Which is the best Apple TV to buy in 2017? Should I get the 2015 (fourth-gen) Apple TV, find the cheaper third-gen Apple TV on the refurbished store or eBay, or wait until the fifth-gen Apple TV comes out? And which model of Apple TV is best for me?
The Apple TV is a great product to consider buying. Once referred to by Steve Jobs as "the hobby", the Apple TV has grown to become one of the best products Apple has ever made. If you're thinking of buying an Apple TV, then you have a few options, and we're here to advise you.
In this feature, we'll look at the different models of Apple TV and what each one offers (and costs), and help you decide which is the best choice for you.
- What Apple TV models are available?
- What are the differences between the third- and fourth-generation Apple TV models?
- New Apple TV complaints
- Is it worth buying the 2015 Apple TV, or should you look for a second-hand or refurbished 2012 (third-gen) Apple TV?
- When will the fifth-gen Apple TV come out, and is it worth waiting for that?
So before handing your cash over to Apple, let's take a look at the different Apple TV models.
Best Apple TV buying guide 2017: What Apple TV models are available?
Since discontinuing the third-gen (2012) Apple TV late in 2016, Apple sells just one type of Apple TV: the 2015, or fourth-gen Apple TV. This comes in two model options. Going to the Apple Store shows that you can pick the new Apple TV from £129. Here are the models:
- New Apple TV (4th generation), £129. This device is the basic model of the new Apple TV. It comes with 32GB of onboard storage for apps, games, movies and other content.
- New Apple TV (4th generation), £169. This device is the premium model of the new Apple TV. It comes with 64GB of onboard storage but is identical to the basic model in all other respects.
However, the older third-gen Apple TV (which comes with less storage: 8GB) can still be had, and hopefully at a much lower price, from various second-hand outlets such as eBay. It's worth checking the Apple TV section of Apple's refurbished store, to see if there are any third-gen models. At time of writing there aren't, unfortunately.
When it was still on sale the third-gen Apple TV cost just £59, so second-hand you should be looking at rather less. Be warned that some sellers on eBay have been pushing up their prices since that model was discontinued, so check the prices carefully. (Some sellers justify prices of £100 or more on the basis that the devices come pre-loaded with Kodi or some other piece of popular software.)
On the surface, it would seem that you pay an awful lot extra to go from 8GB up to 32GB (or 64GB) of storage. However, there are far more differences between the 3rd and 4th generation Apple TV than just storage size.
Best Apple TV buying guide 2017: What are the differences between the third- and fourth-gen Apple TVs?
The Apple TV has morphed a lot over the years, since its first introduction in 2009. When it started, the device was a simple way to sync content from your iTunes library and watch it on your television. The content was mostly limited to music and videos from your iTunes library.
The second version got rid of the syncing and made it easy to stream music and video from your Mac or iOS device (using AirPlay) and introduced new services such as Netflix and Now TV along with streaming from iCloud.
And then we get to the models that are available to you.
- Apple TV (3rd generation). The third generation (which has been discontinued, but can still be bought second hand) took this idea of streaming and ran with it. You can stream just about anything from a Mac, iPhone or iPad (including the whole screen), or bounce content such as iPlayer from your iPhone or iPad to your television using AirPlay. It also has apps such as Netflix and Now TV, you can also play music with iTunes Match, Apple Music Library or Home Sharing, and any photos you have in iCloud Photo Library can be displayed. You can also buy or rent the latest movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store.
- Apple TV (4th generation). The latest version of the Apple TV does everything the third generation did (which was, to be fair, an awful lot) and two big new things. The first is a Siri remote, that works like a touch-screen when you flick your finger across it, and enables you to speak to your Apple TV using Siri. The second new thing is apps: developers can now make apps for the Apple TV, and you can buy them from a store. The Apple TV (third generation) had a few apps, such as Netflix and Sky, but these were built-in. The new Apple TV has apps from other people, such as a BBC iPlayer app, games, health apps, karaoke and much more.
As well as the above, various tvOS software updates have added - and will continue to add - more functionality to the 4th generation Apple TV. The main addition in tvOS 9.2, for example, are folders, which help organise the Apple TV home screen in a way that will be familiar to iPhone and iPad users. You can drag and hold apps (when in 'wiggle' mode) on top of each other to create folders, just as you'd do on an iOS device.
