Apple TV 4K review: Ready for the spotlight in your living room

Apple’s best TV box ever is particularly good for gamers thanks to a powerful chip ripped from its phones.

Apple TV 4K 2022 box on a counter
(Image: © Gerald Lynch / Future)

iMore Verdict

With a more approachable price point, considerably faster internals, and the same reliable integration with Apple’s wider product range, the 2022 Apple TV 4K sees Apple’s streaming box in the best health it's ever been.

Pros

  • +

    Much-improved chipset elevates gaming performance

  • +

    New price point makes it better value than ever before

  • +

    Comprehensively integrated with the Apple ecosystem

Cons

  • -

    128GB model had a significant storage capacity bug at launch

  • -

    Live TV integration has room for improvement

  • -

    Doesn’t take full advantage of HDMI 2.1

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Slow and steady wins the streaming race? That feels like the mantra for Apple TV hardware over the past few years. Steve Jobs’ ‘hobby’ product has always played second fiddle to the likes of the iPhone and iPad, but recent years have seen a steady stream of improvements since the launch of the first Apple TV 4K box in 2017.

Jump forward and the Apple TV 4K 2022 edition is just about the best streaming box out there – and definitely the set-top box of choice for those invested in Apple’s wider product ecosystem and services. Supporting not only Apple’s own TV Plus streaming platform and iTunes purchases, it also provides access to the likes of Netflix, Prime Video, and Apple Music streaming, cloud access to your saved Photos library, Fitness Plus workouts, and Apple Arcade game downloads — provided you have the corresponding subscriptions active. 

The hardware and remote for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

It’s all wrapped up in an easy-to-parse and responsive interface, navigated by a well-constructed remote (with a little help from Siri voice commands thrown in).

Faster, smaller, cheaper, and slicker, it's easy to recommend this year, especially for gamers. But that’s not to say the 2022 Apple TV 4K box is without its faults.

Apple TV 4K (2022): Price and availability

The Apple TV 4K is at a much more welcoming price point for its 2022 reworking. With the 32GB model relegated to the history books, the range now starts with a 64GB / Wi-Fi only model priced at $129 / £149. Considering the outgoing 32GB model started at $179, that’s an absolute steal by comparison.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

A second model is now also available, with 128GB storage, Ethernet port support, and compatibility with the Thread smart home networking standard. It’s only $20 more at $149 (£169 in the UK), and is our model of choice.

While the Apple TV 4K remains on the more expensive side of the streaming competition, it’s a much closer race now, and the added expense buys you a premium experience. Keep in mind that almost all Android alternatives these days are ridden with adverts, while the Apple TV 4K is more or less free of them, other than the odd promo for new Apple TV Plus movie content.

Apple TV 4K (2022): Design and specs

From an exterior perspective, not all that much has changed about this latest Apple TV 4K streamer. It’s still a dinky black cube with a glossy black Apple logo on the top (no longer featuring the words “TV” in its on-device branding, in fact). Comparing Apple TV 2022 vs. 2021, the new model is a bit smaller, measuring 31mm x 93mm x 93mm, compared to the 35mm x 98mm x 98 mm of the 2021 model.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

The "TV" branding is gone, but the newest dinky black cube still looks much the same as last year's. (Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

That size reduction is possible because the Apple TV 4K no longer makes use of an internal fan to keep things cool. And that in turn is possible because of the A15 Bionic chip, housing both CPU and GPU, which not only manages to be more power efficient than its predecessor, but far more powerful in general too.

There's a more responsive interface, speedier boot times from sleep, and faster app loading and multitasking.

This is pretty much the same chipset you’ll find in an iPhone 13, whereas the 2021 model had an A12 Bionic, which was first seen in the 2018 iPhone XS. As a result, you’re looking at about an 80 percent CPU boost, and double the GPU performance. In real terms, that’s a more responsive interface, speedier boot times from sleep, and faster app loading and multitasking. 

As we’ll discuss, it’s best evidenced by the gaming performance of the Apple TV 4K 2022, but it's felt throughout the product as a whole. Generally, everything glides along without a hitch.

