Apple TV 4K No Longer Force Feeds You HDR
Stephan Jukic – December 25, 2017
When we recently reviewd Apple’s new Apple TV 4K HDR set-top streaming/download media box, we found plenty to like about the highly advanced and very robust piece of home entertainment technology. Most of all, we were just happy to see that Apple had finally gotten its ass in gear on releasing a set-top box to replace the previous HD Apple TV, which was pretty much out of date from the day it was released in 2015 due to its lack of 4K UHD and HDR support.
The new Apple TV does indeed support HDR and in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats, but what we mentioned in our review as one of its negatives was that it took the HDR support just a teeny tiny bit too far by forcing you to pretty much watch all content in the format unless you manually and completely deactivated HDR support in your 4K TV itself.
This was not only annoying, it was also sort of ridiculous from such a sophisticated company like Apple, since you know, automated dynamic HDR activation based on whether a piece of content needs it is sort of a pretty basic thing that exists in any rival streaming media device today.
Well, now we can at least happily state that Apple has seen the light and decided to let you dim the light (literally) by releasing a new software update that offers options for keeping HDR settings for TV display brightness, contrast and color active constantly or only when actual HDR-mastered content is being fed through the Apple TV box to your 4K HDR TV.
This is great because while high dynamic range does indeed make content look great in the right kind of HDR TV, it only really works well when the content itself is mastered for HDR. Otherwise, forcing HDR settings onto all types of content might actually degrade the visual experience in some rather odd ways such as over-bright highlights, roiling motes in certain onscreen visuals and too much color saturation in certain scenes with content that wasn’t meant for high dynamic range visuals. The forced HDR also delivers the cute effect of causing your TV to burn more electricity due to constant maximal screen brightness at all times for anything being fed to it from the Apple TV 4K regardless of desirability.
Worse still, the forced HDR of the Apple TV prior to this new software update made it force literally everything into HDR. This included smart interface menus, app menus, screen savers and all video sources of any kind that came from the set-top box itself. It was rather ridiculous. Apple claimed that the constant HDR activation was a deliberate choice on their part, so that onscreen elements wouldn’t suffer from interruptions in video quality as the Apple TV 4K and your TV move between HDR and SDR (standard dynamic range) video frequently, But, we’re slightly suspecting that Apple let it go because they simply rushed their product release by the end. Their explanation doesn’t make sense given that all other HDR 4K set-top boxes and streaming sticks cover this issue without problems.
Anyhow, as we said, the HDR problem in the Apple TV 4K is now fixed. Owners of the set-top box who have TVOS version 11.2 running inside it can now find a setting called “Match Content”. It’s kept off by default but activating this is how you get that sweet, sweet on-demand-only HDR that you’ll probably prefer.
In order to enable the new settings, simply do the following in sequence as follows:
Go to Settings, then find “Video and Audio”, then “Match Content”, and inside this, activate both “Match Dynamic Range” and “Match Frame Rate”.
Doing the above won’t fix forced HDR in all app and TVOS menus but that further detail can be fixed by going to “Settings”, opening “Video and Audio”, then “Format” and then choosing “4K SDR”. If this is kept on with “Match Content” running as well, your Apple TV should deliver menu items in normal SDR while still giving you HDR as needed for actual HDR10 or Dolby Vision HDR content.
Don’t even bother turning on menu items like “Enable HDR” or “Enable Dolby Vision”. Activating them will again force all your menu items to show in high dynamic range. Leaving them off however still gets you both types of HDR formatting for all relevant content.
The Match Frame Rate feature above is also worth mentioning here because it fixes another, also annoying problem that the Apple TV 4K had before this. Namely, it forced all content fed through it to play to your TV at a constant 60 frames per second, regardless of its native frame rate (say 24p for certain types of movie content). This too screwed with 4K TV settings as televisions tried to then interpolate content that the Apple TV 4K may have already force-interpolated for its obligatory 60FPS rate. We mentioned this in our review as well and we’re glad to see that it has been fixed too. I can’t imagine what excuse Apple could have had for failing to address this second problem.