Apple TV 4K 2017 vs. Apple TV 4K 2021 Buyer's Guide
In April 2021, Apple revealed the second-generation Apple TV 4K, bringing high framerate HDR to the Apple TV for the first time and the A12 chip for improved performance, alongside a redesigned Siri Remote.
This model replaced the first-generation Apple TV 4K released in 2017. Although the both of these Apple TV 4K models have now been discontinued by Apple, it is not unusual to find them available at discounted prices with third-party retailers. Some other users who already have the first-generation Apple TV 4K may also be wondering if it is worth the upgrade to the second-generation model.
Should you consider purchasing the first-generation Apple TV 4K to save money, or do you need the second-generation Apple TV 4K? Our guide answers the question of how to decide which of these two Apple TV set-top boxes is best for you.
Comparing the First and Second-Generation Apple TV 4K
The first and second-generation Apple TV 4K models share the same design and a number of key features such as support for resolutions up to 2160p, Dolby Vision, and HDR10:
- Design, dimensions, and weight
- 2160p, 1080p, 720p, 576p, 480p over HDMI (HDCP capable)
- SDR, HDR10, Dolby Vision
- Supports audio output up to 7.1.4 channels and Dolby Atmos
- Gigabit Ethernet
- Bluetooth 5
- AirPlay 2
- Available in 32GB and 64GB storage configuration options
There are a large number of important differences between the first-generation Apple TV 4K and the second-generation Apple TV 4K that are worth highlighting, including their processors and remote controls.
Apple TV 4K (First-Generation)
- 2.38 GHz hexa-core A10X Fusion chip
- HDMI 2.0a
- Wi-Fi 5
- First-generation Siri Remote
Apple TV 4K (Second-Generation)
- 2.49 GHz hexa-core A12 Bionic chip
- Support for high framerate HDR video up to 60-fps
- HDMI 2.1
- Wi-Fi 6
- ARC and eARC*
- Thread support
- Second-generation Siri Remote
*according to beta code, not yet enabled
Read on for a closer look at each of these aspects, and see what exactly both of the Apple TV 4K models have to offer.
Video and Audio
The Apple TV 4K supports resolutions up to 2160p Ultra HD. Both models support standard dynamic range (SDR), as well as HDR10 and Dolby Vision for richer colors and deeper blacks. They also feature support for audio output with 7.1.4 channel surround sound and Dolby Atmos.
The second-generation Apple TV 4K adds support for high framerate HDR up to 60-fps. High framerate HDR video enables fast-moving action at 60 frames per second to play more smoothly and appear more lifelike.
With high frame rate support in AirPlay, videos shot on the iPhone 12 Pro can be displayed in full 60-fps Dolby Vision on the second-generation Apple TV 4K. Apple is also working with video providers around the world, including FOX Sports, NBCUniversal, Paramount+, Red Bull TV, and Canal+, as they begin to stream in high frame rate HDR.
The only difference in terms of video and audio capabilities between the two Apple TV 4K models is support for high framerate HDR. If this is a feature that is important to you, then you will need to get the second-generation Apple TV 4K.
For the vast majority of viewers, high framerate HDR will not be important enough to justify buying the newer model. Most content is still not available in high framerate formats, and even where it is, high framerate video is best suited to sports, non-cinematic content, and short videos.
tvOS 14.5 and tvOS 14.6 beta code suggests that the second-generation Apple TV 4K will also add support for ARC and eARC, allowing users to send audio, volume, and mute commands from the Apple TV to a receiver or soundbar.
This should allow users to send audio coming from other set-top boxes like a cable box or games console to their TV via HDMI, then from the TV to the Apple TV via eARC over HDMI, and finally from the Apple TV to a connected audio device. eARC support on the Apple TV effectively allows users to use the HomePod, when set up in a home theater speaker setup, not only for audio from Apple TV, but for all other home theater audio needs.
A10X Fusion vs. A12 Bionic
The second-generation Apple TV 4K features the A12 Bionic chip. The A12 Bionic chip powered the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR in 2018, as well as the 2019 versions of the iPad Air and iPad Mini, and the 2020 entry-level iPad.
