Apple TV 4K (3rd Gen) review –

Apple TV 4K (3rd Gen) review –

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The Apple TV set top box has gone through seven different variants over sixteen years, which is a fairly glacial pace for an Apple product.
To give that some context, when the first-gen model was released, the Apple iPhone only existed in Apple’s R&D labs.
Yes, there really was an Apple before the iPhone. Trust me, I was there.
Over the years Apple’s only really tinkered with the edges of what the Apple TV actually does, shifting gradually from it being an interface to sell iTunes movies to a more generalised streaming box, to the Apple TV models you can buy today, including the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen.
That’s the third generation 4K model in a range of seven models, because most of the time Apple just refers to whichever set top box it’s selling just as the “Apple TV” or “Apple TV 4K” in more recent times.
If you’re heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, and especially in Apple Arcade games and don’t mind also investing in a spare controller, the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen is a great device.
However, a bit like NVIDIA’s Android-powered Shield TV, it’s also a luxury option where you can score significantly cheaper set top devices that’ll cover your streaming basics just as well. That does make it harder to recommend overall.
Image: Alex Kidman/Finder
The Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen has the familiar rounded square shape of recent model Apple TV devices, with a slight reduction in size relative to its 2nd Generation predecessor at 93x93x31mm.
This does mean you can slot it away out of sight a little easier if you’re after an uncluttered look.
That level of clutter may vary depending on which model you buy. Apple has long offered storage variants of the Apple TV, depending on how many apps you wanted to drop on it, but for the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen it’s also made the presence of an Ethernet socket exclusive only to the 128GB $249 model.
Buy the slightly cheaper 64GB $219 variant and you’re in Wi-Fi only territory. I’d never wondered about it previously, but apparently adding an Ethernet port adds exactly 6g of weight, as the Ethernet model I reviewed is 214g to the Wi-Fi model’s 208g. Nobody’s going to fuss about that weight the moment it’s plugged into their TV, however.
Apple’s also lightly tinkered with the Siri Remote you get with the Apple TV. It still features a combination trackpad and click button selector at the top, along with a small array of other control buttons.
Image: Alex Kidman/Finder
I utterly loathe the trackpad, but thankfully you can either dial down its sensitivity or disable it completely and use the remote with proper clicky feedback, like nature intended.
The big change here is that the Siri Remote now recharges over USB C, not lightning. Apple is slowly shifting everything to the USB C standard, as long as you ignore the iPhone family.
While the shift is broadly welcome, if you don’t already have both a charger and a USB C cable, you’ll have to budget for both of them, as neither is in the box.
Image: Alex Kidman/Finder
The big change under the hood of the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen is a shift to Apple’s A15 Bionic processor from the A12 Bionic that runs the 2nd Gen model. That means that the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen is in some ways an Apple iPhone 14 Plus without the screen and phone parts, for about $1300 less, which is kind of wild when you think about it.
Putting the A15 to the test on a smart TV interface is an interesting challenge, because naturally some of its functions such as light power usage are of less interest, and many apps built for Apple’s tvOS won’t really push it all that hard just yet. I tested with the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen plugged into a 75″ Samsung QN900B 8K TV to see how far it could push Apple’s new processor.
The new TV streaming feature on the block is support for HDR10+, which is good news if you’ve got a TV and streaming services that support that standard; right now you’d most likely find that in the combination of a recent model Samsung TV, which was exactly what I was testing on.
The challenge here is finding actual HDR10+ content; Amazon Prime is likely to be your (pun not intended) prime source for content mastered that way outside of the Apple TV app. HDR10+ can add a nice layer of detail to mastered content in certain situations, but I suspect many might struggle to pick it against a prior model in a true blind test. Certainly, if you’ve got the prior gen 4K model, I wouldn’t upgrade just for HDR10+.
Image: Alex Kidman/Finder
Navigating tvOS is a snappy experience, but I wouldn’t have said that the prior generation model was a particular slouch in this regard either. At first, my head wanted to say it felt “faster”, but to put this to a proper test, I hooked up an older 1st Gen Apple TV 4K to the same display to see how it responded under tvOS16. The new Apple TV 4K 3rdGen might be marginally faster, but the margin is such that you’d never notice it in day to day usage.
