Skip to main content

Apple TV 4K vs. Apple TV HD

Let’s cut right to the case here: There’s no question whether the Apple TV 4K is superior to the Apple TV HD — it is. But you’re not here because you don’t know that; you’re likely here because you’re in the market for a new streaming box. And whether you’re looking to switch from a Roku or Amazon box, you’re new to Apple TV, or you’re looking to upgrade from an older Apple TV, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth shelling out for their flagship 4K product, which just recently got a much-needed upgrade last April, or wondering if you could make do with the latest Apple TV HD (4th-generation), which hasn’t had an upgrade since 2015.

Either way, we’re here to help. But before we get rolling, it’s worth pointing out some of those upgrades that the new Apple TV 4K just received. Design-wise, the box looks exactly the same, but on the inside, it’s been given a significant power upgrade with the latest A12 processor, which enables some advanced video capabilities, as well as some cool features that cleverly utilize the iPhone to help with color balancing. Perhaps most significantly, Apple has answered the cries of frustrated users by giving the Siri remote a complete overhaul. Let’s dig in.

Apple TV 4K 2021 with new Siri remote.
Apple

Resolution

To be clear, this comparison is as much about what you need as what you want. When considering which Apple TV is your best choice, the lion’s share of this question comes down to resolution — do you need a 4K streaming box? The new Apple TV 4K is equipped with the latest resolution technologies, including 4K UHD streaming at up to 2160p and at 60 frames per second (fps), Dolby Vision, and HDR10, allowing for smooth video and the kind of vibrant colors only HDR (high dynamic range) can deliver. As 4K HDR and Dolby Vision content become more available across streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+, being equipped to enjoy the moment is a growing necessity.

Entering the Apple ecosystem beyond just the movies and series it offers has its advantages, too. The inclusion of 60 fps and Dolby Vision might be particularly intriguing for iPhone 12 and 13 Pro and Pro Max users, for example, who could use the new Apple TV 4K to finally play back videos they’ve shot in this resolution. However, and as obvious as it might sound, if you don’t have a TV that can support these features and don’t plan on upgrading to one anytime soon, then you’re barking up the wrong tree here.

The Apple TV HD, on the other hand, was released in 2015 and has been a workhorse of a streaming device. But its lack of HDR capabilities, Dolby Vision, and 1080p cap make it less relevant for the largely 4K TV world we’re living in now. There are still plenty of people out there who are just fine with their standard-definition Netflix subscriptions and for whom a 1080p TV set suits their needs perfectly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s the case, save yourself $30 and opt for the Apple TV HD (32GB version).

Winner: Apple TV 4K

Power and connectivity

The recent refresh of the Apple TV 4K includes the addition of the new A12 Bionic processor, which is the powerhouse chip that makes all the aforementioned video-processing capabilities possible. It’s the same formidable chip that has been placed in previous iPhones, and is a significant upgrade from the 1st-gen Apple TV 4K’s A10X Fusion processor.

The new 2021 Apple TV 4K has improved its connectivity prowess, too, going from HDMI 2.0a up to HDMI 2.1 (to help with that higher frame rate and with some of today’s newer TVs). It also taps into the latest Wi-Fi 6 with 802.11ax, allowing for faster transfer speeds. It still employs the same Gigabit Ethernet capabilities and Bluetooth 5.0, though, so nothing new to report there.

Apple TV 4K Color Balance with iPhone.

A cool feature that was announced alongside the new Apple TV 4K is one we hadn’t seen before, and it might tip the scales if you’re deciding between the latest-gen Apple TV 4K and its last-gen brethren. On the latest model, you can calibrate your Apple TV’s color presentation using your iPhone 12 or 13’s onboard sensors and cameras, making way for pro-level color balancing. To do so, you simply point your iPhone’s front camera at the TV screen and allow it to read the on-screen image. All this is to say that, under the hood, the latest Apple TV 4K is about as stacked as you can get for a streaming device and will futureproof your setup for years to come.

With the older Apple A8 chip powering it, the 4th-gen Apple TV HD can still hold its own if having the latest 4K resolution isn’t your No. 1 priority. All you need under the hood is there, including HDMI 1.4, Wi-Fi 5 with 802.11ac, and 10/100 Ethernet connectivity that’s more than enough for Full HD streaming. Again, based on your needs and budget, the Apple TV HD can be a good choice. But if you ever plan on upgrading your TV to 4K, you’re going to be left in the dust with this older device.

Winner: Apple TV 4K

Siri Remote

If you’ve felt the frustration of the touchpad-style Siri remote for the Apple TV HD and 4th-gen Apple TV 4K, then the revamped version of it is going to be a welcome upgrade. Now included with both the new Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD boxes, the new remote harks back to the aluminum remote design from the 3rd-gen Apple TV. Made from 100% recycled aluminum, the frustrating touchpad of old has been eschewed for a four-way, circular directional pad (thank the maker!), which is a touchpad in disguise. Cleverly, the outside rim of the pad also acts as a scrub dial, allowing you to move your video forward and backward with ease.

A hand holding the new Siri remote for Apple TV 4K.
Apple

Two new buttons make an appearance on the new remote — a dedicated power button and a mute button that controls your TV. And if you were ever annoyed at accidentally hitting the Siri button on the old remote, it’s been moved to the side of the new version. Current Apple TV owners not looking to upgrade their boxes (and who hate the existing remote) will also be pleased to know that they can get the new 2nd-gen remote for $59.

Winner: Tie

Gaming

Aside from Apple TV’s streaming entertainment capabilities, one aspect of the Apple TV 4K you may want to consider is its gaming abilities — especially with this latest 2nd-generation. The new A12 Bionic chip is said to offer a substantial improvement in performance over its 10X predecessor, while the HDMI 2.1 and variable refresh rate (VRR) upgrade will make gaming through Apple’s Arcade subscription service that much more attractive. That, and its availability in 32GB and 64GB flavors, give you the option for more gaming storage. There really isn’t a competition here — if gaming with your Apple TV is important to you, the new 4K version is the only way to go.

Winner: Apple TV 4K

Bottom line

As we mentioned above, deciding between the older, 4th-gen Apple TV HD and the latest 2nd-gen Apple TV 4K more or less comes down to your needs versus wants. If your TV hardware doesn’t support 4K and you’re OK with standard definition, then we’d recommend saving yourself the $30 and getting a 32GB Apple TV HD for $149. If you’re planning on upgrading your TV and services to 4K, then the extra money is well worth it, and you’ll be good to go when you do.

If you take your movies and TV streaming seriously and you have the gear to deliver the experience, the Apple TV 4K is the way to go. Whether you’re into the gaming opportunities made available now or not, the upgraded A12 processor and pumped-up video capabilities — not to mention the new remote — will surely make for a peak experience. Thankfully, the pricing for the 2nd-gen remains unchanged at $179 for the 32GB version and $199 for the 64GB version, and for those prices, the obvious choice is the Apple TV 4K.

Apple TV HD

Apple TV 4K

Editors' Recommendations