Get started with TV 4K
The Apple TV finally gets 4K — but there’s a lot more to it than just pretty pictures
Apple’s latest little box can pump out more pixels, and upgrades your movie library for free, but that’s not all. Learn more about it in this issue’s Home Life.
We’ve had a long wait for 4K screen support on the Apple TV. You’ve been able to shoot your own 4K video on an iPhone since the iPhone 6s in 2015, Retina 5K iMacs have enabled you to see all those pixels while editing since 2014, and Netflix launched 4K streaming with “House of Cards” the same year.
But there are good reasons why Apple has held back with 4K support on the Apple TV until now. Apart from anything else, there aren’t that many people who actually own 4K television sets, and it’s only recently that 4K sales have started to represent a sizeable chunk of the TV market. And while online services, such as Netflix, are providing 4K video streaming, there aren’t many people with broadband fast enough to handle it.
People don’t upgrade their televisions every year in the same way that they do with
the new a pp letv opens up all kinds of possibilities for home entertainment
smartphones, so we’re not going to suggest that your life is incomplete without a new 4K TV in your living room. However, you can now buy one for less than the cost of an iPhone, with big-name manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, and Philips offering new sets for well under $500. One of the cheapest 4K TVs we’ve seen is TCL’s 49-inch 49S405 for $360 on Amazon, which also supports HDR – high dynamic range, roughly depicted in Apple’s picture above – for improved contrast and colors, although you can spend almost $15,000 (if you have deep pockets) on the 77-inch LG Signature OLED77G7P, a statement TV if ever there was one.
As far as content goes, you can already enjoy 4K TV shows and movies from Netflix with a subscription to its 4K service, which costs $13.99 per month (compared to $10.99 for an HD subscription). ESPN and Hulu offer 4K streaming, too. Amazon’s Prime Video service is also on its way to Apple TV – although its app had not been released at the time of writing.
Apple is also tempting existing Apple TV owners to buy the new model by offering to upgrade many of their existing HD purchases from the iTunes Store to 4K versions at no extra charge, as soon those versions become available. And, of course, you can at last watch the home videos you’ve recorded in ultra-high resolution on your iPhone in all their glory by streaming them to Apple TV 4K.
The bad news is that you might need to upgrade your broadband in order to stream 4K video from the internet. Netflix recommends a broadband speed of 25Mbps for 4K – compared to 5Mbps for standard HD. You might need a new router too –
most current 802.11ac routers can handle that sort of speed, but might struggle if you have multiple devices connected to the internet at the same time. If you’re streaming 4K video to your Apple TV, Spotify to your iPad, and your kids are playing online using a games console, you might need a newer Wave 2 router that provides features such as MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output), which can help to more efficiently stream data to several devices at once.
There’s plenty of choice here, although this might depend on who supplies your broadband. If you’re an existing Verizon customer you can upgrade to its Fios Quantum Gateway router, which offers Wi-Fi network bandwidth of up to 800Mbps. That hardware is $10 per month on rental, or $150 to buy outright. If you want to replace your current router, recently released Wave 2 models start at around $130.
As well as offering 4K video, the new Apple TV also supports HomeKit, just like the fourth-gen models, enabling it to serve as a hub to automate and remotely control accessories that are compatible with Apple’s smart home technology. This also means you’ll be able to talk to Siri on your Apple TV to control accessories such as Philips Hue lights or the Netatmo Starck thermostat.
Apple TV 4K also supports AirPlay 2, which opens up new possibilities for beaming sound all around your home. This upgraded version of Apple’s media-streaming technology enables Apple TV, along with Macs and iOS devices, to control multiple speakers around your home. The obvious starting point here is Apple’s new HomePod, but other companies will be able to build AirPlay 2 into their own speakers as well, enabling you to create your own customized multiroom audio system using many different types, and brands, of speaker.
That’s something we’ll come back to once the HomePod arrives, but in the meantime the new Apple TV opens up all sorts of possibilities for home entertainment and smart home automation. It’s a real upgrade to Apple’s “hobby” device, and might even convince you to go out and buy a new 4K TV – along with a HomePod, naturally.
Pretty as a picture. 4K support for the Apple TV has been a long time coming, but with the right television you can now be in sofa slouching heaven.
You can’t watch 4K content on an iPhone or iPad, but many of your past HD purchases will be upgraded to 4K, free, for viewing on the new Apple TV.
Want to dim the lights for a movie? Just talk to Apple TV (as long as you’ve got smart lighting set up, of course).
HomeKit support means you can adjust your heating by talking to Siri on the Apple TV.