Update: December 6, 2017: You can now stream your fix of Amazon originals on Apple TV. Today, Apple announced that Amazon Prime Video has finally arrived on the company's new Apple TV 4K as well as prior versions of Apple TV, just in time for holiday binge watching.
This piece was originally published on September 21, 2017.
I should preface this review by saying that while I have a 4K TV, it is from the lower, less costly end of LG's spectrum. So when I set up the new Apple TV 4K, which Apple announced alongside its new iPhones and latest Apple Watch last week, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would the picture quality really be all that much better than what I was used to when streaming with the previous version of Apple TV?
In many cases, the answer turned out to be a noticeable yes. Streaming Wonder Woman after purchasing it from iTunes was enough to elicit "holy crap, that's amazing" from someone else in the room. However, there were also times when the Apple TV 4K fell short.
Here's what to consider if you're thinking about buying the streaming device.
The main upgrade to Apple's little black box is support for 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR). This means that when you're streaming content available in 4K HDR it will appear crisper, more detailed, and brighter. And it does: I could make out every bead of sweat, forehead wrinkle, and gust of wind in the opening sequences of Wonder Woman. Plus, the crystal clear water surrounding Themyscira looked as vibrant as it did when I saw it in theaters.
However, when you're not streaming 4K HDR movies and shows, you won't notice a difference in picture quality. This matters because while the number of movies and shows available in these formats is increasing, there are still many that aren't offered in 4K. You won't, for example, find Disney movies in 4K HDR on Apple TV 4K. (You also need to own a 4K TV in the first place to be able to stream the content that is available.)
Plus, consider that you'd be paying a lot for the upgraded picture quality. The new Apple TV 4K starts at $179, but comparable products are less expensive: Roku offers its Premiere+, which streams HD, 4K, and HDR content, for $89.99. Google's Chromecast Ultra, supporting 4K and HDR, costs $69.
Find A Movie
There were gasps at last week's Apple event when the company announced that 4K movies will cost the same as HD movies on iTunes. Plus, any HD movies you previously purchased there will be automatically upgraded to 4K HDR. You'll save anywhere from $10 to $15 to buy 4K in iTunes compared to purchasing them from other streaming services.
You can stream most Netflix originals in 4K, and Amazon Prime Video originals will be available for streaming later this year. If you aren't sure which movies you can access in 4K HDR, Siri is helpful: Asking her to show me all the movies in that format brought up a list for me to scroll through. iTunes also has a section showing all the 4K HDR content.
You won't, however, be able to watch YouTube content in 4K HDR.
Stream With Ease
The Apple TV app on your phone and Apple TV 4K is the most useful way to keep track of everything you've been watching. In the "Watch Now" tab, you'll see any shows or movies you're in the middle of watching so you can quickly continue streaming. You're also served suggestions of hit network TV shows, not unlike Netflix's category recommendations.
The Apple TV App will also include live sports and news streaming later this year, though it isn't clear if this content will be free or if you'll need to log in with your subscriber credentials to view it.
You can control Apple TV with the Siri Remote — the main change to the remote is a light up ring around the Menu button, which makes it easier to locate during pitch-black viewing sessions — or, with your phone. Since iOS 11 lets you control what's in your Control Center, you can easily add pair your TV with your phone there. Go to your Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls and tap the green plus to the left of "Apple TV Remote." Now, when you swipe up to your Control Center you'll see the Apple TV icon. Tap that to access the remote.
So, Should You Buy It?
If you have a 4K TV, and you plan on renting or buying most movies in 4K, and want to see Netflix and Amazon originals in all their glory — the box is worth it. If you have an iPhone or iPad, this is even more true, since the setup is so easy. However, if you're not already part of the Apple ecosystem, don't have a 4K TV, don't care to watch movies in 4K, or stream a lot of video on YouTube, you may want to consider a less expensive streaming option.
Either way, it's worth taking a look at the 4K catalog on iTunes first to see if there are movies you'd want to watch in 4K. If not, you might want to wait until more become available.