Apple TV 4K brings A10X-powered ultra high-definition and eye-popping high-dynamic range to iTunes and your living room.

I remember the first time I saw DVD. Same with 720p and 1080p HD. It was like putting on a fresh pair of glasses, seeing the blur and smear fade, and the world resolve better and sharper before me. I remember the first time I saw 3D as well but only because I disliked it intensely. 4K I don't really remember. I was either too far away or the set was smaller than a wall so I couldn't really see the difference. HDR (high dynamic range), though? My eyeballs are still in nirvana.

While the new set-top box is called Apple TV 4K, it's really Apple TV HDR to me. That's how important I really find those more vivid colors and more expansive gamma.

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It's why, the moment the new Apple TV 4K was announced, I rushed out and spent a couple years worth of unused vacation money on an LG C7P OLED 4K HDR television. And why I'm so deliriously happy I did.

Note: Serenity Caldwell and I have Apple TV 4K in for review, but we're in New York City, the abovementioned television is in Montreal, and we're already running around testing iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3, so it's going to take a week or so to give ATV4K the attention it deserves. If you're trying to decide whether or not you should buy one at launch, though, rather than leave you hanging, I'm going to provide some initial thoughts right now.

Apple TV 4K 4K and HDR

4K (a reference to "horizontal resolution in the order 4,000 pixels") is sometimes also called UHD (ultra high definition). That's to distinguish it from regular old HD, which is 720p or 1080p (720 or 1080 vertical dots of resolution.) In that context, 4K is 2160p (2160 vertical dots of resolution) — twice the height and width, for a combined total of four times the resolution of 1080p.

If you're sitting close or your panel is really big, you can absolutely see the difference. It's when 4K is combined with HDR, though, that its unmistakable.

If you're familiar with HDR photography on iPhone and iPad, then the end result is similar here for video. Instead of whites and blacks being blown out or clipped off, you can suddenly see all sorts of detail in the highlights ad shadows.

If you're familiar with Apple's support for DCI-P3 wide gamut color on recent iOS and Mac devices, that's what you're getting in video HDR as well. Brighter and deeper reds and magentas, and more vivid greens and yellows. Apple has even redone the tvOS interface in DCI-P3 so it looks great between content as well as during.

The result is that movies and television shows you've seen a dozen times before now have dazzling new life. Texture fills the light and shadows and Color bursts off the screen.

Best of all, with Apple TV 4K, tvOS manages the picture entirely. So, regardless of whether you have 4K or HDR, or if the content you're watching in HD or 4K, HDR 10 or Dolby Vision, Apple always picks the best possible output to send to your television.

About the only thing you have to do is turn off motion and compression smoothing, and the other terrible image destroyers that come set by default on many modern televisions. And enjoy.

## Apple TV 4K iTunes 4K HDR and other content

I've heard it said that the iTunes encoding team are… exacting to say the least. So, it should come as no surprise that iTunes in HDR 10 or Dolby Vision — the studio gets to decide which, if either, it uses — looks flabbergastingly good.

It's only coming online now, and I've only gotten to see a very small amount of it, but it looks so good I just don't want to watch non-HDR versions anymore.

Apple has also managed to negotiate two really smart concessions from most of the studios:

  1. 4K HDR content will cost the same as the previous, HD content.
  2. Any HD movies you've already bought will be automagically upgraded to 4K HDR when those versions arrive — at no additional cost.

iTunes 1080p content still looks pretty good at 4K, thanks to Apple's upscaling, but you're going to want as much of the real thing as you can get — and your ISP's bandwidth cap, if any, can handle. (Because of advances in HEVC/H.265 compression, 4K videos are four times the resolution but only two times the file size. Adjust your data plan or viewing habits accordingly.)

Netflix is updating to provide 4K HDR to Apple TV 4K as well, and that includes all the Marvel shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Defenders. (And seeing those shows in HDR is a revelation — what was drab and blotted out before is now comic-book bright and detailed.)

Amazon, as soon as it figures out how to use the incredibly simple frameworks Apple released to developers way back in 2015 and actually release a tvOS app, will bring even more HDR content to the box as well.

Happily, you can use Siri to quickly and easily find all of it. Just ask for "4K" or "4K HDR" and you'll see everything available.

You can also use Apple's TV app, now launching in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

Apple TV 4K Siri Remote

The Siri Remote — still called Apple Remote in all countries beyond the 12 currently offering Siri support on Apple TV — has received a minor hardware update: The menu button now has a white, raised ring around it.

It's not my favorite.

