How the Apple TV 4K Quickly Became My Favorite Streaming Device

This premium streaming box is a top-notch smart home hub and should be the heart of any Apple household.
Apple TV 4K and remote
Photograph: Apple

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For years, I've had recurring problems using smart home devices on Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem. A string of security cameras and video doorbells, most notably the Logitech Circle View Doorbell, would work fine for periods, but they'd inexplicably fail to record video or would randomly disconnect from the network. I chalked it up to a bug with the HomeKit Secure Video framework. However, the minute I set an Apple TV 4K as my Home Hub, my HomeKit cameras began to work nearly flawlessly.

This is the Apple TV's secret power: It should be the heart of any Apple smart home system. But little did I know it would soon dethrone Chromecast to become my favorite streaming device ever. This unobtrusive black box, with its reassuringly solid aluminum remote, is elegant, slick, and packed with delightful features that genuinely add value.

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Home Hub Hullabaloo

I bought the Apple TV 4K Wi‑Fi + Ethernet with 128 GB of storage not just because it can act as a Home Hub, but also because it can serve as a Matter controller and Thread border router. Matter allows you to easily add and control all kinds of gadgets with your smart home platform of choice, and Thread devices can form their own network (free from your Wi-Fi network's congestion) and react speedily to commands, even when your internet goes down. Since I test a lot of smart home gear for my job, having a dedicated hub made sense to hook up my revolving door of security cameras, smart lights, and other gadgets to Apple’s ecosystem.

To be clear, you don't need to have a Home Hub for HomeKit smart home products to operate on your network. You do need one if you want to control them remotely. Nevertheless, everything from smart shades to motion sensors is more responsive and reliable than when I used my iPad as a Home Hub. Flaky connectivity and unreliable automations have mostly been banished by this little black box, and I love the option to hook up Ethernet for a more stable connection.

The first time someone rang the doorbell while we were watching TV, a small popup at the bottom right of the screen displayed the live video feed from the doorbell. “Wow, we’re living in the future!” my eldest kid remarked. It’s a small but handy feature that means my kids have to answer when we can see it’s one of their pals (or hunker down and hide from cold callers).

It's the Little Things

After the Apple TV 4K fixed my HomeKit issues, I started using its primary function of, you know, streaming. Free of the relentless creep of ads you’ll find in many smart TV interfaces and other streaming devices, the picture quality is top-notch. WIRED's resident A/V editor, Parker Hall, explains why it is the best premium streaming device in his review. But for me, the little features elevate this diminutive box.

One lockdown habit I retained is working out in the living room. My battle against middle-aged spread involves kickboxing, high-intensity interval training, and yoga workouts using Apple Fitness+, and having an Apple TV makes it all super slick. I can pick a workout on my iPhone, send it to the TV, and start or pause it on my Apple Watch. The Apple TV shows my heart rate and burn bar on the screen so I can track my effort. Thanks to the onscreen doorbell, I can crank the music up loud without worrying about missing a delivery.

There are lots of other nice features. You can use the Apple TV for a karaoke night. You can connect mobile game controllers and jump into Apple Arcade. You can connect AirPods to listen when you need a quiet room. You get a notification pop-up on your iPhone for easier typing every time there’s a text field on the Apple TV. And SharePlay lets you watch movies or work out with friends over FaceTime. You can also use the iPhone as a webcam for FaceTime calls on the TV too.

I have a bad habit of shouting at my TV (it’s cathartic, OK?). But now I use the Siri button on the Apple TV remote to gently talk to the TV for queries or to issue commands. You can search for content or ask it to find your iPhone or Apple Watch (listen for a muffled sound from between the couch cushions). You can ask questions about what you’re watching to learn who the director was or when it was released. Best of all, in the modern age of muddy soundtracks, you can ask, “What did he say?” to prompt the Apple TV to skip back 10 seconds and temporarily turn on subtitles.

Refined Remote

It would be remiss of me not to mention the remote in a rave about Apple TV. Most TV remotes are terrible and ill-suited to the golden age of on-demand TV. My family only uses streaming services, so numbers on a remote are useless. Despite TVs being one of the most expensive purchases you are likely to make, the remotes are always plastic, and the three buttons you use wear out in months. Our current TV remote has a clicky wheel that sticks; the back button is fading away, too, and there are teeth marks where the cat inexplicably chewed it.

The Apple TV 4K remote is an elegant beauty by comparison, crafted from durable aluminum with soft touch buttons and a clever touch-sensitive wheel that reduces the risk of wear and tear. It's free of superfluous buttons and feels pleasant in hand. After a little practice, you can swipe to cycle through content and swiftly glide through Apple’s responsive menus. When you’re watching, tap right or left on the D-pad to jump 10 seconds forward or back, or pause and circle clockwise to go frame by frame. If you press and hold the Home button, you get the date and time with a shortcut menu to control HomeKit devices.

Perhaps the worst thing about the Apple TV remote is that it’s easy to lose, but Apple added Find My support with iOS 17. If you open the Control Center and tap on the Apple remote icon, you can use your iPhone as a remote control, but you should also see a Find button at the top right (try updating the software if you don’t see it) that will guide you to the remote. When the power runs low, there’s no need to fumble with batteries because you can recharge Apple’s remote via USB-C.

The Apple TV 4K is not for everyone. It's expensive compared to other streaming devices, and you need to go all-in with Apple devices and services to get the most from it. But for Apple households, this is an unsung hero.