One of the big reasons to buy a smart TV set top box or dongle, including an Apple TV is that it provides a simple way to add smart TV functionality to any panel. That’s true whether you’ve got a simpler TV, or even just an older smart model that no longer gets app updates.
Apple’s tvOS covers most of the big players, with obvious candidates such as Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, its own Apple TV+ and Paramount+ ready to roll. You also get the free to air catchup services such as ABC iView, SBS on Demand and 9Now to keep you entertained.
What you don’t get – and what some competing devices, most notably the premium priced NVIDIA Shield TV or Google’s much cheaper Chromecast with Google TV do have – is a direct Foxtel app for tvOS.
The smaller Binge and Kayo services are there for drama and sports respectively, but if you’re looking for Foxtel Go, you’d be better served elsewhere. There is a workaround for this, because Foxtel Go on an iPad supports AirPlay to the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen, but that’s a clunky solution that also requires additional hardware.
So far, the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen hadn’t particularly impressed me beyond the slight price drop from the prior generation. Having to spend less is always welcome, and it’s pretty rare for Apple to make that call in any situation.
However, the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen isn’t just about TV streaming any more. Where the A15 Bionic really makes its mark is with Apple Arcade. Apple’s had its subscription gaming service for a while now, and it’s also had select gaming apps for the Apple TV specifically as well. The A15 Bionic loads those games substantially quicker than earlier models, making for a more immediate and fun gaming experience.
There’s a couple of catches here. Many Apple Arcade games are built primarily for iPhones, and stretching them up to a 75″ 8K display is sort of weird. Also, the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen is best paired to a controller for some games, especially those that have fast action. Apple-certified MFI controllers will work, as will PS4 controllers and some Xbox controllers. One trap here is that early Xbox One controllers don’t include Bluetooth, so they won’t pair even if it looks like they should.
You’re not likely to throw away your Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 for the slightly simpler game variants available on Apple Arcade, but it is the best reason to opt for the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen if you’re already deep in that ecosystem.
The more expensive version of the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen also includes support for the Matter smart home standard, acting as an effective router style device for other Matter-compliant devices.
For most users that’s going to be a future proofing kind of effort; I didn’t have any Matter devices to hand to test out this particular feature, but if that kind of thing appeals it’s worth nothing that the Wi-Fi only version also chops it out of the story. Given the small price difference between the two, even if you weren’t going to use Matter, the higher tier model would seem to make more sense overall.
The Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen is very much an Apple product. What I mean by that is that it’s a luxury option with specifically designed features that work the way that Apple has decided that they should, at a premium price.
If you’re an Apple One subscriber with a spare compatible controller and a need to add smarts to your TV that work well with your other Apple devices in a familiar way, it’s a great, but expensive option.
If you’re looking just to add streaming app compatibility to a TV, it’s far less compelling. NVIDIA’s competing Shield TV is just that tad more flexible in terms of streaming apps, and devices like the Google Chromecast with Google TV offer HDR10+ support and wide app availability for less than half the price of the Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen.
The Apple TV 4K 3rd Gen costs $219 for the 64GB Wi-Fi model, or $249 for the 128GB variant.
I tested the Apple TV 3rd Gen 4K for five days overall, testing it with a range of video material for streaming, as well as Apple Arcade titles to push the A15 Bionic a little further.
The Apple TV 3rd Gen 4K was connected to a 75″ Samsung QN900B 8K TV during the test period to assess its HDR10+ compatibility, as well as a selection of smaller panels to see how it ran on 4K and 1080p capable TVs.
As a product reviewer I’ve got more than 20 years of experience covering the consumer tech space including all Apple products released in that timeframe. I’m a multi-time Australian IT Journo award winner, including winner of the 2022 Best Reviewer award.
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more. He has also been the Editor of Gizmodo Australia, PC Mag Australia, and the Tech and Telco section at Finder. Alex has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New England and a serious passion for retro gaming.
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