All models get Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, and now feature a HDMI 2.1 port too. But only the 128GB model gets an Ethernet slot and Thread networking, the latter of which makes the Apple TV 4K a more robust hub for modern smart home accessories.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

Sadly, you won’t find a HDMI cable in the box – you may have a few lying around, sure, and all we can do to avoid e-waste in landfill is appreciated. But with the Apple TV 4K supporting e-ARC smart audio over HDMI 2.1 for the first time, you might find that the cables you have lying around may no longer be up to par for the latest HDMI standard. Having said that, Apple isn’t taking full advantage of HDMI 2.1 – there’s no 120Hz support anywhere here, for instance. So the need for a top-spec modern cable won’t be missed by many.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

Lastly, the Siri remote gets a small but significant change, too. Still a slim, thin, aluminum candybar with black slightly concave buttons and a touch-sensitive main button, and still packing in a microphone for Siri voice commands (activated by a dedicated button on the edge of the remote) it’s now charged via a USB-C port rather than the outgoing Lightning connection. It’s the shape of things to come for Apple – iPads and MacBooks have already made the jump to USB-C, and it’ll be iPhones next. 

Apple TV 4K (2022): A HDR boost

Streaming quality on Apple TV boxes has always been good, generally handling artifacting and compression well, and retaining detail even when HD streaming rather than 4K streaming was the norm. That’s always been appreciated – especially as streaming is your only option on Apple TV 4K, with downloads not available.

For the true cinephile though, this year’s Apple TV box gets a significant upgrade, especially if you’re the owner of a top-tier Samsung TV. While Dolby Vision and HDR10 return from last year’s model, you’ll also be getting access to HDR10+ support in the 2022 box. 

The color calibration wizard effectively takes the headache out of calibration for the cine-luddite, and can have a drastically positive effect on poorly-calibrated screens.

This is Samsung’s preferred alternative to Dolby Vision (still not supported on Samsung TVs) and offers dynamic HDR metadata for the best possible picture quality from HDR sources on Samsung TVs. For the uninitiated, HDR (high dynamic range) options boost peak brightness in supported content, leading to a richer image — think pinprick stars shimmering brightly on an inky black sky, being replicated believably on screen. HDR10+ (just like Dolby Vision) lets this information be delivered frame-by-frame, giving filmmakers even greater control over the end product of their pictures.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

This is significant not only because Samsung is the leading TV manufacturer in the world, but also because lots of top streaming services favor the format too — it’s Amazon’s go-to HDR option for its original content for instance, and Apple now offers it alongside Dolby Vision for TV Plus shows, too.

Audio formats remain unchanged from last year’s model. You’re getting Dolby Atmos surround sound — which works incredibly well with AirPods Max over-ears, to the point of making a home cinema system all but obsolete for solo listening sessions — Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1. 

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

If you’re not in possession of a full-on home cinema set up though, don’t fret – standard 1080p HD and stereo audio options are covered off here too.

Overall, it’s another wonderfully presented image from the Apple box, and it’s worth highlighting another returning feature from previous boxes that continues to impress — the color accuracy wizard in the settings. The Apple TV 4K will show a scene on screen that you point your iPhone camera at, which will then analyse the incoming image and adjust the color profile output from the Apple TV 4K for a more cinematic presentation. If you’ve got a finely tuned TV image already set up, this may not be a big deal or offer huge changes, but it effectively takes the headache out of calibration for the cine-luddite, and can have a drastically positive effect on poorly-calibrated screens. 

Apple TV 4K (2022): Gaming performance

You’re going to see that the A15 Bionic chip comes into its own for gaming purposes, and really takes advantage of the Apple Arcade subscription’s most demanding offerings.

While the 2021 Apple TV 4K did a reasonable job with gaming, more ambitious titles like LEGO Star Wars: Castaways or Wonderbox tended to feel a bit sluggish on the device. Compared to playing on a modern iPhone, you’d see a frame drop here and there, maybe even the odd hang altogether. But with the Apple TV 4K for 2022, it’s all buttery smooth – you’ll be able to fire up anything from the Apple Arcade library and have no issues running it and, with support for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox wireless controllers, you’ll likely have something lying around the house already that you can play them with, too.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

If anything, there’s a sense that Apple could push the whole thing even further if it wanted to. With a decent chipset now on board, I’d have liked to have seen some higher resolution versions of top Arcade games offered, catering to the new hardware. And while all Arcade games are designed to work across iPhone, Mac, iPad, and Apple TV, there’s still a sense that the mobile versions take precedence. 

