The new Apple TV 4K has just been announced and, if we're honest, it's not quite as exciting as some of the rumours suggested it might be.
That's not to say there aren't still reasons to look forward to the new Apple TV. It runs on the A12 Bionic chip for starters, which allows for 60fps content with baked-in HDR and Dolby Vision. It comes with a new Siri Remote, too. Most intriguing of all, it will – with the help of an iPhone – calibrate its video output to the specific colour balance of your TV.
Here's everything you need to know.
New Apple TV 4K release date
As you can see from the image above, the new Apple TV 4K will be available to order from 30th April. It will actually arrive in shops (and at your house, if you pre-order) "in the second-half of May".
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New Apple TV 4K price
The new Apple TV 4K will cost £179 ($179, AU$249) with 32GB of built-in storage, and £199 ($199, AU$279) for the 64GB model. That's exactly the same pricing as the existing Apple TV 4K.
It's good news that Apple hasn't increased the price, but there's no denying that the Apple TV 4K looks very expensive next to most video streamers: you can pick up the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the Roku Streaming Stick+ for around £50 each (that's around $50, AU$80), and the Google Chromecast with TV can be yours for £69 ($50, AU$99).
We half expected Apple to launch a cheaper, stick-shaped streamer to rival these models, but evidently the company has decided to maintain its more premium approach.
If you do want a cheaper Apple TV, the existing Apple TV 4th Generation has been renamed 'Apple TV HD' and will be bundled with the new Siri remote from 30th April. It will be available as a 32GB model only at a price of £139 ($139, AU$209).
New Apple TV 4K specs
In the run-up to the announcement of the new Apple TV 4K there were, as usual, lots of competing rumours of what its specs might be. Tech tipster Ice Universe (@UniverseIce) turned out to be wrong when he suggested it would utilise and A14X Bionic chipset. Instead, the 2021 Apple TV 4K runs on the 2019 A12 Bionic chip.
Perhaps predictably, that means predictions of a heavy gaming focus were also wide of the mark. In fact, gaming didn't get more than a passing mention in the entire presentation.
4K@120Hz is off the table, too, despite the presence of an HDMI 2.1 port, with Apple instead focusing on the new Apple TV 4K's ability to play HDR content in 4K@60Hz. The company admits that such content is currently limited, but says it's in discussions with major content providers regarding streaming High Frame Rate HDR content in the future. In the meantime, if you've got an iPhone 12 Pro you'll be able to use AirPlay to stream videos to the new Apple TV 4K in 60fps with Dolby Vision.
On the subject of HDR formats, Apple has confirmed that Dolby Vision, HLG and standard HDR10 are supported, but there's no mention of HDR10+ being on board. There's no mention of AV1 in the spec list either, but that's currently only really relevant to 8K content, which the Apple TV 4K doesn't support anyway.
On the sound front, we're surprised that there's no mention of the new Apple TV 4K supporting spatial audio. We were sure that this proprietary Apple tech, which really effectively simulates Dolby 5.1, 7.1 and even Atmos soundtracks through AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones, would be making its way from iPhones and iPads to the Apple TV. Alas, that appears not to be the case.
If you're feeling a little deflated overall by the seemingly fairly modest specs of the new Apple TV 4K, do bear in mind that there could well be a more premium model in the pipeline for launch later in the year, potentially with more power, a greater focus on gaming, 8K support, spatial audio, an integrated HomePod (that's Apple's smart speaker which it retired last month, leaving only the HomePod Mini in Apple's sonic arsenal) and perhaps even a built-in camera for TV-based video calls. Or perhaps this potential Apple TV Pro is set to remain a pipe dream.
New Apple TV 4K Colour Balance TV calibration
Without a doubt, the most intriguing feature of the new Apple TV 4K is something called Colour Balance, which allows the video output from the streamer to be tailored to you TV's specific colour and contrast capabilities.
Essentially, the Apple TV outputs a test image to your TV that you then measure using an iPhone. The Apple TV then compares the measured colour output to 'industry-standard specifications' and adjusts its output to correct any inaccuracies and improve contrast.
The promise is a more accurate and faithful reproduction of TV shows and movies without the need to actually calibrate the TV itself. Whether it works with all types of content (Dolby Vision, HDR and SDR) we don't yet know, but it's an undeniably unique feature that we can't wait to put to the test.
We'll actually be able to do that before the new Apple TV 4K even launches, because the new Colour Balance feature is also coming to the existing Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD. Whichever Apple TV you have will have to be updated to tvOS 14.5 and you'll also need an iPhone that supports Face ID and has been updated to iOS 14.5. Both software updates are scheduled to launch next week (that's the week commencing 26th April).
New Apple TV 4K Siri remote
The existing Apple TV's Siri-enabled remote control is a mixed bag. In our review, we called it "really rather clever" but noted that the touch controls could be "a bit skittish". No surprise, then, that Apple is launching a brand new Siri remote alongside the new Apple TV 4K.
This new remote is larger than the one it replaces and is made from a single piece of aluminium. The large touchpad of the old model has been replaced by a much smaller, circular one with a ring around it that's both clickable in four directions and can be circled with a thumb in order to quickly scrub forwards or backwards through a video.
On top of the volume, play/pause and home buttons of before, there's also now a dedicated mute button and a power button that can switch your TV on or off. The Siri button, meanwhile, has been moved from the face to the right-hand edge, which is where it's also found on iPhones.
New Apple TV 4K initial verdict
It's hard to not be a little disappointed by the announcement of the new Apple TV 4K. We're not naive enough to get too carried away by the rumours that precede the launch of any new Apple device, but a more powerful, gaming-focused Apple TV with at least spatial audio support, if not an integrated speaker, seemed perfectly feasible to us.
Apple has actually announced a device with far more modest ambitions: this is simply the Apple TV 4K that we already know and love (it is, without a doubt, the best video streamer you can currently buy) with some extra power and what appears to be a much better remote control.
The new Colour Balance feature is the biggest surprise here and the most exciting element to us AV nerds, but you don't actually need to buy the new Apple TV 4K in order to use it. The new Siri remote can be bought separately, too.
The obvious question, therefore, is whether it's going to be worth upgrading to the new Apple TV 4K if you already own the existing model. On paper it looks a fairly tough sell, but we don't rate products based on their spec sheets: the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, and we're certainly looking forward to taking a bite.
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