Apple TV 4K is still no match for Xbox in the living room

Apple TV

Last I wrote about the Apple TV was back in September 2015, when Apple finally updated it. Back then there was much talk of casual living room gaming on top of being your home entertainment hub. SteelSeries even sells a superb controller for it.

And you can play Minecraft on it.

Fast forward two whole years, and the next update to the Apple TV is here. It's more expensive and finally offers 4K HDR video. Much like something else we're pretty familiar with in these parts.

Apple TV 4K FAQ: Everything you need to know

The landscape has changed in the last two years. But there's still no cause for Microsoft to be concerned at all. The Xbox One S remains the king.

Late to the party

Apple TV 4K

So, the new Apple TV is called "Apple TV 4K." And, you guessed it, it can finally deliver 4K HDR video. That's excellent. What's even more excellent is that Apple will upgrade any of your existing iTunes content to 4K for free once it's available. That's the right way to do it and everyone else should take note.

But whatever marketing hooey Apple may throw out on stage, the cold hard truth is that it's just plain late to the party.

My colleague Russell Holly put it best over on Android Central:

For Apple to say that 4K and HDR are just now becoming the next big thing for televisions is hilarious. Way to catch up, Apple.

The Xbox One S has been 4K HDR capable since its launch in 2016, and while you don't get iTunes (would you even want it?), Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, for example, all deliver in 4K.

Xbox One S

Xbox (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Xbox One S was also frequently shouted out as the cheapest 4K Blu-ray player on the market. While that's not necessarily still true, it has the added bonus of also being a proper games console.

Apple doesn't care about discs, but lots of other people do. The Apple TV means you're either all digital or you're taking up two spots in your entertainment center. Considering the Xbox One S isn't much more expensive than the Apple TV 4K, it's a pretty good value add.

There's also no word on the Apple TV 4K supporting Dolby Atmos, and that's another tick in the Xbox One S column.

Watch first, game later

Xbox One S

In my related story from two years ago I wrote:

To Apple, apps, and games from its App Store are just another form of content that it's making money from. Unlike Sony, Microsoft and even Nintendo, Apple isn't (currently) making any first party games. It is instead providing a conduit for others to deliver the content.

And that's still the case. The Apple TV 4K is a media machine first, games console second. There's still a good place for the Apple TV in gaming, though. I have one at home and my son loves playing on it. It's more casual and there is a good selection of child-friendly content. I'll likely upgrade to the new one, as well.

The Xbox One S is a proper games console with the added bonus of being about the best set-top box you can buy. You've got the apps, the optical drive, and when you're done watching a movie you can shoot it up in Gears of War 4.

Apple TV games, for the most part, are still polished versions of its mobile offerings.

Why Xbox One S is (almost) the perfect set top box

Still no competition ... for now

Two years ago, I thought Microsoft at least needed to be aware of Apple in the living room. I'm not convinced there has been any real progress to bring the Apple TV 4K closer to Xbox and PlayStation.

It may now have a much more powerful CPU and GPU, but it's still held back by the fact that it's just a set top box — one that's locked to Apple's ecosystem. The NVIDIA Shield TV is a more compelling alternative for serious gamers, for example, because it has ways to offer true console class gaming.

At $199 for the 64GB model, the Apple TV 4K is also dangerously close to the price of the Xbox One S. Just $80 more gets you that 4K Blu-ray player and access to the Xbox game library, as well as a built in, free way to watch your live TV. The Apple TV needs third-party apps to watch live channels, and they cost money.

Equally the focus seems to have been on 4K HDR with the new Apple TV. Where gaming was given a good shout two years ago, it's been kind of swept under the rug this time around.

Gamers will buy the Xbox One S (or a PlayStation 4 Pro if you hate 4K Blu-ray and want to spend more money), and Apple customers will buy the Apple TV. It's still not going to oust the console from beneath the TV, and even though Apple's brand value is high, there's little here to really turn heads.

See Xbox One S at Microsoft

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at