Siri Remote has an incredibly tough job. It has to provide control for not only the video functions of Apple TV, but apps and games as well. Adding the touch area solved a lot of problems and introduced some familiarity and consistency with iOS multitouch controls. It also avoided the problem that plagues every other multipurpose controller on the market: death by a bazillion buttons.

But it still feels like Apple's industrial design team could do more with the shape and feel so that a raised white ring wouldn't be necessary.

Luckily, if you have an iPhone, you can use that to control Apple TV, and more easily than ever: Simply swipe up (or down on iPhone X) to invoke control center, then 3D Touch to pop up the new, built-in Apple TV remote interface.

You have to add the button to Control Center in Settings but, once you do, it's incredibly convenient. Even when you haven't necessarily lost your Siri Remote in the sofa cushions.

Apple TV 4K Apps and Games

At the heart of the new Apple TV 4K is the Apple A10X Fusion system-on-a-chip. It's the same chip that's found inside the current-generation iPads Pro, and a graphically more powerful version of the chip inside iPhone 7.

In other words, it's a monster. Whatever other comparisons you want to make with competing set-top boxes, none of them come close to Apple's silicon. None are even in the same multiverse.

A10X is what gives Apple hardware support for 10-bit HEVC (H.265), which is the industry standard format for 4K HDR. But it's also what makes apps so responsive and will enable a new generation of gaming experiences on the box.

Apple dropped the ball, badly, by requiring Siri Remote support for all games on the original Apple TV and tvOS platform. It caused a lot of big studios and big games to take a wait-and-see attitude that persisted long after Apple, smartly, changed the policy.

Getting those studios to stop waiting and start shipping remains a challenge. Hopefully giving them the power of A10X combined with the ease of iOS to tvOS development will help tap the huge potential of Apple TV 4K.

(I'm not sure how many developers will take advantage of 4K HDR gaming and, frankly, how many need to given how good 1080p gaming already looks, but I'm super eager to find out!)

Apple TV 4K Miscellany

There are a few other cool things about Apple TV 4K. It's got its networking figured out so that ,if you go wired, you get up to Gigabit speeds. If you go wireless, you get simultaneous dual-band so what you watch is never slowed down by whatever else you're doing at the same time.

The USB-C port on the back of the previous generation Apple TV is gone on Apple TV 4K, though. That means, like Apple Watch, if anything goes terribly wrong and you get stuck in recovery mode, you have to call AppleCare or go to an Apple Store for service. No more plugging into iTunes. (If you're a developer, power user, or simply brave, you can connect wirelessly to Apple's Xcode app now and try your luck there first.)

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I know it's the future and every manufacturer seems to be racing to ditch as many potential points of hardware failure as possible, but there's something to be said for the old, Battlestar-style hardwire connections.

Apple TV 4K can automatically switch between light and dark modes at dawn and dusk. There's still no way to extinguish the LED light on the front of the box in Settings, though. I get why, since it provides important visual information. But it remains annoying in a dark room. (Electrical tape is your friend.)

If you have multiple Apple TVs 4K in your home or office, all set to the same iCloud account, your Apple TV home screen can be set to sync between them.

AirPods will now automatically connect to any Apple TV that's on the same iCloud account as your iPhone, just like they've been doing with iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac for the last year. (Apple previously wasn't sure how to handle a personal device connecting with what could be a family device, but it looks like the simplest solution won.)

Sound remains the same at Dolby 7.1 and, even though I don't have a Dolby ATMOS system, I wish it had been included here as well.

Disney, traditional ally of Apple and owner of roughly 80% of my childhood thanks to its own classic characters and the acquisition of Muppets, Marvel, and Star Wars, is the lone holdout when it comes to 4K HDR content on Apple TV 4K. It's incredibly frustrating to me as a consumer and I hope they reconsider. In the meantime, no 4K HDR Star Wars or Marvel Studios movies for us.

tvOS 11, which powers Apple TV 4K, now has support for right-to-left languages, including Arabic and Hebrew. There's also support for more than 70 types of refreshable braille displays.

To be continued

If you have or will soon be getting a 4K or 4K HDR television, you owe it to your eyes and experience to get Apple TV 4K. The picture quality is so much better you won't ever want to go back. Everything else is nice. But the 4K HDR picture is transformative.

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We're going to be spending some quality time with Apple TV 4K this week and, as we do, we'll expand this primer into a full-fledged review.

That is, if we can stop watching La La Land, Lego Batman, and Wonder Woman in 4K HDR long enough to actually get the testing and writing done.