Apple TV 4K: how to get an Atmos soundbar and 4K HDR TV for around $1,100September 25, 2018
Dolby Atmos support has arrived on the Apple TV 4K, joining the ranks of other streaming boxes like the Roku Ultra, Amazon Fire TV, and even a few game consoles, like the Xbox One S and Xbox One X. Combined with the existing Dolby Vision HDR support, this makes the Apple TV 4K the only set-top box to “light up all of the lights” and have a deep catalog of content to go with it. But you won’t be able to use the multi-directional audio standard or improved picture quality features on tvOS 12 without the proper equipment.
Assuming that you already own the Apple TV 4K (the non-4K model doesn’t support Atmos), you’ll want to get set up with a Atmos-ready soundbar and a 4K HDR television. The sky is truly the limit in terms of how much this pairing can cost you, but you can get a great TV that supports Dolby Vision and a soundbar that has Atmos support without totally breaking the bank. First, let’s talk soundbars.
If you buy an Atmos-enabled soundbar, supported content available on Apple TV 4K will sound objectively better than it would through a traditional soundbar. Atmos’ signature effect is adding vertical depth to the sound presentation. For instance, what’s above or below eye level on the screen is reflected by audio that has a proper sense of place.
There are plenty of options to choose from, many of which feature upward-firing speakers that bounce sound off of your ceiling, though only one model easily fits the bill in terms of size and price. The Vizio SB36512-F6 is affordable, and sounds good enough to recommend.
At $499, Vizio’s new Atmos-ready 5.1.2 system is a far better value than the next cheapest Atmos soundbar we could find, the $599 Sony HT-X9000F. Setup is simple and good results can be had within minutes of plugging it in.
Some Atmos soundbars lack a vertical channel, instead opting to virtualize (read: fake) the Atmos effect. The virtualization can sound decent, as we heard with Sony’s $599 model. But if you’re already spending good money on sound, you might as well get a soundbar that actually bounces sound off of your ceiling. Even though the SB36512-F6 is Vizio’s low-end Atmos system, it features upward-firing speakers, as well as two satellite speakers that you can position behind you for a more complete effect.
The left, right, and center channels of this 5.1.2 system are packed into the front of the soundbar. Two speakers face upward on its top, and the rather small wireless subwoofer serves as the connecting point for both wired satellite speakers, which have cords long enough to let you flank them behind your couch. These satellite speakers feature a somewhat hidden grille on their top that, while not described in the manual, appear to add a little verticality to the sound just by letting it leak through the top. It’s not hugely noticeable, but it’s yet another nice touch in this cheap Atmos audio system.
During our testing, it was necessary to adjust the audio delay with the included remote, which can be pretty abysmal to operate. A bare-bones display on the remote ticks through the settings, and the changes are reflected by a strip of LEDs on the soundbar. If you want confirmation that what you’re hearing is indeed Atmos, navigating to the right setting will activate the recording of the saddest human ever, who rattles off the input and audio format with a sense of malaise. Who are you, Vizio soundbar guy? I want to buy you a drink.
Atmos-ready content sounds vibrant and punchy through the Vizio SB36512-F6, and it’s clear that each of the channels are working hard during the more hectic scenes in films like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Avengers: Infinity War, and basically any moment in Baby Driver. This setup effectively puts you in the middle of its orb of sound, placing sounds where they belong. Action movies can be so hectic at times that it becomes tough to appreciate the audio design, and thus, fully appreciate Atmos, but Planet Earth 2 is another good metric by which to judge this Atmos system. In the jungle episode, birds chirping in a tree sound like they are above you, and the sheer density of trees and the myriad rumblings happening within each one sounds accurately presented here.
On the Apple TV 4K, you’ll find the largest catalog of Atmos content to rent or purchase to own on Vudu and Apple’s own iTunes store. Netflix and Prime Video also boast a decent selection of Atmos-ready movies and TV shows. In the case of Netflix, some of its titles that support Atmos cap out at full HD resolution, so you may want to look to Vudu or iTunes to satisfy your 4K HDR needs.
We’re not just picking the TCL 6-series 4K HDR TV because of how affordable it is, but its excellent picture for the price is what sets it apart from the rest. Beyond its responsive and intuitive built-in Roku software, the 55-inch model features 96 full array local dimming zones, which is more than Vizio’s comparatively priced P-series television, and is enough to display accurate, mesmerizing levels of contrast in movies, games, and more.
You’ll certainly notice better picture quality in a more expensive television, namely in the response rate department, but if you’re looking to upgrade with no regrets on the side of quality or price, TCL’s 6-series is a no-brainer. Importantly, the 6-series supports Dolby Vision HDR, so combined with an Atmos compatible soundbar, it can provide the highest level of audio and video quality available from the Apple TV 4K.
Aside from its disappointing viewing angles, which offers a slightly dimmed experience for those sitting outside of the center, this TV’s biggest letdown are its weak two 8W speakers. Compared to its brilliant picture, TCL’s built-in audio solution continues to be the low point of the experience. But if you’re already interested in investing in an Atmos soundbar, this won’t be much of an issue.
Paired with Vizio’s Atmos soundbar, this TCL 4K HDR television ties the bow on a solid Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos setup for Apple TV 4K that won’t annihilate your wallet. For a product category where it’s so easy to spend this much for just a singular piece of the greater entertainment center, we think you’ll be happy you upgraded to this $1,100 bundle instead.
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