Apple TV 4K (2022) Review: Excellent Streaming But Still Too Expensive
A new, lower $129 price tag is still higher than what Apple's streaming device rivals charge. So the question remains: Who is this for?
Eli BlumenthalSenior Editor
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
Expertise5G, mobile networks, wireless carriers, phones, tablets, streaming devices, streaming platforms, mobile and console gaming,
Apple dropped a surprise last month when it revealed a new Apple TV 4K streaming device at a starting price of $129 (£149, AU$219), $50 less than its previous version. The new box has a faster A15 Bionic processor under the hood and an updated Siri Remote that swaps out the proprietary Lightning connector for USB-C. The company also killed off the Apple TV HD, a long-overdue mercy for an overpriced box that made little sense.
If those changes sound minor, that's because they are. In using the new Apple TV 4K over the past week, I have yet to see any real difference compared to last year's device. However, those who have held onto an Apple TV HD, or perhaps purchased the first Apple TV 4K a few years ago, will notice and appreciate the extra speed of a modern chip and might want to upgrade at this point.
Watch this: Apple TV 4K (2022) Review: An Excellent Streamer That's Still Too Expensive
The two types of Apple TV 4Ks in 2022
Before we go too deep, I think it's worth explaining the two different types of Apple TV 4Ks. For $149 you get a similar-looking device that doubles the storage to 128GB and adds an Ethernet port along with support for the Thread smart home standard.
Both devices support all the same audio and video formats, run the same apps and feature the same A15 Bionic chip. Apple also doesn't change what's in either packaging. You get the device, a power cable and the remote. No USB-C cable to charge the remote and no HDMI cable to plug into your TV.
The model I tested is the 128GB version, but for most people that don't need wired internet or Thread, the cheaper 64GB version should be fine.
The box itself is a bit shorter and leaner than the older Apple TV 4K and HD boxes, but it still looks like a hockey puck. While it doesn't tuck in behind a TV like a streaming stick, the updated design should be a bit less conspicuous on a shelf or entertainment console.
The device was a cinch to set up with my iPhone and 2019 TCL 6-Series TV. It didn't require fiddling with settings to enable Dolby Vision or to allow the remote to control the volume and power on my TV. The Apple TV 4K supports a wide variety of formats, including Dolby Atmos and HDR10 Plus (the latter is also new for this year's version, but hardly a necessary upgrade).
The Siri Remote looks identical to last year's model aside from that USB-C charging port. Functionally both are the same, and there still is no remote finder or Find My integration to locate it when it inevitably gets misplaced in the couch cushions. Competitors Roku and Amazon Fire TV both offer remote finder features. I guess Apple TV users will have to keep using cases with AirTags.
The experience is largely unchanged from prior Apple TV boxes. Apps are arranged in a grid, similar to an iPhone or iPad. Running the latest TVOS 16.1, Siri now operates in the lower-right corner instead of dominating the display. Apple's digital assistant works largely fine, though at times it would still give me the wrong result like playing the soundtrack for the Apple TV Plus show Severance instead of the show.
As expected from an Apple device, you have access to a host of Apple services including photos in iCloud, the ability to watch content with other Apple-centric friends through Share Play and the requisite apps for Fitness Plus for workouts, Apple Music and Apple Arcade for gaming if you pay for those services.
As for apps, Apple's TV platform supports nearly all the major streaming services you could want. The apps and streaming services I've used all generally loaded quickly with the new A15 Bionic and worked largely as expected. Relative to last year's Apple TV 4K, I noticed apps opening a few seconds faster, but the increase was nothing substantial.
I do wish more apps like Hulu, Netflix and the NBA allowed for logging in via a phone or computer as opposed to typing in usernames, but that should be a one-time thing. Apple does make it easier to enter text by prompting you to use your likely nearby iPhone whenever a keyboard pops up on your TV.
The Apple TV 4K can control smart home products that work with Apple's HomeKit, and turning off Philips Hue lights worked without issue (I don't have Thread set up and therefore couldn't test that). The streaming box also integrates with HomePod Mini and AirPods, should you want to listen to content on those speakers or headphones. Pairing with AirPods Pro was a snap, and the box recognized them immediately once I took them out of their case. Audio transfer to the earbuds and later back to my TV (when I put the buds back in their case) was seamless.
Speaking of audio, early on in my testing I ran into a really weird bug where the picture appeared but no audio played when the new box was connected to my 2019 TCL TV. I noticed this when playing Deadpool on Disney Plus, Severance on Apple TV Plus and House of the Dragon on HBO Max, for example. Sometimes simply backing out and restarting the video would fix the issue, and other times it would resolve itself after a few seconds. It occurred frequently and across multiple apps, however, which was odd and disconcerting for a streaming player.
I'm not sure what caused this issue. Testing the device on other televisions in CNET's office worked without issue, as did a different HDMI input on my television, so this may have been a temporary quirk of the connection to my TCL TV.
To test the box's gaming prowess, I fired up 2K's NBA 2K23 Apple Arcade Edition and Gameloft's Asphalt 8: Airborne Plus. In terms of graphics, these should be among the most intense games on the Arcade platform, which still seems to be mostly filled with mobile-first games.
NBA 2K23 loaded quickly, and the game finally has commentary, bringing some console-like quality that was lacking in earlier editions, but that's where the similarity ends. In my few games, the title looks and feels a bit slower than the console version. Even with an Xbox controller paired to the Apple TV 4K, there is no direct passing and animations lack the fluidity and sharpness of the game on Xbox One, let alone Xbox Series S/X.
Face models are fine, but lack detail in players' tattoos like D'Angelo Russell and Marcus Smart. Standard basketball game staples like instant replays and quick or batch substitutions also remain absent, as do 2K23 game modes like The City.
Gameloft's Asphalt 8 Plus similarly loaded quickly and played fine using the Apple TV's included Siri Remote. But there isn't ray-tracing or other modern graphical improvements that would make anyone confuse this title for a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S/X game.
All told, there doesn't appear to be anything extra that the A15 Bionic brings to gaming on Apple TV 4K. If anything beyond light TV gaming is your goal alongside streaming, get a console instead. They can not only run higher-quality games but also have many of the streaming apps you'd likely want.
Who is the Apple TV 4K for?
This was the question I asked at the end of my prior Apple TV reviews, and I still don't have a decent answer any more satisfying than "It's for Apple fans."
Apple makes a really good box. It's sleek, fast and more than capable of handling all the basics and even a bit more, so long as you live in Apple's world of Fitness Plus, Arcade and iCloud Photo Sharing. The AirPods integration is a particular favorite feature of mine, especially when you want to watch something on a big screen without disturbing others around you.
But even with the new $129 starting price, it remains one of the most expensive streamers available, and there's not much that takes advantage of the new A15 Bionic chip. It is still hard to recommend the Apple TV 4K when Roku, Amazon and Google make excellent devices for a fraction of the price.
With streaming services seeing price hikes and getting more expensive, your money is better spent on a subscription than on a box. If past history is any indication, I wouldn't be surprised to see retailers offer discounts on the Apple TV 4K this holiday season. The previous 4K model, which started at $179, was regularly on sale for as low as $99 and the HD model, which retailed at $149, fell as far as $79.
For $129, the new Apple TV 4K remains a hard sell compared to its rivals. But if its price falls by $30 to $50? Well, Apple could have a compelling TV product once again.