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Every Generation of Apple TV: Full Feature Rundown and Comparison

Check out our list of each version of Apple TV, how they differ, and what features each one included.

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Apple TV Generations

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Apple is one of the most prolific companies in the world. While they have made innovative contributions that few can keep up with, there is an unfortunate side effect to their massive body of work – it’s too hard to keep up with everything! The amount of iPods, iPhones and Mac devices they’ve released can make your head spin. While their Apple TV products have also gone through several iterations, it’s luckily much easier to pin down. Join us on a little trip down memory lane of all the Apple TV versions.

A look at the 1st and 2nd Generations

The 1st generation of Apple TV is the easiest to compare to the rest of the lot. While this was the grandfather of them all, it also lacked so many modern features that are now heavily associated with Apple TV.

Surprising to many, the 1st generation actually had the most data storage despite being first released back in 2007. The first version of Apple TV could hold either 40gb or 160gb of multimedia storage depending on which model you owned. It also utilized HDMI and USB functionality, though both features have been updated over the years.

The best way to describe the 1st generation is not what it had but what it lacked. This initial version lacked 1080p (it could only reach 720p), it was not compatible with the Apple Watch, which was released in 2014, nor could it be used with things like apps or Siri. It also used a CPU processor which is considered very outdated by today’s standards.

The 2nd generation of Apple TV is moderately better by comparison. First released in 2010 it was very similar to its predecessor but had several features added. It had Netflix compatibility, Bluetooth functionality and even supported 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. It was objectively better by several measures but still feels lacking by today’s technology, doesn’t it? Therefore let’s move on.

Comparing the 3rd and 4th Generations of Apple TV

These days when anyone mentions the words “Apple TV” they’re likely not going to be talking about the near-relics of a decade ago. What you’re actually much more likely to hear is the debate between Apple TV 3 vs 4.

The 3rd version of Apple TV dropped in 2012 and in retrospect wasn’t much more than a slightly modified version of the 2nd gen. It was the first Apple TV to have 1080p and had a marginally better processor but that’s about it. Things really started to get into high gear when the 4th generation came about in 2015.

Comparing the 3rd and 4th gens of Apple TV is like comparing night and day. There were so many improvements made in this iteration that it should boggle minds why anyone would consider choosing the 3rd over the 4th unless it were free.

This generation was the first to implement many features that are considered the gold standard by many people’s television needs. Not only did the 4th generation include everything good from the previous but it added Siri and app support, Dolby 7.1 for superior surround sound, updated USB-C and HDMI ports, Bluetooth 4.0 and it brought back internal hard drive disk storage which was absent from the 2nd and 3rd versions. Apple TV 4 is available in either 32gb or 64gb capacity sizes.

The CPU processor was also revamped. The 4th generation features what is officially titled the Apple A8 processor. It was much more powerful than the previous CPUs used in older Apple TV models. Instead of a 32-bit processor outputting 1.0Ghz of memory, it had a 64-bit processor capable of 1.4Ghz. Without boring you with the specifics, this was undoubtedly a big technological step forward.

This 4th generation really helped Apple TV take off thanks to its ability to be well integrated with other Apple products. Apple fans will often say that they love how intuitive and interconnected their hardware and software is. This matrix of shared devices and programs was finally able to reach completion with the maturity of the 4th version of Apple TV. If that doesn’t convince you who the winner is of Apple TV 3 vs 4 then maybe nothing will.

It doesn’t stop there though as we have one more version to take a look at, and it’s the best one so far.

Overview of Apple TV 4K (5th generation)

 Apple TV 4K

There is actually still some confusion that we should get out of the way now. Apple TV 4K is not some updated version of the 4th generation but is actually the official 5th generation. Perhaps the “4” in 4K is the cause of this confusion but that’s a different discussion.

Released fairly recently in 2017, Apple TV 4K is currently the newest version of this long running series of hardware. As the name implies, this 5th version was introduced to compliment the market of 4K or 2160p resolution television sets that have been sweeping the world.

4K support wasn’t the only thing that Apple added into this newest version. The 5th gen is also compatible with HDR or High Dynamic Range pictures. 4K combined with HDR provides the most clear and detailed picture you can get at home. Light and colors have never looked so realistic on a TV screen before these advances.

Apple TV 4K also sports a new processor called A10 Fusion, which uses a 2.34Ghz CPU. This is a massive upgrade over previous models and was designed to keep up with the eight million pixels that 4K resolutions will be displaying.

The only real flaw with Apple TV 4K is that they removed the USB port from this version which is a questionable decision to say the least. Fortunately it doesn’t get in the way of the absolute powerhouse that this model is.

That’s it for our brief history and rundown of all five generations of Apple TV. Hopefully you’ve learned something interesting or helpful about one of the major branches of this prolific company.