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

A bit more optimization for the Apple TV box, and Apple’s got a really great value console gaming proposition on its hands now, especially with the cheaper 64GB model. I’d love to see Apple start courting some big-name exclusives to widen the audience to the great stuff its (super cheap!) Arcade subscription already offers, or (whisper it) cozy up with Microsoft to get some Xbox game streaming on board here.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

That said, if you’re in possession of a gaming PC, you can expand the Apple TV 4K’s gaming repertoire with some local network streaming. Both the Steam Link and Moonlight streaming apps are available on tvOS, letting you beam your locally downloaded PC games to wherever you’ve got the Apple TV box plugged in. For the most stable experience, a wired Ethernet connection to both PC and Apple streamer will work best. 

Apple TV 4K (2022): The state of tvOS in 2022

There haven’t been huge changes to the tvOS interface for 2022, but that’s no bad thing overall — while we always like to see improvements come to a platform, Apple’s TV 4K operating system is excellent, clearly presented, easily navigated, and free of the influx of adverts that Amazon streaming sticks and Google boxes now suffer from. 

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

Presenting apps in a grid, the first row is dedicated to Apple’s core services: TV Plus, Music, Photos, Arcade and Fitness Plus. Rolling over any of these will give you previews of the latest related content, auto-playing above the fold. That flourish aside, it’s a very neat and simple app list — welcome, given the increasing complexity of alternative streaming devices. In terms of app support, all the major video services are present, and tend to offer up the latest builds of their respective platforms too, so there’s a sense that third-party developers are putting the effort in to ensure their content looks good on Apple’s device.

It is the overall interoperability of the Apple TV 4K that makes it so special though. It has an uncanny ability to be able to second guess your intentions — provided you’ve got the rest of the prerequisite Apple gear needed that is. With an iPhone to hand, you can set the device up out of the box to copy over all your settings and Wi-Fi log-in details; if keyboard input is needed within an app your iPhone will get a prompt suggesting you use its superior touchscreen keyboard; open your AirPods case near the Apple TV 4K and an onscreen notification will suggest you may want to pair them with a click of a button for private TV viewing time. And as mentioned earlier, the spatial audio performance with Apple’s high-end headphones is fantastic here. 

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

iTunes purchases are automatically added to an Apple TV library, no matter what device they were bought on, and while Siri isn’t always great at figuring out the infinite questions you may have for it on your iPhone, within the confines of entertainment requests, it knows its Tom Hanks from its Tom Hardy, and will show you relevant content with even relatively esoteric search requests. There’s even multiple profile support built in now, letting you and a family member have distinct system-wide recommendations, as well as smartly catering to individual Apple Arcade game saves.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

That’s the tip of the iceberg — there are dozens of similarly smart touches littered throughout, making your Apple devices feel part of one consistent experience.

Apple TV 4K has an uncanny ability to second guess your intentions — provided you’ve got the rest of the prerequisite Apple gear needed, that is.

Now, as a happy owner of an Nvidia Shield TV Pro streaming box too, there are things missing that would be great to see eventually make it to Apple TV. Being able to plug a USB stick in and watch downloaded videos that way would be great — I can see that Apple wants us to keep paying for iTunes purchases and iCloud storage, but that’s not where all my historical movie purchases have been made, nor where I store all of my home video family clips. 

Likewise, there are some gaps in its app library that I miss from the Shield, especially in the gaming space. But perhaps most importantly, Apple is still lagging behind when it comes to live TV coverage — Siri’s not great at navigating live listings within third-party apps (a particular gripe of my US colleagues, if less pronounced in the UK), with the interface generally not great at surfacing what’s happening right now from live platforms. That may be by design, in service of the clean interface I praised above, but is a weakness to consider if you’re looking for primarily a live TV streamer.

