The 2021 Apple TV 4K doesn’t look dramatically different, but with a new remote, it might feel like a whole new thing. Maybe.
If you didn’t see the remote, you’d never believe you were looking at a new device, and yet that’s exactly what’s happening. Offering an identical design, the new Apple TV 4K might be difficult to see what’s so “new” about it.
And yet if you look a little deeper and glance at the remote, you’ll see some improvements made to make everything just that little bit better.
Is the 2021 Apple TV 4K an improvement for all owners, and is it an upgrade worth taking?
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What is it?
It’s been around four years since Apple updated its Apple TV gadget, a device that brings a touch of iOS to the world of TV, allowing you access to some of the apps and games that make an iPhone or an iPad so good, but found on the big screen.
That’s not just four years of apps and games, but four years of 4K, because that was also the big change in the previous model. Go back a little bit and you could find a Full HD model, and you still can. Priced at $209 — and saving you a grand total of $40 — the Apple TV HD is basically the Full HD equivalent for folks that don’t need 4K.
But 4K is the minimum of where we want to be, and in the 2021 Apple TV 4K, Apple is leaving the resolution right there, but updating the hardware in other ways, though you’d never know it simply by looking at it. Frankly, it’s the spitting image of the last one.
What’s different about the 2021 Apple TV 4K?
The latest Apple TV may look identical to the 2017 Apple TV 4K, but there’s a little bit of difference under the hood, with a newer chip — the A12 — replacing the A10X of the Apple TV 4K, while some of the other hardware is updated.
Alongside an improved processor, Apple includes support for HDMI 2.1 rather than merely HDMI 2.0, which means higher data rates are possible for video, with the WiFi upgraded from 802.11ac WiFi 5 to 802.11ax WiFi 6, improving the data transfer for wireless downloads, as well.
The new Apple TV 4K will also handle faster frame rates for 4K HDR and Dolby Vision, supporting 60 frames per second if you like watching things at those high frame rates. We’re less game for movies and TV shows at these speeds as it tends to look artificial and rather like a soap opera, but sports is a good example of something that may benefit from high-speed frame rates like 60fps on the Apple TV.
Almost everything else is much the same, though.
It comes with the tvOS operating system, comes with an Ethernet port on the back, runs apps and games from the App Store, plays 4K videos as well as the standard def and Full HD variety, and is compatible with Bluetooth keyboards and game pads if you have one.
But the biggest change for the 2021 Apple TV 4K is clearly the remote.
What’s so different about the 2021 Apple TV 4K remote?
Back to silver with an all aluminium body, the new Apple TV remote is nicknamed the “Siri Remote”, and harks back to the good ol’ days of the Apple TV, back when the remote was a hunk of aluminium with black buttons.
Like that old one, the new remote is thick and chunky, making it harder to lose, but also meaty enough that it might feel like a bit of a back step for Apple. It’s not, though, mostly because Apple has moved on from the total touchpad of the predecessor, shifting to a choice of touchpad or click buttons.
We actually liked the old touchpad remote, but the more we talk to other reviewers, the more we find it was seemingly despised. Fortunately, the 2021 Apple TV 4K remote gives you a choice of both, with a touchpad sitting in the centre button surrounded by a directional pad, and set with other important buttons, including buttons for back, home, play and pause, plus volume controls and mute. We’re particularly enamoured by the mute button, because in one press, you can shut things up.
New to the Apple TV remote is a power button up top, which lets you quickly switch off, while the Siri voice activation button is now on the right edge.
And while we liked the old remote, the new one is growing on us. It’s chunky but better mapped, and feels like it’s skewed to give people a better choice on experience.
We do find ourselves using the touchpad still, a move which probably makes us a pariah in the eyes of other reviewers, though we do wish the new model was as thin and light as the old. One step forward, one step back.
Is the new Apple TV 4K a great gadget?
The new remote makes using the new Apple TV a breeze, but it’s more or less the same as it was last time. Nothing about the experience has changed remarkably, and you’ll still be finding apps and games to run, many of which give you access to the media platforms you rely on: Netflix, Stan, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Binge, ABC iView, SBS, and so on and so on. You name it, it’s here, and that’s in line with the old model, too.
The picture quality is as solid as it ever was, too, and the LG OLED we use for testing delivered beautifully sharp images, working with the newly introduced colour balance technology, that also works on the old Apple TV 4K, for what it’s worth.
You’ll still find support for games, handy if you have a game pad and an Apple Arcade subscription, and we’re still fans of some of the things the Apple TV can do. It’s easy for anyone to jump onto the variety of apps and platforms, handy for streaming Apple Music in Spatial Audio as well as all that Tidal Dolby Atmos love, and you can find movies and TV shows across platforms and iTunes, making it somewhat easy to find what you want. You can also map different accounts to the Apple TV, allowing you to jump across different accounts easily.
However this is all normal for the 2021 Apple TV 4K, because it was in the last model, too.
What does the 2021 Apple TV 4K need?
For all the tiny improvements Apple has made, they’re just that — tiny — and so there’s not a lot of reason to make the jump from old to new.
There’s virtually zero reason to upgrade if you have an older model unless you desperately want the new processor with better frame rates, especially given it starts at $249. However, if you want the Siri Remote, that can be found by itself, fetching $79 in Australia.
If you crave the upgraded remote more than anything, you can get that separately, which is a win, even if the total Apple TV upgrade isn’t so much that.
Yet even the remote feels like it’s missing something, with no AirTag functionality built in. Apple has definitely made the remote bigger, which makes it harder to lose, but AirTag support would have been a lovely inclusion, especially given how recent models of the iPhone can turn into a personal locating GPS of sorts for AirTags. It’s definitely a feature that would have been welcome, for sure.
We’d also love to see an HDMI cable included if possible, but that’s an optional extra, even if you kind of need one to make the Apple TV work.
Is the new Apple TV 4K worth your money?
Priced from $249, the Apple TV is about as good a value as it ever was, and still offers great app and game support.
In recent years, other devices have come out that provide great competition, devices such as the $99 Google Chromecast with Google TV, which offers a remote and great operating system with apps, but for a fraction of the price, complete with HDMI bundled in as part of the design.
As such, it can feel like Apple’s new 4K TV isn’t quite as good a value as it once was, even if it’s still very easy to recommend.
Yay or nay?
For us, though, the 2021 Apple TV 4K is still a great choice, partly because of what it delivers: a genuinely great addition to a TV, making any screen into a smart TV you’d want to use.
Between the excellent selection of apps, movies, TV shows, games, music capabilities, and a more balanced approach to remote design, the Apple TV 4K still has it. Recommended.