At the end of 2015, Apple set out to take on an excessive task, reinventing television. To achieve this, the Cupertino company delivered a fourth generation of its Apple TV, powered by an A8 chip, controlled by a minimalist mini touch remote control doped with Siri and full of the potential of an App Store. The most enthusiastic saw in it the promise of hours of games, hundreds of diverse and varied apps carried by tvOS, a new and ambitious operating system. The download kiosk was above all an interesting breach in the very closed world of Apple’s case.
The others swore by Shield TV and were not necessarily wrong, in terms of openness to the world …
Almost two years later, Apple released a new iteration of its multimedia box, which extends this traced path by (finally) crossing the threshold of Ultra HD 4K. It was time, say those who adopted the Chromecast Ultra, when it was released last November. Worse, most 4K TVs now have access to certain services found on Apple TV, making it available unless the service provided is exceptional. Is that the case ?
Power to spare
Let’s start with a quick tour of the owner. If the compact and sober case remains unchanged, a fan appears at its base. Why ? Simply because Apple has taken the trouble to replace the lareview generation Apple A8 with an Apple A10X Fusion.
The A10X did not take its first steps until last June and it is quite possible that the presence of the fan proves that Apple demands more from it than on the iPad Pro.
Since we do not have benchmarking tools available for Apple TV, we are referring to reviews carried out on other platforms using these two chips. It is therefore obvious, on the one hand, that it is necessary to take the results with all the necessary tweezers, two, that they are only there to give an idea of the potential gain.
In all likelihood, with this update, Apple TV becomes one of the most powerful multimedia boxes on the market, alongside Nvidia’s Shield TV. Power to display 4K (video) or even possibly 4K games, we were assured. We want to see. It was up to the developers to decide if they wanted to do it, a representative from the Cupertino company suggested.
But this new Apple TV also adds to its arc support for the HDR 10 standard and its competitor Dolby Vision. A rarity for this kind of case. Do not look for Dolby Atmos sound, we will console ourselves with Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC3) or Plus 7.1 (Enhanced AC3). In fact, the fifth generation Apple TV still only offers an HDMI 2.0a connector and definitely put an end to the optical output of the third generation model.
Advantages and disadvantages of simplicity with forced walking
As is often the case with Apple products, the technical side and the settings that go with it are well hidden. In this case, the Apple TV detects through the HDMI connection what the TV is capable of and takes control to ensure the show. And what a spectacle! 4K is superb and the HDR rendering impeccable on the various sources that we have been able to try. You just have to take a look at Wonder Woman or even Deadpool in 4K HDR on a good TV to no longer want to return to HD. Everything is more nuanced, rich, contrasted, beautiful. Adding HDR would almost be like switching from SD to HD.
Anyway, this automation of settings (which can be changed by going into the menus, but not quickly) is good news for most users, but could be a little regret for those who like to refine their settings . A regret even for those who have not completely switched to 4K.
Indeed, the television, thinking of receiving 4K, will not bother applying certain treatments or upscaling HD streams, for example. However, those applied by Apple TV are uneven and seem to vary a lot depending on the source. If those from the iTunes Store gave us an impression of high quality and cleanliness – Apple masters its compression algorithms (H.264 and H.265, in this case), however, the video quality that very correct was not as beautiful for other sources. This is sometimes the case with Molotov or Netflix – which also offer 4K content.
Hopefully things will get better, with equal treatment for all flows. Apple may offer a quick switch between two display modes, native 4K and optimized HD.
Incidentally, YouTube’s 4K (HDR) videos are encoded using Google’s VP9 codec, and Apple TV does not support it. It’s a shame, because YouTube is a constant and rich source of this kind of content.
The strength of the iTunes offer
People interested in Apple TV are generally not the most relentless Blu-ray collectors and have often passed the dematerialization milestone. On this point, Apple shoots a nice card.
Besides that its “catalog” of films and TV series is quite substantial, the American giant has managed to ensure that the price of films in 4K does not soar too much compared to that practiced for HD films. Best of all, your HD movies purchased from the Store will automatically switch to Ultra HD when the remastered version becomes available. So it’s a great way to build a 4K collection at a low cost.
Good for evil? Indeed each purchase ties you a little more to a closed system. Unlike most multimedia boxes, the Apple TV does not allow you to connect a USB stick, for example. As we said above, the only opening is in the available applications and their interaction with the rest of your network.
On the network side, the Wi-Fi offered is always dual band 802.11ac. If your connection / router is close and / or of good quality, you should be able to stream 4K without slowing down or degrading the displayed image. Obviously, to be completely safe, you can always connect an Ethernet cable to ensure the best possible speeds.
Attention to detail
Let’s spend a few seconds on the remote control of the Apple TV 4K, slightly modified. Those who adopted the previous generation must have found themselves in the dark more than once wondering which way to hold it without being able to distinguish the Menu button from the others. Apple has now surrounded it with a small white circle in slight relief, which allows you to feel it with your fingertip and to know what is being pressed. This also makes it easier to locate the Siri button, which is still just as useful and will notably be used to quickly flush out 4K content.
For the rest, the remote control is still a too minimalist controller to be serious, even if it helps out and is suitable for certain games with reduced playability requirements. For all the more serious titles, which populated the App Store of the Apple TV little by little (and are often free if you have the iOS version), you will need to find a Bluetooth controller to really benefit from it. The configuration is always easy and that’s good, because the Apple TV is only a console for the occasion. We play a few tens of minutes, while everyone is there for the Saturday evening session or while waiting for the aperitif.
Where is the future?
The Apple TV 4K is clearly focused on video, however, it seems to us that it still misses the mark a bit to embody the television of tomorrow. The applications of various departments draw contours that are still too fragmented and informal. The upcoming arrival of an Amazon Prime application could enrich its appeal, considering that we can already access beautiful catalogs with applications like myCANAL or OCS.
However, all of this lacks a framework. The Apple TV app, already available in the United States, and which should arrive in UK within a month or two, could change the game a little by concentrating the streams you can access.
In a way, it is a pity that this application is not available in UK at the same time as this Apple TV 4K. Because, it is on the interface and the ergonomics that the Cupertino company has something to contribute. In this case, the interface of its case goes to 4K, with much more neat and detailed icons, in a word 4K. Those who like it or appreciate the attention to detail will be able to rave about the 4K animated screensavers provided by Apple.
But for the rest, we continue to find that it lacks a sense of uniqueness in use, despite Siri, which remains a light version of the one we know on iOS. This continuity in navigation and use, we hope to find it in the Apple TV app. Maybe wrong.