The A10X Fusion chip is older than the A12 and was first introduced with 2017's iPad Pro models. The A12 is a 2.49 GHz hexa-core chip and is slightly more powerful than the A10X, which is a 2.38 GHz hexa-core chip.
While processing power is not an absolute priority with a set-top box, the Apple TV 4K's more recent A12 chip will generally be more capable than the A10X. Whether it comes to playing games, app launch speeds, or simply general responsiveness, the A12 is likely to be more snappy.
The A12 isn't necessarily a clear winner in every aspect, however, as the A10X actually outperforms it in some graphics benchmarks thanks to its additional graphics cores, so comparative performance may depend on the type of content.
Through progressive updates to tvOS, the A12 will guarantee better performance over time and will be more future-proof than the A10X in the first-generation Apple TV 4K.
The second-generation Apple TV 4K features the most recent version of HDMI with version 2.1, while the first-generation Apple TV 4K uses the older HDMI 2.0a. HDMI 2.1 facilitates many of the newer Apple TV 4K's added video capabilities like high-framerate HDR. Both models have gigabit ethernet.
While both Apple TV 4K models feature Bluetooth 5.0, only the second-generation model features Wi-Fi 6. The first-generation Apple TV has the older Wi-Fi 5 wireless networking standard.
The second-generation Apple TV 4K is the second Apple device to have built-in Thread support, following the HomePod mini, for improved integration into smart home setups. Thread is a low-power networking technology that offers a secure, mesh-based system able to interface with other Thread-enabled smart home devices for improved connectivity.
Alongside the second-generation Apple TV 4K, Apple introduced a completely redesigned Siri Remote. With a thicker, one-piece aluminum design, the new Siri Remote fits more comfortably in a user's hand.
The new Siri Remote features a clickpad control that offers five-way navigation for better accuracy and is also touch-enabled for fast directional swipes. The outer ring of the clickpad supports an intuitive circular gesture that turns it into a jog control.
The new Siri Remote also has a power button that controls a TV's power directly, and another for mute. The Siri button has been relocated to the side of the remote for convenience. The second-generation Siri Remote also dropped the built-in accelerometer and gyroscope from its predecessor.
The first-generation Apple TV 4K features the older, first-generation Siri Remote that first appeared in 2015 with the Apple TV HD.
The first-generation Siri Remote has a glass touch surface with no directional buttons. There is no power button or mute button, nor is there the ability to use the touchpad as a jog.
The design of the first-generation Siri Remote has been criticized for being unergonomic and has been replaced by the significantly improved redesigned model. Although the first-generation Apple TV 4K features the older remote, it is possible to simply purchase the new remote separately for $59.
Other Apple TV Options
The Apple TV HD was first released in 2015 and has remained in Apple's lineup since then as an entry-level option for $149. The Apple TV HD features the A8 chip and only supports resolutions up to 1080p. In spite of its older hardware, the Apple TV HD comes with the second-generation Siri Remote.
There is only a $30 price difference between the Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K.
The only people who should consider the Apple TV HD are individuals on a strict budget, those with no intention of upgrading their setups, and those with no interest in technologies like Ultra-HD 4K, HDR, or Dolby Atmos.
The Apple TV HD may also appear to be a good option for existing Apple TV users looking to buy an additional Apple TV for another room for activities such as Apple Fitness+.
For most existing first-generation Apple TV 4K users, the upgrade to the second-generation model will likely not be worth it since the improvements are minor.
Given the complaints about the first-generation Siri Remote, it is difficult to recommend new buyers to miss out on the redesigned version. If the new Siri Remote is the most alluring part of the second-generation Apple TV 4K for you, then it is possible to simply buy the new remote separately for $59.
It would make sense to buy the first-generation Apple TV 4K if you can get it cheap enough that you can buy the second-generation Siri Remote to add to it, and still have spent less than the $179 starting price of the second-generation Apple TV 4K when it was new.
Unless you do this and get the first-generation Apple TV for a very good price compared to the second-generation Apple TV 4K, it makes sense to buy the newer model instead.
Although the second-generation model is very similar to its predecessor in terms of specifications, the faster and more recent A12 processor will make it more future-proof. Users who watch a lot of sports and care about high framerate video will also be better off spending more to get the newer model.