After years of patiently waiting for an update, Apple finally launched a new Apple TV 4K in April 2021. The refreshed streaming box debuted with a faster processor and new remote, but is it worth the steep $179 price? Depending on who’s asking, that answer varies substantially.
The Apple TV’s story began all the way back in January 2007 — being announced the same day as the original iPhone. It looked much different from the Apple TV that’s available today, featuring a much larger design, a different interface, and even requiring a connected Mac with iTunes to function at all. Over the next few years, Apple worked to change the direction of Apple TV to become more of a proper streaming device. It was updated to work without a Mac, an iTunes app was added, and more streaming services came to it. In 2017, Apple released its most capable model yet with the Apple TV 4K. With support for 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos, the Apple TV 4K was seen as Apple’s biggest push yet into the living room.
Following that, the Apple TV just kind of existed without much attention from Apple. New updates to its tvOS operating system kept coming out every year, but as for the hardware itself, the 2017 model remained as Apple’s flagship offering. This happened as competition from Roku, Amazon, and Google continued to heat up, making the Apple TV 4K feel outdated and overpriced. As such, when Apple announced the Apple TV 4K (2021) — featuring a nearly identical feature-set and price tag — there was some apprehension as to whether or not it was really worth $179. After using the streaming gadget for the past couple of months, here’s a closer look at why it absolutely is.
Why You Should Buy Apple TV 4K (2021)
Coming from a television with Android TV built-in, the first thing that immediately stood out about the Apple TV 4K is the level of polish throughout the entire experience. The tvOS interface is easy to navigate, a lot of streaming apps tend to work a bit better than other smart TV platforms, and there are even little details like animations on app icons when swiping through them. None of it’s groundbreaking on its own, but it does all result in the Apple TV 4K being a step above the rest of its streaming competition.
This is also felt with the Apple TV 4K’s performance. Apple equipped the 2021 model with an A12 Bionic processor, which is used in devices like the iPhone XS and 2020 iPad. Apps open quickly, 4K video streams without a hitch, and Siri voice searches are performed instantaneously. When that sheer amount of horsepower is combined with the fluid animations of tvOS, the Apple TV 4K feels like a souped-up race car next to the clunky performance often found with the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Chromecast with Google TV. That’s to be expected given how much more expensive the Apple TV 4K is compared to those other devices, but for someone willing to pay that price of admission, the difference in day-to-day use really is noticeable.
High-quality apps and smooth performance are both great, but if there’s one main reason to get the Apple TV 4K, it’s because of how deeply integrated the streaming box is with the rest of the Apple ecosystem. For someone that has an iPhone, listens to Apple Music, uses Apple Photos, etc., this alone makes the Apple TV better than every other streamer on the market. When it comes to Apple services, just about every single one can be accessed on the device. There are apps for Apple Music, Apple Photos, Apple Arcade, Apple Podcasts, Apple Fitness+, and iTunes. These don’t exist on any other streaming device, and for someone that regularly uses them, that brings a lot of value to the Apple TV 4K. As for the integration with other Apple devices, it’s as good as it gets. There’s a virtual remote built right into iOS, and whenever something is playing on the Apple TV, it’ll show up in the AirPlay section in the Control Center. As if that wasn’t enough, the Apple TV 4K also acts as a hub for HomeKit devices — enabling remote control when away from home and the ability to create automations. Things like the new remote, 4K streaming, and app availability are also great, but they simply compliment the Apple TV rather than acting as key reasons why someone should purchase it.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy Apple TV 4K (2021)
That’s ultimately the biggest downfall of the Apple TV 4K (2021). If someone isn’t heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, it’s hard to justify the $179 price tag. If all someone wants is a 4K streaming device, it makes a lot more sense to get a Fire TV Stick 4K, Chromecast with Google TV, or Roku Streaming Stick+ — all of which are available for $49 MSRP. All three of those also deliver 4K, HDR, and access to all major streaming apps. From that perspective, the Apple TV 4K (2021) doesn’t make much sense.
The Apple TV 4K could also be a tricky sell even for some Apple users. The Roku Streaming Stick+ has a free iPhone app for a virtual remote, and it even supports AirPlay. None of the Apple services mentioned above are available, and the interface isn’t as polished. But when there’s a difference of $130 between the two, some Apple fans might be willing to put up with those compromises for such a drastic difference in cost. The Apple TV 4K (2021) is a virtually perfect streaming box on its own, but being priced as high as it is adds a huge asterisk to what would otherwise be an easy recommendation.
Apple TV 4K (2021) Conclusion
Here’s the thing, though. For the person reading this that is entrenched in all things Apple, $179 is money well spent for everything the Apple TV 4K (2021) brings to the table. It’s no secret that the core streaming experience is great, but when all of those little integrations come together throughout daily use, the magic of the device becomes easy to see. Whether it be following a Fitness+ workout that’s automatically synced to the Apple Watch, looking at pictures saved on Apple Photos, or catching up on a new album in Apple Music, they’re all things unique to the Apple TV.
Could Apple have lowered the price a bit considering how minor of an upgrade the 2021 model is from the 2017 one? Sure. Does Apple need a cheaper version to better compete with Amazon and Roku? Absolutely. It’s understandable why the Apple TV 4K is so intimidating to shoppers that don’t fully understand it. But for those who take the plunge, the experience on offer is unlike anything else out there.