Last year, we ditched Sky and replaced the most recognisable set-top box in the UK with an Apple TV 4K.
This was the first time in nearly twenty years that I no longer had access to the UK’s default satellite TV network. More importantly, it was the first time I’d thrown all of my eggs into the Apple TV basket.
I won’t lie – I was nervous. As was my girlfriend (yes, she puts up with a lot).
A year prior, I’d suggested that Apple should ‘cancel’ their little hockey puck entertainment device. This was met with the strongest defence I’ve ever witnessed for a product. It also proved that I can, occasionally, be an idiot and ignore the importance of actually properly trying something before claiming that it is useless.
Lesson learned. The Apple TV 4K has been a mini revelation in our home.
Although, it isn’t perfect. And it isn’t all Apple’s fault.
This is what I’ve learned about the Apple TV 4K after a year of using it full-time.
The Watch Now feature works – most of the time
One of the surprise delights of tvOS is the Watch Now feature. This provides access to the TV+ service (which continues to offer some absolutely amazing programming – I’m glad Apple is investing so smartly in entertainment) but it also provides immediate access to the latest episodes of stuff you’re currently watching.
It’s brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that I discovered that my girlfriend had started using it almost immediately and without even thinking about it. For her, Watch Now was completely intrinsic – obvious, even.
Watch Now is set as the default screen on tvOS for a reason; you really should head there as often as possible to ensure you don’t miss out on the latest episodes of the shows you’re watching. With so much to watch these days, it acts as a brilliant reminder and is masterfully designed.
Unfortunately, not every streaming app integrates with Up Next. In our household – and, I suspect, many others – Netflix is the most irritating absentee.
Channel hopping isn’t an option
If you decide to make the full switch to the Apple TV in your living room, there’s one thing to bear in mind – you’ll lose the ability to channel hop. Forever.
This is a significant consideration. Channel hopping is, after all, something most of us have become accustomed to. It achieves little and is usually nothing more than a method to pass the time, but it can also result in some unexpectedly brilliant finds.
In Apple TV land, channel hopping isn’t an option. That is unless you don’t mind continually hopping in and out of the various streaming apps and scouring their content (which isn’t quite the same as tapping backwards and forwards on your remote).
Watch Now doesn’t solve this either – that’s just a way to continue your watching journey.
I miss channel hopping, personally, and it would be great to see a solution for this in the near future. Although, that’s unlikely, and brings me to my next point.
TV in the UK is STILL broken
I can’t speak for other countries, but in the UK, we’re treated to a slightly diluted Apple TV experience thanks to the complete mess that is our TV network.
We have the state-funded BBC and privately owned platforms like ITV and Channel 4. Then, there’s the aforementioned Sky, which remains the default choice for most households. Sky has always done a fabulous job at bringing together all of these disparate entertainment services (including Apple’s own TV+). The problem is that Sky has no integration with Apple TV.
I tell a lie – last year, the Sky Go app was finally launched on tvOS. But this only provides access to streams of Sky’s broadcast content and on-demand catch-up stuff. It’s intended as a companion to the traditional Sky set-top box, which means it doesn’t replace the latter. This renders Sky Go’s presence on the Apple TV questionable – what’s the point if you can’t fully replace the Sky box with Apple’s?
This lack of compatibility is all down to red tape, boardroom battles, and legal wrangling. I’m sure it’s very complicated and incredibly boring, but it’s utterly unhelpful for us poor UK users.
Now TV is a terrible experience
If you ditch Sky but still want access to some of Sky’s programming, there’s another option. It’s called Now TV, it’s owned by Sky, it’s relatively cheap, and it is utter rubbish on the Apple TV 4K.
The app is horrible, the image quality is horrendous, and it has the most useless TV guide I’ve ever encountered.
But it’s the only way I can watch the F1, so that’s the end of that.
Music syncing with HomePods is great
This is a recent addition to my Apple TV 4K setup and one I’m already enjoying immensely.
Apple’s set-top box is now joined by a new HomePod (the big one which made a surprising reappearance earlier this year) and a HomePod mini I’d previously left gathering dust at the studio.
The result is a multi-room music streaming system that works just as well as Sonos. It’s reliable, sounds great, and obviously integrates perfectly with all of my Apple gear. Siri (it had to be Siri, didn’t it) does get a bit confused with my instructions to play music on specific – or all – speakers, but I’ll let that pass – for now.
The Apple TV remote isn’t child friendly
We’re already on our second Apple TV remote (you know – the one that gained USB-C charging before the bloody iPhone). This is because we think our niece attempted to eat the first one – a fate which proved terminal. I’m pretty sure she did little more than place it in her mouth several times, but it’s an incompatibility of which all parents should be aware.
Now that we have our own miniature person, we’ve donated the broken remote to him and ensured that we have a strict out-of-reach policy for the replacement. It has worked thus far. And he’s obsessed with his.
Oh, and on that note, why on earth is there no Find My integration and built-in speaker on the Apple TV remote? We’re constantly losing ours.
The screensavers are great
They really are.
It’s such an innocuous feature on the Apple TV 4K, and one which I thought we’d never use. And while I’m not condoning wasting needless electricity, we do find that our TV is left switched on more regularly thanks to that blissful, stunningly-shot drone footage.
The picture quality is superb
Get yourself an Apple TV 4K and pair it with a TV with Dolby Vision capabilities, and you will be knocked back by the picture quality.
The HiSense review unit I’ve been running my Apple TV 4K through is a budget option, but even that produces one of the best images I’ve ever seen on a TV.
The same goes for the audio capabilities. The surround output and codecs delivered by the Apple TV 4K are flawless, and the way it plays with AirPods for Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos wizardry is endlessly impressive.
The thing that has surprised and impressed me the most about the Apple TV 4K is how effortlessly it has integrated itself into our living room. It only has two users, granted, but both of us have experienced very few challenges transitioning from the traditional world of Sky entertainment to Apple’s effort. I can’t overemphasise how big a switch that is, either.
Like every Apple product, it never crashes to the point where it needs restarting. It’ll do odd things occasionally, such as losing its connection to the remote for no reason, or forgetting how to interact with the volume control on the TV, but those instances are rare.
I just wish we had a more coherent TV strategy in the UK. I have no idea what’s holding up the integration of services like Sky into tvOS, nor the worldwide problem of Netflix being absent from Watch Now, but if everyone could play a little more harmoniously, it would be much better for the user.
Despite this, the Apple TV 4K isn’t going anywhere – I can confirm that it has successfully established itself as the main source of entertainment in our living room. And that’s something I never thought I’d say.
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