The Apple TV is Apple's set-top box that enables you to watch films and TV shows on your big-screen telly through iTunes and a raft of other online services including Netflix, Amazon Prime and many of the OnDemand channels. Now in its fifth generation, the device has evolved a lot over the years; there are currently two models to choose from, and a number of buying options for each.

In this feature, we'll look at the different models of Apple TV and what each one offers - and costs - to help you decide which is the best for you. So before handing your cash over to Apple, let's take a look at the different Apple TV models.

If you do manage to reach a decision, you can buy directly from Apple or browse our roundup of the best Apple deals.

Note, while we don't know if Apple will launch a new Apple TV in 2019, it is looking like the company will be adding more streaming content to the device, potentially offering a subscription service to its customers. In addition, since the beginning of 2019 various TV manufacturers have agreed to add AirPlay 2 support to their sets to enable Apple content from the iTunes Store to be watched on their TVs. Read more about the TVs that offer AirPlay 2 here.

What Apple TV models are available?

Best Apple TV buying guide 2018: The Apple TV

Apple currently sells two models of Apple TV: the 2015 fourth generation Apple TV (updated with the 2017 Siri remote); and the 2017 Apple TV 4K. You may also hear these two devices referred to as the fourth- and fifth-gen Apple TVs.

As you might have guessed, the biggest difference is that the newer model supports 4K video, although there are a few other differences too, as you will see from the table below. The Apple TV 4K is also available in two storage options, so you essentially have three models to pick from:

Model Apple TV (4th generation) Apple TV 4K Apple TV 4K
Supports 4K? No Yes Yes
Storage 32GB 32GB 64GB
Picture quality 1080p, HD 4K, 2160p, HDR10 4K, 2160p, HDR10
Sound Dolby Digital Plus
7.1 surround sound
Dolby Atmos
360-degree sound
Dolby Atmos
360-degree sound
Processor A8 A10X A10X
Networking 10/100BASE-T Ethernet
802.11ac Wi‑Fi
Bluetooth 4.0
Gigabit Ethernet
802.11ac Wi‑Fi
Simultaneous dual band
Bluetooth 5.0
Gigabit Ethernet
802.11ac Wi‑Fi
Simultaneous dual band
Bluetooth 5.0
Ports HDMI 1.4 HDMI 2.0 HDMI 2.0
Price £149/$149 £179/$179 £199/$199
  Buy Buy Buy

It's worth checking the Apple TV section of Apple's refurbished store, to see if there are any cheaper fourth-gen models, and there's always eBay - where you might even find an older third-gen model for a lot less.

Apple TV channels

What are the differences between the fourth-gen and 4K Apple TVs?

The Apple TV has morphed a lot over the years since its 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.

Since then it's advanced a lot, and now runs tvOS (a version of iOS), and includes a full suite of apps for streaming and downloading video content - including iTunes and Apple Music - along with streaming content directly from your iPhone or iPad over AirPlay. There's also an app store specifically for the Apple TV that includes games. It also supports Siri voice controls through the Siri remote, which also enables touch controls for gaming and navigating the interface.

Apple TV remote

Broadly speaking, both models of Apple TV on the Apple Store right now are similar - and aesthetically, they're identical. The chief difference between the two models is that the Apple TV 4K supports 4K and HDR content, offers Dolby Atmos cinema sound, and packs a more powerful A10X Fusion processor and faster networking capabilities to make sure it runs that content smoothly. We'll look in more detail at these features below explaining what the new technologies will bring.

Picture quality

The pricier Apple TV 4K models are able to play films and TV shows at 2160p, while the fourth-generation model only offers 1080p. This means you can get more pixels with the 4K model, which results in more detailed images in those films and TV shows (and TVs) that support the format.

Many - though not all - Apple TV apps offer 4K content, and Apple charges the same for 4K films as it does for HD, and offers free, automatic upgrades for anyone who's already bought HD content that has a 4K version available. However, it's worth noting that you can only stream 4K content, not download it to watch offline (the files would quickly fill up your storage) - though you can still download HD releases.

In addition to 4K, the Apple TV 4K also supports Dolby Vision and HDR10, which are both different formats of HDR - high dynamic range. Separate and distinct from 4K, HDR delivers richer, more vibrant colours and increased contrast between blacks and white so that you can see more detail in the darker areas of the image. Essentially 4K means more pixels while HDR means that the TV can display millions more colours.

Most 4K content is likely to support HDR - though there may be some exceptions - and some regular HD content will also support one or other of the formats. Obviously to benefit from 4K and HDR you will need a TV that supports it too.

Apple TV buying guide 2018: 4K model

Sound

As for audio, the fourth generation Apple TV model supports Dolby 7.1 surround sound, while the  4K devices support Dolby Atmos 360-degree cinema sound.

Dolby Atmos uses object-oriented audio engineering to fire sound in different directions to give you a more immersive audio experience. It creates an effect that means you hear the sound moving around you - assuming that the film you are watching has that effect and that you have the necessary speakers to produce the effect.

Films that offer Dolby Atmos include Thor Ragnarok, Disney’s Coco, Justice League, Jumanji, StarWard the Last Yedi, and Blade Runner 2045. Again, Apple will update your copy of the film to the Dolby Atmos version if you have already bought it from the iTunes Store.

