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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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab)

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. 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 covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

24 Comments
  • Free 4k upconversion for already owned titles is nice. Wish I could upload all my bluerays and get that for the ones that have been converted. Don't know if Amazon does that for my own video library considering I have an Xbox one s but not a 4k tv at the moment. Anyone know? What would have been impressive was putting a wireless charger on top of the apple tv.
  • Don't think so. Certainly not in the UK, anyway. AFAIK Amazon doesn't even offer digital copies of movies you buy on Blu-ray. It does stream 4K HDR content from Prime, but there's also not that much yet anyway.
  • So an Apple TV 4K for $179 (32gig) or $199 (64gig) or an Xbox One S with 500gig for as low as $199.  Other than taking advantage of the free 4K upconversion, the smart choice is with the Xbox One S.  
  • I don't really see these products really competing with each other. Sort of a strange juxtaposition of devices. Roku, Amazon & chromecast devices are comparable, would anyone compare a Roku with an Xbox?
  • Where does Dolby Vision support land? Is not popular but it seems to be something that can't be added in software like HDR10 can.
  • As a household that is all Xbox and Roku what turned my head was the lower prices for 4K HDR content, lower than any other content store. (Which is really messed up if you think about it considering everything Apple is so expensive. So I guess in the Apple eco system only Apple is allowed to make money, everyone else needs to get in line for the leftover scraps)  The other challenge is living in Canada, Apple TV is supported TV app wise before everything else. (Don't get me started on the lack of support for Roku in Canada) In my opinion for app support in Canada its Apple TV, (1) then Chromecast / Xbox One (2) PS4 (3) then pretty much crickets for any other device.    
  • So expensive?  Apple charges $349 to $999 for iphone depending on model.  Samsung's new Note 8 is $969 (virtually the same price).   Apple has the newest regular Ipad for $329 (down from $499).  The base Apple Watch is now $249.  Those prices are completely in-line with other companies.  If you think a Macbook Pro is expensive, try buying the EQUIVALENT Dell, HP or Lenovo. They are all in the same ballpark.
  • Where is my Microsoft STB!? Take the XB1S, remove the BR Drive and shrink it down further in size. Include the media remote & controller. Keep the 500gb HDD & have a 1TB option. Sell it for $179 - $199 (even $199 - $229). It'll have most of the media apps people need PLUS play ALL the games that are in the store. At around $200 it starts to approach "impulse buy" territory! Oh and for those who need the BR player and absolutely insist (in 2017?) on buying physical discs, the current XB1S is only $249!
  • The only thing you'll gain is a small footprint.  When on sale, the Xbox One S can already be had for $199.     https://www.walmart.com/ip/Microsoft-Xbox-One-S-500GB-Battlefield-1-Spec...  
  • The diffirence is that the Apple TV has airplay and homekit build in, which gives them huge advantages over the xbox. And, because most of my family and friends all have iphones, the appletv is the number one streaming device for those users. I don't know anybody who uses their xbox or ps4 not mainly for gaming, but for entertainment. I don't recommend a game console for someone who is not a gamer. 
  • My brother and I each use our Xbox One S as a central media hub.  We are not gamers.  I've even hooked my cablebox into the pass through HDMI port for the guide and to change channels.  And when Directv Now finally produces an app, I will drop my cable service and use their streaming service exclusively.
  • Besides my Xbox I can say that my Sony TV with Android built into it is my number one streaming device. It supports dlna streaming, tons of android apps, games, etc....... Plus the Sony TV I bought has one of the best upscalers you can get in a 4kTV so even regular HD content looks great on it.
  • One of the main issues I see is that some (most?) of the media apps in the Xbox are so clunky. For example the ESPN is horrid. Sling used to be really bad but the update from a few months ago helped a lot. HBO GO is riduculously slow while navigating, etc..
  • Anyone who was around during the development of windows 8 and the XAML underpinnings of their modern App development will tell you that it's too rigid and not versatile enough to do the UI/UX things that other platforms have not had issues with. I swear XAML has been microsoft's downfall. It's complex, it's not intuitive, and it's modeled too closely after html5 web paradigms.
  • Yeah, I find Netflix and Stan to be a chore to navigate, but I still do it, because I like watching stuff.
  • From hardware side (spec), I would say the answer is clear (except the size, but come on, if you already have a large enough TV for 4k, I would consider there's no issue for addtioinal space for Xbox One S. However, the issue is software, service and content aspects. Some areas that Xbox has large potential, but we don't know how much investiment will be made in these areas.
  • Honest question: Does the MS Movies & TV app and Windows Store on Xbox One S and Windows 10 support 4K HDR video purchases and rentals too? 
  • I'd have to disagree.  Xbox only has HDR10 which is completely inferior to DolbyVision.  Apple TV also has an app advantage and a superior UI designed for just watching TV.  For gaming of course its better especially if you like FPS games and don't mind having the great exclusives PS4 does, but for watching TV I prefer my Apple TV.
  • As long as more apps keep coming, I'd agree. It's nice having a separate box in another room to log into apps for streaming. It cuts down on box rentals from cable providers. If OTA DVR was released, it would hands down win.
  • OK I have to know, does anyone else use a Roku/Fire/Apple TV through their XBO's HDMI input?  I know it sounds a bit crazy LOL but I do this as a way to allow pausing of streaming content that won't natively allow pausing.  For example, Sling TV won't allow pausing of many channels, but feed it thorugh the XBO and you can use its "DVR" cache to pause anything. 
  • huh I never even thought about connecting another streaming device directly into an xbox lol. Are there any other benefits for doin this other than the pausing ability you mentioned?
  • There's an XBOX ONE DVR cache?
  • This is actually a pretty bad comparison because logically there is no comparison. People will reach and try their hardest because "Derp! Microsoft vs apple!", but be honest with yourself here... this is dumb. Just with the little bit that was listed here, you'd have to be an idiot to see this thing as a "competitor" to an XBox. 
  • "Gamers will buy the Xbox One S (or a PlayStation 4 Pro if you hate 4K Blu-ray and want to spend more money)" Or if you're more interested in more games.  That statement really made me laugh. To me, it shows a bit of bittereness.. :)