.

Read more: It’s 2022 and I’m still losing my Apple TV remote

Software: New chip, similar experience

Apple TV 4K home screen

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

The experience is largely unchanged from previous Apple TV boxes. Apps are arranged in a grid, similar to an iPhone or iPad. Siri runs the latest TVOS 16.1 and now operates in the lower right corner instead of dominating the screen. Apple’s digital assistant works mostly well, but at times it will still give me the wrong result like playing the soundtrack to the Apple TV Plus show Severance instead of the show.

As expected from an Apple device, you have access to a range of Apple services, including photos in iCloudthe ability to watch content with other Apple-centric friends through Share Play and the necessary apps for Fitness Plus for training, Apple Music and Apple Arcade for games if you pay for these services.

When it comes to apps, Apple’s TV platform supports almost every major streaming service you could want. The apps and streaming services I’ve used generally loaded quickly with the new A15 Bionic and worked mostly as expected. Compared to last year’s Apple TV 4K, I noticed that apps opened a few seconds faster, but the increase was nothing significant.

I wish more apps like Hulu, Netflix, and the NBA allowed logging in via a phone or computer as opposed to typing in usernames, but that should be a one-time thing. Apple makes typing easier by asking you to use your iPhone nearby when a keyboard appears on the TV.

The Apple TV 4K can control smart home products that work with Apple’s HomeKit, and turning off the Philips Hue lights worked without issue (I don’t have Thread set up so couldn’t test it). The streaming box is also integrated with HomePod Mini and AirPods, if you want to listen to content on these speakers or headphones. Pairing with the AirPods Pro was a snap, and the box recognized them immediately when I took them out of the case. Audio transfer to the earbuds and later back to my TV (when I put the buds back in their case) was seamless.

Speaking of sound, early on in testing I ran into a very strange bug where the picture appeared but no sound played when the new box was connected to my 2019 TCL TV. I noticed this when playing Deadpool on Disney Plus, Severance on Apple TV Plus, and House of the Dragon on HBO Max, for example. Sometimes backing out and restarting the video will fix the problem, and other times it will fix itself after a few seconds. However, it happened frequently and across multiple apps, which was strange and disconcerting for a streaming player.

I am not sure what caused this problem. Testing the device on other TVs at CNET’s office worked without issue, as did another HDMI input on my TV, so this may have been a temporary quirk of the connection to my TCL TV.

Apple TV 4K is still no gaming powerhouse

One of the most telling ways to test a new processor is with gaming. Apple has had one complicated history of gaming on TVand that saga continues here.

To test the box’s playability, I turned it on 2K’s NBA 2K23 Apple Arcade Edition and Gameloft’s Asphalt 8: Airborne Plus. In terms of graphics, these should be among the most intense games on the Arcade platform, which still seems to be mostly filled with mobile-first games.

NBA 2K23 Apple Arcade Edition on the new Apple TV 4K

NBA 2K23 Apple Arcade Edition on the new Apple TV 4K is an improvement over previous versions, but it’s still not console quality.

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

NBA 2K23 loaded quickly and the game finally has commentary, giving it some console-like quality that was missing from previous editions, but that’s where the similarities end. In my few games, the title looks and feels a bit slower than the console version. Even with an Xbox controller connected to Apple TV 4K, there’s no direct overtaking and animations lack the fluidity and sharpness of the game on Xbox One, let alone Xbox Series S/X.

Face models are nice, but lack detail in the tattoos of players like D’Angelo Russell and Marcus Smart. Standard basketball game staples like instant replays and quick or batch substitutions also remain absent, as do 2K23 game modes like The City.

Gameloft’s Asphalt 8 Plus similarly loaded quickly and played nicely using the Apple TV’s included Siri Remote. But there’s no ray-tracing or other modern graphical enhancements that would make anyone mistake this title for a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S/X game.

All in all, there doesn’t seem to be anything extra that the A15 Bionic brings to play on the Apple TV 4K. If something beyond light TV gaming is your goal along with streaming, you can buy a console instead. Not only can they run higher quality games, but also have many of the streaming apps you’re likely to want.

Who is Apple TV 4K for?

Siri Remote in front of the Apple TV 4K home screen

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

This was the question I asked at the end of my previous Apple TV reviews, and I still don’t have a decent answer more satisfying than “It’s for Apple fans.”

Apple makes a very good box. It’s sleek, fast, and more than capable of handling all the basics and more, as long as you live in Apple’s world of Fitness Plus, Arcade, and iCloud Photo Sharing. The AirPods integration is a particular favorite feature of mine, especially when you want to watch something on a big screen without disturbing others around you.

But even with the new starting price of $129, it’s still one of the most expensive streamers available, and there’s not much that takes advantage of the new A15 Bionic chip. It’s still hard to recommend the Apple TV 4K when Roku, Amazon and Google make excellent devices for a fraction of the price.

With streaming services see price increases and becomes more expensive, your money is better spent on a subscription than on a box. If past history is any indication, I wouldn’t be surprised to see retailers offering discounts on the Apple TV 4K this holiday season. The previous 4K model, which started at $179, was regularly on sale for as low as $99, and the HD model, which sold for $149, dropped as low as $79.

At $129, the new Apple TV 4K is still a tough sell compared to its rivals. But if the price drops by $30 to $50? Well, Apple may have a compelling TV product again.

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