Processor, Networking and Ports

The other major differences betwen the fourth and fifth generation models are the addition of components and technologies required to support the delivery of the 4K HDR content.

First up we have the processor. The 4K models have the A10X processor which first appeared in the 2017 iPad Pro models and was a varient of the A10 chip from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus which launched back in 2016.

Apple said that the A10 was 30 per cent faster than the previous generation. The 4th generation Apple TV processor is from a few generations earlier though. That Apple TV ships with the A8, which first appeared in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plub back in 2014. Apple's latest iPhones - the XS, XS Max and XR use the A12 bionic chip.

Apple TV ports

As for networking, the 4K version of the Apple TV offers faster Gigabit Ethernet compared to the 10/100BASE-T Ethernet offered by the 4th generation model. This means that if you plug it straight into the network using a cable the 4K Apple TV can support a maximum bandwidth of 1000Mbps (1gigabit a second) while the 100BASE-T means that the 4th generation model can only support 100Mbps.

If you are relying on wireless networking both models offer 802.11ac Wi‑Fi, but the 4K adds simultaneous dual band. This means it can use both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands at the same time and double the available bandwidth, or choose 5GHz over 2.4GHz for a dedicated WiFi network. That should make it less likely that your film will start buffering because of overcrowding and intererence on your network.

The other difference is that the 4K Apple TV offers Bluetooth 5.0 while the 4th generation model has Bluetooth 4.0. Bluetooth 5 transmits data faster than Bluetooth 4, it also requires less power. Bluetooth 5 also has a wider range, 200m outside or 40m indoors compared to 50m outdoors and 10m in indoors.

Should you buy the 4K Apple TV?

If you're deciding between the regular and 4K Apple TV models, there are a few things to consider.

First up: how much do you care about picture quality? Are you antsy to make sure you watch movies in the highest possible quality, with 4K and HDR enabled? Or are you perfectly happy watching standard HD? If the latter, there's really no reason to spend extra money.

You also need to make sure you can actually take advantage of the new features. You can only watch 4K and HDR content if your TV set supports those features, so now's the time to make sure exactly what your TV is capable of. If your TV is only HD, you won't get much benefit from the Apple TV 4K - unless you're planning an upgrade soon, and just want to future-proof.

Finally, you'll need fast internet too. Apple recommends connections of at least 25Mbps for streaming 4K content (and remember, you can't download it ahead of time to watch offline). If your internet isn't fast enough, the quality will automatically be lowered and you'll end up watching content in standard HD anyway.

How much storage do you need?

Another question to consider is storage capacity. While the fourth-gen Apple TV is only available with 32GB, the 4K model can come with either 32GB or 64GB, so you have a decision to make.

At first blush, you might think that the larger storage capacity is worth it to fit all those giant 4K files, but remember that you won't be able to download any 4K films or TV shows from iTunes. So in fact, if you plan to mainly watch 4K content, you might need less storage than before, because you'll be sticking to streaming only.

Still, in favour of the larger capacity model, it's only a £20/$20 price hike for the extra storage, which isn't too severe - so if you think you're likely to benefit from having a collection of HD (not 4K) TV shows and films downloaded to watch offline, it won't exactly break the bank.

Apple TV 4K or 4th gen

Should you buy any Apple TV?

If you're committed to buying an Apple TV, hopefully by now you have an idea of what model to opt for. But if not, it's worth considering whether you should really buy one at all.

We have a whole article devoted to figuring out whether the Apple TV is worth buying, but it basically boils down to figuring out if your TV or games console already does everything you would use the Apple TV for, or if you could buy a similar competing device for an awful lot less.

Google's Chromecast is £30 in the UK (or $35 in the US) and lets you stream from any major streaming service by casting from your phone, while the 4K-friendly Chromecast Ultra is £69 in the UK (usually $69 in the US, but on sale for $59 at time of writing) - less than half the regular Apple TV, let alone the 4K edition.

It's a similar story with Amazon. The regular Fire TV Stick is currently £39.99 (or $39.99 in the US), and the 4K Fire TV is £49.99 in the UK or $49.99 in the US.

It's also worth noting that there are rival boxes and streaming sticks from Roku and Now TV. Roku's £59.99 Streaming Stick offers 4K as does the £45.99 Now TV Smart Box.

What channels can I watch on Apple TV

You can watch content from BBC iPlayer, NOW TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, ITV Hub, iTunes and more on the Apple TV.

Here's how the different devices compare in terms of OnDemand content available in the UK. Many of these channels are now supported on the Apple TV via the TV app.

Device

All 4

BBC iPlayer

Demand 5

ITV Hub

UKTV Play

Sky

Apple TV

 Y

Y

 Y

 Y

 

 

Roku

Y

Y

Y

Y

 Y

 

Amazon Fire

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

 

Google Chromecast

Y

Y

 Y

Y

 Y

Y

Sony PlayStation

Y

Y

Y

 

 

Y

Now TV Box

Y

Y

Y

Y

 Y

Y

YouView

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

 

Sky

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

 

Virgin Media

Y

 Y

Y

Y

Y

 

BT Vision

Y

 Y

Y

Y

Y

 

Xbox

Y

Y

Y

 

 

Y

Freesat

Y

Y

Y

Y

 

 

Freeview Play

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

 

We also have a guide to watching live and catch up TV on Apple TV.