Apple TV 4K Review: Upgrade Your Movie Library

As I started testing the new Apple TV 4K, I noticed that many of the movies I had purchased were now available in 4K HDR. These titles, which I previously had bought in high definition, had automatically been upgraded to 4K for free. So, pleased to now have better-quality copies of my purchased movie library, I decided that the Apple TV 4K might become my new favorite streamer. In the past, I’ve recommended Apple TVs for those who have the whole Apple ecosystem — an iPhone, iPad, Mac computer. Now that Apple TV 4K has improved quality and content along with some great new live TV features, you don’t have to be an Apple lover to appreciate all it has to offer.

The Apple TV 4K is still designed to work best with other Apple devices. Setup is immediate and easy if you have an iPhone. Holding an iPhone near the Apple TV pairs the phone with the streamer to sync with an iTunes Apple account email, and to automatically set up many preferences that you may have used on previous Apple TVs. As a previous Apple TV owner, I could transfer my home screen preferences using the “One Home Screen” feature that syncs the main menu preferences so that all of my Apple TVs’ home screens would look the same. Setup was also streamlined as I agreed to use my TV provider (Dish) to automatically login and authenticate many TV service apps.

Some apps still required activation by going online and typing in a code; for other apps, I typed in my credentials on the Apple TV. This is less of a hassle than in the past. The Apple TV remembered each email and username that I’ve used to log in to other apps, so I could choose from a list rather than type it in each time. Also, the onscreen keyboard now accepts dictation. Instead of hunting and pecking onscreen, I could simply speak the letters, numbers, and symbols to spell out my password.

Voice is better integrated in the Apple TV 4K than it had been in the past. Along with dictation, and searching for titles, Siri has been given a few more capabilities. Siri can now be used with smart home devices that are set up with the Apple HomeKit. I was able to turn on/off my lights without interrupting video playback. Siri voice title search has improved, too. The first search result is not always iTunes. Instead, I found that it might show a title available on Hulu or Amazon Prime Video with iTunes, for example, when I clicked on “Open In.” Search is now available within many apps. When in the Plex, Starz, Showtime, CBS, NBC, Hulu, Netflix, or other apps, search finds the title within that app rather than leaving the app to show a global search result.

While Amazon Prime Videos and Vudu are finally available on Apple TV, you can’t rent or purchase titles from these apps like you can on any other device. The only way to directly rent or buy a movie on the Apple TV is through iTunes.

Still, many movies that you purchased from Amazon, Vudu, and Google Play can be added to iTunes by signing up for the free Movies Anywhere service. Whether a movie was directly purchased from these apps or was a digital copy redeemed on Vudu, the movies appear alongside titles purchased directly from iTunes. As an added bonus, all purchased titles are upgraded to 4K HDR when available in iTunes. Additional features like deleted scenes or a voice over director’s narration track are available as on a Blu-ray Disc. These additional features were added to all titles listed in iTunes. Although I originally redeemed high-definition digital copies of Jason Bourne, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Lego Movie and Ghostbusters Answer the Call using the Vudu app, all are now available to play in iTunes in 4K HDR with special features.

Conversely, not all of the 4K titles that I previously purchased outside of iTunes were available. Although I bought Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 4K on Vudu, Apple TV does not stream 4K from Vudu so the movie was only available to stream in high def. Other than iTunes, only Amazon Prime Videos and Netflix UHD movies and TV shows can stream in 4K on the Apple TV. YouTube 4K videos use the VP9 codec which is not compatible with the Apple TV, so YouTube content is reduced to high definition.

Apple TV is not only about better picture quality for movies. Apple’s live TV offering has been expanded beyond apps like Sling TV, or streaming live in the CBS and NBC sports apps. Live sports are now integrated into the TV app. ESPN and a number of other sports channels offer dozens of games. When choosing the sports channel you want to watch, up-to-the-minute scores are displayed for each channel. Watch a single channel or choose up to four live sports channels to watch at the same time in multi-screen view.

If you watch episodic TV, the “Up Next” display makes it easy to access the next episode in a series. A carousel of the shows you watch is shown at the top of the home screen. If you are bingeing on-demand TV shows, the next episode is displayed so you can pick up where you left off. If it’s a show that is broadcast weekly, the new episode will appear. I came to really appreciate this feature as the second episode of Counterpart appeared once it was available. Although Netflix is not included in Up Next, I could choose to display episodes I’m watching in most other apps from NBC and CBS to Hulu, Starz, Showtime, HBO Go, Amazon, and many more. Once I clicked on an episode displayed in Up Next, it started playing immediately without having to navigate to the app.

Navigating the menus of the Apple TV can be frustrating using the remote. The only design change on the new remote is the addition of a raised circle around the menu button. The white circle makes it easier to quickly recognize which side is the top/touchpad area of the remote. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t make the touchpad better with the new model. Used to navigate the menus, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow I move my finger on the touchpad, it is either unresponsive or it speeds by the app or movie title I want to select. Luckily, the improved Siri voice commands and the iPhone Apple TV remote app are easy to use, so I didn’t have to rely solely on the remote.

Many of the new features — Up Next, Live TV and Siri’s new capabilities — are available on the previous Apple TV as they are upgrades to the Apple TV OS. Nonetheless, these are welcome features. The Apple TV 4K is still a better match for a 4K HDR TV than the previous model. When I consider the money I’ve saved by not having to buy 4K versions of movies in my library, the $179 price tag of the 32-GB Apple 4K ($199 for 64-GB model) is easier to accept.

Cherylmorse's picture

Ohh that's really nice.