When Apple recently unveiled their latest version of the Apple TV set-top box, I was thrilled to see it labeled, “Apple TV 4K.” Finally, this box, along with the iTunes video content it will stream, can support the super-high resolution of 3840 x 2160 (it’s called “4K” because “3.84K” is a little awkward, so they just rounded up). I was all set to order one to connect to my 55″ Sony 4K TV; but then I saw this video from The Verge, which made me change my mind. Take a look:
If you can’t watch the video right now; or if you have, and you want to know more of my take on the issue, please read on.
HDR is H.A.R.D.
The most obvious reason for me not to invest in a new Apple TV comes from the TV I have. It’s a 2013-era Sony BRAVIA Ultra HD TV. It is indeed capable of 4K resolution, but it came out in that brief window of time before the introduction of High Dynamic Range (HDR) on 4K TVs. My set doesn’t support HDR, and I’m pretty sure that’s not something that can be added with a software update. One of the key selling points of the Apple TV 4K is HDR, and I’d be throwing money away on a feature I won’t get to enjoy on my current TV.
Not Ready for Amazon Prime Time
As of this writing, Amazon, one of the most prominent 4K streaming content producers, does not yet have an app on the Apple TV. Now, Apple has promised that such an app is forthcoming; but until it is available, I don’t need to buy a new box. I can watch The Tick (among others) in 4K on my TV’s built-in, albeit clunky, Amazon app.
YouTube… Don’t You?
As mentioned right off the bat in that Verge video, YouTube is not yet available in 4K on Apple TV. As they explain at the very end of their video, this is due to the compression method YouTube (a division of Apple rival Google) employs. Hopefully, the two tech giants will come to an arrangement to allow 4K, HDR YouTube content via Apple TV. Until they do, if YouTube in 4K is your “must-have” feature; and if it isn’t built in to your TV like mine, then you should probably get Google’s $69 Chromecast Ultra, so you can beam that 4K content from your computer or mobile device.
Nothing But Netflix
Now, the leader of the streaming pack, Netflix, will indeed be offering 4K, HDR content on day one with the new Apple TV. I’ve always been able to count on their 4K content, even on my non-HDR (or as it’s known, SDR for “Standard Dynamic Range”) TV. True, I had to upgrade my Netflix account to their Premium plan to get Ultra HD (another term for 4K) content, but it was only $2 more a month for the enhanced picture. But here’s the thing: I already get Netflix in 4K on my TV, with its built-in app, just like how I get Amazon Prime. So, again, I have to ask: what does the purchase of the Apple TV get me that I didn’t already have?
iTunes Movies in 4K! No, Not That One… Sorry, Not That One, Either…
iTunes was always going to be the “killer app” for Apple TV. It’s Apple’s hardware and software working together, as opposed to those earlier examples of shoehorning other services into a rival’s device. And yes, Apple did indeed announce the upgrading of their film library from HD to 4K… but not their entire film library.
Some titles haven’t been mastered in 4K at all, so they may never get such a release. Some are in the process of remastering; so again, patience will be rewarded with more titles.
But then there’s the House that Walt Built.
As the Verge video pointed out, Disney content is not currently available in 4K on iTunes. It’s not too big a surprise that they’re dragging their feet—they were also late to the DVD game back in the late 90’s. But frustratingly, other competing services like VUDU do indeed have Disney titles in 4K—notably, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, the first Disney/Marvel movie to get a home video release on 4K.
I have Guardians 2 on iTunes, thanks to the digital copy included with my blu-ray purchase. I was hoping Apple would upgrade the HD title to 4K; because while my blu-ray did include a 4K disc, I don’t have a 4K disc player. My reasoning was, why get a disc player, when the AppleTV will give me the same movie in 4K, without my even having to get off the couch to insert a disc?
I mean, the logic seemed sound…
I consulted this list of iTunes 4K titles, posted on 9/15/17. Of those 163 titles, I only have TWO ready to upgrade:
Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (Ultimate Edition). Candidly, I’m not planning on rewatching this one, in 4K or otherwise. I barely made it through the whole thing the first time, in good old fashioned HD.
Deadpool. A personal favorite. Its availability in 4K on iTunes is one good thing about Fox, not Disney, owning Marvel’s Merry Mutants.
Author’s note: The list I linked includes The Hangover, Star Trek (2009), and X-Men: First Class. In each of these cases, the films listed were not available to me in 4K; but their sequels (The Hangover Part II; Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond; and X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse) were. Interestingly, Apple has apparently not deemed The Hangover Part III worthy of a 4K release.
For the record, my iTunes movie collection is relatively small. As of this writing, I have 57 digital titles; of those, 28 are Disney, including Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. Take away the two I listed above, and that leaves 27 titles not yet in iTunes’ 4K library. So until I can get more than two movies–only one of which I even want to watch— upgraded to 4K, the “iTunes in 4K” aspect isn’t a huge selling point.
So you see, regardless of whether my 4K TV is ready for it, this new Apple TV just isn’t ready for me. Until they get Amazon, YouTube, and a more comprehensive iTunes library (ahem, Disney) in 4K, there’s just no point in upgrading from my 2015-era, 4th-generation Apple TV. Maybe I’ll buy that 4K disc player, after all. I can think of at least one movie I bet would look Groot—I mean, great— in 4K!