The app switcher has also been redesigned to look more like its iOS counterparts with users able to flick through active acts in a left-to-right card fashion. Currently, the system displays a very large thumbnail in the centre of the screen showcasing the most recent app, with older apps to the left and right. Along with a redesigned app switcher, users can look forward to an official Podcasts app and official Bluetooth keyboard support, which will definitely come in handy when entering login information on the many apps available on the TV.
So the big difference is that the new Apple TV has apps, these offer a much wider range of variety and functionality to the Apple TV. There're a lot of great games to play on the new Apple TV, and you can play them using the Siri remote or buy a dedicated games controller and use the Apple TV as a lightweight video games console.
The most recent version of tvOS at time of writing is tvOS 10. You can read more about that here: Best tvOS 10 new features.
While we love the 2015 Apple TV, it, like any product on the market, isn't perfect and suffers from bugs of its own. The most prominent Apple TV bug at the moment is one that could cost owners money because it seems that some Apple TV boxes are randomly powering on and with them, many connected TVs. The Apple TV supports HDMI-CEC, which means if your TV is HDMI-CEC compatible, your Apple TV can turn on your TV itself without any need for a remote. It means that, in theory, you could wake up the Apple TV and the connected TV with a single click.
However, with this bug, it's causing TVs to turn on randomly. Now, while many modern TVs use very little electricity, there is another issue: plasma TVs. Plasma TVs suffer from Plasma burn-in when left on a static screen for too long, causing the image to stay on screen even when changing channels. As well as this, it could disrupt sleep if plugged in, in a bedroom. There are numerous threads on Apple's support forums discussing the issue, and while many hope that the upcoming tvOS 9.2 update will fix the bug, it has yet to be confirmed by Apple.
Read next: Apple TV tips
Best Apple TV buying guide 2017: Is it worth buying the 2015 Apple TV?
So when buying an Apple TV, you have two decisions to make. The first is to pick between the old Apple TV (third-generation) and new Apple TV; the second is whether to get the £129 32GB model or £169 64GB model.
Siri is nice on the new Apple TV, but we don't think it alone is worth paying twice as much. What's more compelling is the wider range of apps available on the new model. If you like to play games and use apps (other than video) then the new Apple TV is worth the extra money. The additional apps are great fun to use, and gaming on the Apple TV is much better value than using a PS4 or Xbox One.
If all you want is an easy way to watch a video, play music and view your photos on a television, then the 2012 Apple TV offers all the functionality you need. It has Netflix, Sky and Now TV and you can use AirPlay to stream other services such as BBC iPlayer and Amazon Video. It's perfectly functional and using an iPhone as a remote control is better than the Siri remote at any rate.
If you're really after a bargain, don't forget that there are cheaper alternatives to the Apple TV range. If all you want is BBC iPlayer, ITV, On Demand (All 4), Sky and Spotify then the Now TV box is great value at just £14.99. Roku also makes similar devices that can be picked up for a better price.
Having said that, we like to stick inside the Apple ecosystem so we can use services such as Apple Music, iCloud Photo Library and use AirPlay to bounce content from our iPhones.
Read more: New Apple TV vs old Apple TV
Best Apple TV buying guide 2017: Should you wait for the fifth-gen Apple TV?
It's true that there are few things more annoying than buying a lovely new tech product and then seeing a lovelier and more advanced replacement hit the stores a couple of weeks later. If only you'd waited! But worrying about this stuff - unless there is clear reason to expect an imminent launch - is generally a waste of energy.
With iPhones, for instance, there's a fairly predictable launch pattern; you might have got caught out when the iPhone SE came out in spring, but you usually know that the big update will happen in autumn, so you don't buy a new iPhone in August. The problem with the Apple TV is that there isn't a clear pattern, so it's really hard to know when it'll be updated.
Here's when the four generations of Apple TV launched:
- 1st-gen Apple TV: January 2007
- 2nd-gen Apple TV: September 2010
- 3rd-gen Apple TV: March 2012
- 4th-gen Apple TV: September 2015
Somewhere in the region of three years between models, then, but with a fair bit of wiggle room. By that token we might not expect the next Apple TV until 2018, but bear in mind that Apple seems to be taking the TV more seriously than it used to, and might want to update it more often from now on. You see what I mean about wasted energy?
Obsolescence, sooner or later, is just part of the bargain when you buy tech products. Keep your ear to the ground - see the article linked below - for any strong clues that the new model is on its way, but our advice would otherwise be to take the plunge now (assuming you can afford it and need a new device) and try not to worry about it.
Read more: New Apple TV 2017 release date rumours UK