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Apple TV 4K (2021) vs. Apple TV 4K (2022): Is the upgrade worth it?

For several years now, the Apple TV has been a go-to streaming device for households looking to unlock a bevy of apps and content using Apple’s seamless and user-friendly interface and powerful network performance. And with the introduction of the Apple TV 4K in 2017, Apple added 4K resolution to the peripheral’s list of accolades.

Fast-forward four years to the release of the 2021 version of the Apple TV 4K, and we got faster frame rate performance for 4K content (60 fps), an amped up A12 Bionic chip, along with an improved Siri remote. How could life get any better for Apple’s calling card streaming device? Well friends, true champions never rest.

In a surprise mid-October 2022 press release, Apple announced the all-new Apple TV 4K (2022), available in both 64GB and 128GB versions, and packed with a slew of upgrades and a softer starting price. This leads to the big question on everyone’s mind: do you invest in the $130/$150 Apple TV 4K (2022) or the Apple TV 4K (2021), which can now be had for around $100? We compared both model years to help you decide.

Design and remote control

The new Apple TV 4K, 3rd-generation, with the Siri remote.
Apple

To the naked eye, both the 2022 and 2021 Apple TV 4K models look about the same. In fact, you really have to place both units side-by-side to see any kind of dimensional differences.

Sharing the same glossy black outer shell between model years, the newest Apple TV 4K measures 3.7-inches wide, 3.7-inches from front to back, and 1.2-inches tall, making it just a little bit smaller than the 2021 version (3.9 inches by 3.9 inches by1.4 inches).

Placed next to each other, the 2022 and 2021 Siri remotes look about the same too, with the one key difference being a USB-C charging port for the 2022 version and an Apple-only Lightning port for the 2021 iteration. This isn’t an apples-to-apples changeup either, seeing as that USB-C port is going to charge your Siri remote faster than the Lightning connection.

Thus, for its slightly slimmer chassis and faster-charging remote, the Apple TV 4K (2022) wins this round.

Winner: Apple TV 4K (2022)

Connections and performance

The Apple TV 4K (2022) 64GB and 128GB models.
The 2022 Apple TV 4K models: 64GB (top) and 128GB (bottom).

Both the 2022 and 2021 versions of the Apple TV 4K are equipped with HDMI 2.1 outputs, along with HDMI ARC/eARC support for those of us wiring into a Dolby Atmos-ready AV receiver or soundbar. There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet port for hard-wiring the device to your router, negating the need to hop onto your home Wi-Fi, although there’s a catch here.

There are two versions of the Apple TV 4K (2022) hitting shelves — a 64GB version and a 128GB version, and only the latter includes the wired Ethernet connection. This may not be a big deal for some, but if you’re looking to take some of the strain off of your 2.4GHz or 5GHz network band, or simply want the absolute best overall streaming experience possible, you’ll need to spend the extra $20 to get the 128GB 2022 unit, or opt for the Apple TV 4K (2021), which includes an Ethernet port on both the 32GB and 64GB versions.

And for those concerned with the future of smart home networking, only the 128GB 2022 model supports Thread, a crucial Internet-of-Things protocol that allows IoT standards like Matter to live and operate on your Apple TV 4K. The 64GB 2022 model supports Matter, but not Thread. With the release of tvOS 16.1, Thread is now included on both versions of the Apple TV 4K (2021). In terms of Apple HomeKit support, both model years are able to act as smart home hubs for your HomeKit-powered smart ecosystem.

In terms of performance, the Apple TV 4K (2021) rocks Apple’s A12 Bionic chip, a powerful processor that allows for buttery-smooth interface navigation, efficient app loading, seamless voice assistant responsiveness, and lightning-fast content buffering. But alas, Apple has topped themselves yet again with the introduction of the A15 Bionic chip for both versions of the Apple TV 4K (2022).

Apple claims this all-new processor will deliver up to 50% faster CPU performance and 30% faster GPU performance, allowing the 2022 model to navigate, animate, and load apps and streams even faster than the 2021 model.

Considering the improved chipset, we’re going to award a point to the latest Apple TV 4K for this category.

Winner: Apple TV 4K (2022)

Picture and sound quality

The Apple TV 4K user interface.

One of the standout upgrades for the Apple TV 4K (2021) was the ability to output a 4K HDR signal at 60 fps, making it an ideal streaming hub for gamers, sports fans, and action movie diehards. But there was one glaring miss in the HDR department, which is the exclusion of HDR10+, a standard supported by competitive streaming devices like the Fire TV Cube and Roku Express 4K Plus. Thankfully, Apple took note of this, but as of right now, the only way to get HDR10+ on an Apple TV 4K is to upgrade to either version of the 2022 model.

HDR10+ is a pretty integral HDR format, too, especially for Samsung TV owners, allowing for higher maximum brightness output (when compared to HDR10), with peak metrics close to 4,000 nits, along with a more dynamic means of adjusting picture brightness, colors, and contrast. And while HDR10+ is still somewhat of a Samsung TV exclusive, that doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing the picture standard on other TVs a few months down the line.

One should also consider the fact that the Apple TV 4K (2022) rocks that A15 Bionic chip, which is going to have some impact on how efficiently the hardware can unpack various HDR and sound codecs, and if you purchase the top-shelf 128GB 2022 model and you’re plugged in for an Ethernet experience, all of this decoding will run even smoother.

But does the Apple TV 4K (2021) pale in comparison? Not a chance. Sans HDR10+ and the A15 chip, the 2021 model supports all the other HDR formats as the 2022 model, along with Dolby Atmos and 4K/60fps. Considering all of this though, we’re going to award a point to the Apple TV 4K (2022) for its HDR10+ support and bumped-up chipset.

Winner: Apple TV 4K (2022)

Price and availability

Even though Apple removed the Ethernet port on the 64GB version of the Apple TV 4K (2022), and there’s no Thread support, this helped to lower the starting price of the 2022 hardware. As of this writing, you can preorder the 64GB version of the Apple TV 4K (2022) for only $130, with in-store and online availability starting November 4. And for only $20 more, you can opt for the 128GB version, which also nets you that Gigabit Ethernet connection and Thread/Matter support.

Seeing the above written out, from a price standpoint alone, it really doesn’t make sense to go for the 2021 model. Yes, even the 32GB version includes an Ethernet port and is Thread/Matter-ready, and while you can currently purchase the 32GB 2021 model for $100 and the 64GB version for $115, dropping an extra $35 gets you the upgraded A15 Bionic chip and double the storage space of the 64GB 2021 model.

And so if it’s all about money, yes, you can save some dough by opting for either version of the Apple TV 4K (2021), but if you’re looking for upgraded storage, a better processor, and HDR10+ support, spend the extra $15 or $35 for the 2022 model.

Winner: Tie

The verdict

Apple TV 4K 2022.

Apple doesn’t deliver a new Apple TV on an annual basis, which made the surprise announcement of the Apple TV 4K (2022) all the more surprising. That being said, if you’re shopping for a powerful and intuitive streaming device that you won’t have to worry about upgrading for a number of years, we would highly recommend investing in either version of the all-new Apple TV 4K (2022), with an emphasis placed on the 128GB unit (after all, it’s only $20 more).

And for those of us that are wondering whether or not we should be upgrading the Apple TV 4K (2021) that’s already wired up to our AV system, or buying one new while they’re still available through third-party retailers, rest assured that the 2021 model is still a phenomenal streaming peripheral, complete with HDR support, fast performance, and Gigabit Ethernet support for both the 32GB and 64GB versions.

Winner: Apple TV 4K (2022)

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