UPDATED: A problem to note about the Apple TV 4K 128GB model…

Update: Since the initial time of writing of this review, Apple has released tvOS 16.1.1, an update exclusive to the 2022 third-generation Apple TV models, designed to address the storage capacity bug detailed below. Those experiencing the bug are encouraged to update their Apple TV box to OS version 16.1.1. Details of the initial bug, which should now be fixed, continue in this section below.

The Apple TV ‘just works’... except when it doesn’t. We encountered a major bug in our 128GB review unit.

If you pick up the 128GB Apple TV 4K, you stand a chance of running into a storage capacity issue that will see the box incorrectly believe it's full when you’ve downloaded enough apps to roughly hit the 64GB storage mark. You’ll be presented with an error message saying you’ll need to delete some software before proceeding, and will be unable to access that big chunk of remaining storage space. It’s a real bummer.

Some users have reported a successful workaround by resetting the box to factory settings, and then queueing up enough downloads to brute-force past that illusory storage limit. But it’s not good enough, and really takes the sheen off buying the 128GB version as it stands.

Apple TV 4K (2022): Competition

Apple’s in a bit of a league of its own with the Apple TV 4K range, and as ever that’s because of how well it integrates with the rest of the company’s product lineup. You’re not going to find another streaming set-top box that so quickly recognizes your AirPods, or automatically nudges your iPhone into acting as a virtual keyboard device, or to know your Family Sharing settings and iCloud Photo albums of choice. Plus, it’s fast, generally feature-rich, and now reasonably affordable.

If you’re looking for a cheap and simple way to get some additional smarts onto your TV, an Amazon Fire TV stick or Roku streaming stick will get you up and running for a couple of dozen bucks with all the major streaming services – costing even less in something like the Black Friday sales. A Google Chromecast is a good option if you’re looking to watch more live TV through an app like YouTube TV, too.

But if you’re after a similarly premium option with great media, format, and app support, the Nvidia Shield Pro is still the king of the streamers. Its Android platform offers more customizability, it has expandable storage, an even wider array of gaming options (including PC game streaming through Nvidia GeForce Now) and apps, and ships with a top-notch gamepad, too.

The hardware and interface for Apple TV 4K in 2022.

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

Apple TV 4K (2022): Should you buy it?

Buy the Apple TV 4K (2022) if…

You want a streamlined and powerful portal to your favorite streaming services
The Apple TV 4K 2022 cuts the chaff that gets between you and your next binge session, with a refreshingly reserved approach to onscreen advertising.

You’re invested in Apple’s other products and services
The Apple TV 4K 2022 is perhaps the best example of how Apple’s family of devices and services interact with each other, making for an intuitive and centralised hub for all that Apple’s entertainment-focussed products offer.

You want to take Apple Arcade gaming to a big screen
The 2022 Apple TV 4K is a genuinely capable gaming device, to the point where Apple probably has some headroom to spare if it wanted to take things to the next level and really start nipping at the heels of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

Don't buy the Apple TV 4K (2022) if…

You primarily watch live TV
You can find live TV on Apple TV, but it’s not the box’s strongest suit, especially when it comes to curation and presentation for live events.

You’re not invested in Apple’s ecosystem
While this isn’t a deal breaker, the real magic of Apple TV is seeing all Apple’s other services and devices work in harmony together in your living room. If you don’t have any other Apple gear, you might be just as well served by a cheaper alternative.

Apple TV 4K (2022): Verdict

With the 2022 edition of the Apple TV 4K, it feels as if Apple has finally taken its foot off the brakes and made a real play for the living room.

From hobbyist pursuit of Jobs to something more substantial, it feels like all the pieces are in place now. Apple TV Plus goes from strength to strength, Apple Arcade has an excellent growing catalog (and now a set-top box chip to do it justice) and AirPods can rival full-on cinema systems – at least for personal entertainment. The Apple TV 4K 2022 is the glue joining it all together now, with enough power to make each element sing. 

With Apple now actively pursuing content deals in TV, movies, sports, and gaming, the Apple TV 4K now plays a vital role in Apple’s arsenal. Apple’s carved out a place in your pocket and your office — it’s finally ready for your living room too. Now here’s hoping that tvOS gets the same care and attention that iOS and macOS gets — it’s now living on hardware that’s ready for the spotlight.