Apple TV 4K (2017) vs. Apple TV 4K (2021): time to upgrade?

Do you need to upgrade your Apple TV 4K to the new version? Are there enough reasons for you to upgrade?

First introduced to consumers in 2007, the Apple TV connects you to all your favorite streaming services, like Apple TV Plus, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and more. Photo sharing through iCloud, AirPlay 2 casting from iOS devices, and gameplay through the Apple Arcade are just a few of the other standout functions of the device.

Intended to replace the 5th-generation Apple TV 4K released in 2017, which added UHD and HDR support to the streamer, Apple’s 6th-gen 2021 streaming hub brought a handful of new tech to the table.

If you’re considering adding an Apple TV to your media room or are wondering whether you should upgrade your older model, we’ve put together this side-by-side comparison of the Apple TV 4K from 2017 and the Apple TV 4K from 2021 to help you decide. Of course, there are rumors of a new Apple TV 4K coming in 2022, so stay tuned for that.

If you’re on a budget or wondering if the older Apple TV HD will do the trick, we’ve also put together an Apple TV 4K vs. Apple TV HD comparison, too. 

Identical hubs, new remote

Apple TV 4K (2021) with Siri remote.

Five years between hardware releases would lead many to believe that the latest and greatest Apple TV model would look drastically different. That’s simply not the case with the Apple TV 4K. Both generations look exactly the same, measuring 3.9 inches wide and 1.4 inches from top to bottom. In terms of color, there’s only one — black. Connections on the back of both units include power, HDMI, and an Ethernet jack for optional network gear hard-wiring.

The major design difference between both generations is Apple’s redesigned Siri remote. Packaged with the 2021 Apple TV 4K (and sold separately for $59 as a backward-compatible remote), the revamped remote boasts a brand-new appearance. Clad in 100% recycled aluminum, it’s sleeker and a bit longer than the previous generation. It features a five-way directional pad, touch controls, power and mute buttons, and a side-facing Siri button for those frustrated by accidentally hitting it on the old version.

Apple TV 4K (2021) Siri remote.

Compare that to the 5th-gen remote’s touchpad-only design that forced many users to swipe and tap through on-screen menus. At times it was easy, but the oversensitive pad could quickly become a nuisance. The new remote’s added directional pad takes care of that issue. Apple’s 6th-gen remote also adds Bluetooth 5.0 and CEC support for compatible devices, allowing you to do things like power your TV on and off and adjust the volume on your A/V receiver using just your Apple TV remote.

Winner: Apple TV 4K (2021)

An identical user interface, improved performance

Both the 2017 and 2021 Apple TV 4K are built upon the same operating system, Apple’s tvOS 14 (based on iOS 14.4). The Apple TV home screen features rows and columns of your favorite apps, recommended content, photos, games, the Apple App Store, and general device settings. Adding certain apps to the customizable top row allows you to watch previews of recommended movies, TV shows, music videos, games, and photos right on the home screen. Navigating is as simple as swiping or directional-padding your way through the on-screen apps and options. Once the app or item you want to open is highlighted, select it to launch the service. You can also use your remote’s Siri button to open apps and navigate around your Apple TV using voice commands.

In terms of overall performance, the 2017 Apple TV 4K is powered by Apple’s A10X Fusion chip. The 2021 model rocks Apple’s all-new A12X Fusion chip. This means faster frame-rate support during all video playback, quicker load times, and smoother navigation. The latest Apple TV also boasts an HDMI 2.1 output and support for Wi-Fi 6 for an improved streaming experience, app to app. Thanks to the faster chipset on the 2021 model, HDR can now be viewed at 60 frames per second, as compared to only 30 fps on the previous model. Both units feature native support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

Another benefit for video connoisseurs is the addition of HDR picture tuning, native to the 2021 model and available through a software update on older Apple TV hardware. Similar to professional TV calibrations, the feature allows you to use a compatible iPhone (iOS 14.5 or later) to measure your TV’s colors against your Apple TV’s image output. The end result: a well-balanced image brimming with color and appropriate brightness levels.

Winner: Apple TV 4K (2021)

Smart home command center

apple tv 4k event announcement up next.

Both the 5th- and 6th-gen Apple TVs can be used as command centers for your home’s Apple HomeKit smart ecosystem. You can use the streaming hub to view live video from your property’s web-connected smart cameras, lock and unlock compatible smart locks using the Siri remote, adjust smart thermostat temperature settings, and more.

AirPlay 2 is available on both 5th- and 6th-gen Apple TVs, allowing you to wirelessly cast video, photos, music, and your compatible iOS device screen to your Apple TV, letting you view and listen to content through your TV and home theater system.

Winner: Tie

New updates with tvOS 15 and tvOS 16

In June 2021, tvOS 15 was released. It added a great new feature to Apple TV 4K. You now can use your AirPods Pro with your Apple TV 4K to experience the latest in head-tracking technology to create a virtual home theatre experience. If you already have a home theatre setup, then you are used to sounds coming from different speakers. If you do not, then this update creates a similar head-tracking spatial audio experience.

Also, tvOS 16 adds some new Apple TV 4K functionality. Cross-device connectivity has been added, which will allow developers to use Apple TV apps with iPhone and iPad apps. This will allow new experiences on Apple TV. Matter (a new smart home standard) will also be included in tvOS 16. This will improve interoperability between items from different companies.

All these updates are available on both 1st-gen and 2nd-gen Apple TV devices.

Winner: Tie

Price and warranty

Apple TV 4K (2021) with old Siri remote.

The 2021 Apple TV 4K sells for the same price(s) as the 2017 model. That’s $130 for 32GB of storage and $150 for the 64GB version. Apple provides a one-year limited warranty on Apple TV devices, with additional AppleCare plans available at the time of purchase. Apple has discontinued the 2017 Apple TV 4K.

Price-wise, Apple still demands more than the other guy. Competitive 4K streaming hubs from companies like Roku, Amazon, and Google are generally less expensive than Apple hardware while offering a number of the same key perks, like apps, games, UHD, and HDR support. That said, if you’re Apple-or-die, forking over a few extra dollars for Apple’s stream box probably won’t mean that much to you and yours in the grand scheme of things.

Winner: Tie

The verdict

Should you upgrade from your existing Apple TV 4K to the 2021 model? Probably not. Aside from a slight boost in performance and a new remote (which you can buy separately), the fundamentals of both the 2017 and 2021 models are essentially the same. If you’re buying your very first Apple TV, however, we’d recommend opting for the 2021 model. You’ll net yourself all the latest hardware perks and the HDR calibration tool for the same price as the previous generation.

If either generation of the Apple TV 4K sends you into sticker shock, fear not. Check out our roundup of the best streaming devices to find the hardware and price point that better aligns with you and your wallet.

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