The Apple TV 4K 2021 is Cupertino’s second stab at a 4K streaming box, following up on a very solid 2017 effort. It packs in a more powerful processor than the previous version of the hardware, and it features a redesigned Siri remote. The overall design of the box itself remains unchanged, as does the tvOS experience, and it’s still the most expensive option in a sea of budget-priced competitors. It also offers the best integration with the overall Apple ecosystem, including HomeKit support and the option to use your iPhone or iPad to navigate and type, marking it out as solidly aimed at Apple-heavy households.
The two big changes from the first generation of the hardware are an improved processor and a redesigned remote. The overall experience isn’t that different, but the new processor is undeniably more powerful, and the remote is far more usable.
The Apple TV 4K 2021 comes equipped with Apple’s powerful A12 Bionic processor, which is a definite improvement over the A10X processor that powered the first generation of the hardware. The A12 has a slightly higher clock speed, more efficient power handling, and typically scores about 10 to 25 percent higher in benchmarks.
The new Siri remote has a big impact on the day-to-day experience of using the Apple TV 4K. It’s easier to use, more intuitive, and more ergonomic, with a longer, thinner body, new button arrangement, and a touch-enabled clickpad instead of a featureless touchpad. The remote is also compatible with the first generation Apple TV 4K, and it’s available as a separate purchase.
The touchpad from the first-generation Siri remote is gone, with a comfortable circle button and clickpad in its place. The circle button makes for easy digital menu navigation, while the touch-enabled clickpad lets you use limited touch inputs if you like. If you don’t, you can turn off the touch functionality and just use it as a clicky button for navigating menus.
The Siri button on the first Siri remote was also a common source of complaints, as it was far too easy to tap it when reaching for other buttons accidentally. The redesigned remote places this important button on the side of the controller. It’s still within easy reach, but you won’t push it accidentally.
The Apple TV 4K 2021 is the best streaming box money can buy, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that alternatives like Fire Stick and Roku fit the same niche and cost a whole lot less. You get more out of it if you’re an Apple TV subscriber, HomeKit user, iPhone owner, and are otherwise plugged into the Apple ecosystem, but owners of the first generation Apple TV 4K can safely skip the upgrade and just pick up the excellent new Siri remote that’s backward compatible and available as a separate purchase.
Streaming Performance: It doesn’t get any better than this
The second-generation Apple TV 4K supports Wi-Fi 6 and also includes an ethernet port, both great options when streaming Ultra High Definition (UHD) content in High Dynamic Range (HDR). These features paired with the A12 Bionic chip result in a snappy, seamless streaming experience. Apps download and load fast, menus and other user interface (UI) elements breeze by effortlessly, and I didn’t experience any slowdown or buffering.
Taking a look at the raw numbers, the Apple TV 4K 2021 is capable of putting out video at a resolution of up to 4K at 60 frames per second. That UHD capability is matched with HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log Gamma support. There’s a bit of an issue when switching between standard dynamic range (SDR) and HDR content, but Apple provides you with finer control over that behavior in the latest version of tvOS than they used to.