Not to be confused with Apple’s streaming service Apple TV+, the Apple TV is a digital media player not unlike your average Roku device. The difference? The first generation Apple TV pre-dates the first generation Roku by more than a year. These days, it’s all about the two most recent Apple TV models: The Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD.
What really sets them apart? And how do the two compare side by side? Let’s break them both down in depth below, paying close attention to the most important key differences.
Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Apple TV 4K||Apple TV HD|
|Latest Model||Apple TV 4K (3rd Generation, 2022)||Apple TV HD (5th Generation, 2021)|
|Audio||Dolby Atmos||Dolby Digital Plus|
|HDR Support?||HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision||SDR|
|System on a Chip||A15 Bionic chip||Apple A8 chip|
|Storage||128 GB||32 GB|
|RAM||4 GB||2 GB|
|Wi-Fi||Wi‑Fi 6||Wi-Fi 5|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 5.0||Bluetooth 4.0|
|HDMI||HDMI 2.1||HDMI 1.4|
Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD: What’s the Difference?
Now that we’ve laid out all of these key differences, we should take some time to discuss what they actually mean. After all, it’s one thing to understand that a discrepancy exists, but it’s something entirely different to know how those differences impact you, the consumer. We’ve gone in-depth on seven of these key differences between the Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD below.
Firstly, there’s a surprising difference in price between the Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD. After the latter’s most recent release back in 2021, Apple worked to ensure a drastic price cut for the latest Apple TV 4K in 2022. As a result, the third generation Apple TV 4K base model is actually $20 cheaper than the fifth generation Apple TV HD base model, at $129.
Likewise, the most expensive Apple TV 4K is the same price as the cheapest Apple TV HD, with both totaling $149. So, despite being newer and supporting a higher overall quality, the Apple TV 4K is unexpectedly cheaper.
- 4K Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos sound and HDR10+ support
- Equipped with the powerful A15 Bionic chip
- Third-generation Siri Remote with improved clickpad
- Wi-Fi and Ethernet options available
As you might’ve been able to tell by their names, the Apple TV 4K and the Apple TV HD support two different types of picture quality (also known as resolution). The Apple TV 4K supports a peak resolution of 2160p and 60 frames per second.
The Apple TV HD, conversely, supports a peak resolution of 1080p and 30 frames per second. While it might sound unsubstantial, the difference between HD resolution and 4K resolution might as well mean the difference between night and day these days.
Going hand in hand with the previous section is the difference in audio quality between Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD. The third-generation Apple TV 4K offers support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. In other words, the best of the best of the industry’s latest audio standards.
The Apple TV HD, on the other hand, only offers support for Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The inclusion of Dolby Atmos in the former (and the lack of Dolby Atmos in the latter) makes all the difference here.
Fourthly, there’s HDR support (or lack thereof) to take into account. The third-generation Apple TV 4K supports everything from HDR10 to HDR10+ to Dolby Vision. All three are top-of-the-line HDR options, making the Apple TV 4K just about the best-looking digital media player money can buy.
The Apple TV HD, on the other hand, cannot say the same. It has absolutely zero support for the high-dynamic range, topping out at SDR instead. This is a major drawback for the Apple TV HD, as even the most affordable 4K UHD TVs come equipped with HDR capabilities.
System on a Chip
Apple is known for its impressively powerful systems-on-a-chip (SOC). These are integral to all of their most impressive tech products, including the Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD. The Apple TV 4K is equipped with Apple’s A15 Bionic chip.
It’s the same one that has been in use since 2021 in the complete iPhone 13 family, the iPhone 14, the iPhone 14 Plus, the sixth-generation iPad Mini, and the third-generation iPhone SE.
The Apple TV HD, by comparison, uses the Apple A8 chip. This one dates back to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in 2014, making it nearly nine years old.
Storage and RAM
While storage and RAM are less important in an Apple TV device than, say, a smartphone or a laptop computer, it’s nevertheless an important consideration to make (and another key difference to examine). The Apple TV 4K has a whopping 128 GB of storage and a whole 4 GB of RAM to boot.
The Apple TV HD, by comparison, has just 32 GB of storage and just 2 GB of RAM. What does this mean? Well, the Apple TV 4K will be able to hold more apps and will be able to move between them much faster than the Apple TV HD.
- 1080p HD resolution
- 7.1 surround sound with Dolby Digital Plus
- Apple A8 chip
- Supports Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, and more
- Compatible with Airplay
Last but not least, there are differences in connectivity between the Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD. The former supports Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, Bluetooth 5.0, and HDMI 2.1. The latter supports Wi-Fi 5 connectivity, Bluetooth 4.0, and HDMI 1.4.
In each and every way, the Apple TV 4K has much faster and stronger connectivity standards than the Apple TV HD. This tells you all you need to know about the kind of picture quality, audio standards, and dynamic range you can expect to experience with these two devices.
The History of Apple TV 4K
Ten years after Apple first released the Apple TV, the tech giant released their most impressive iteration of the device to date: the Apple TV 4K. First announced in September 2017, the Apple TV 4K was the fifth Apple TV device released to date. And yet, it represented the first of a new generation of revolutionary Apple TV technology.
Touting a resolution of 2160p, HDR10 picture quality, and Dolby Vision specifications, the first generation Apple TV 4K initially retailed for $179, with a higher storage model also available for $199. Four years later, Apple brought a much-needed hardware upgrade to the Apple TV 4K.
Prior to this update, the Apple TV 4K’s first-generation problems had become painfully obvious. For one, its remote was quite buggy. Additionally, it lacked some of those 4K quality standards, such as high frame rate HDR and HDR10+. As such, the release of the second generation Apple TV 4K in 2021 was welcomed with open arms. (Especially because of its great new remote that more closely resembled the iconic silver Apple TV remote.)
Never again would Apple take four years to upgrade its Apple TV 4K digital media player. A third-generation Apple TV 4K was dropped just 18 months later in October of 2022. (It goes without saying this is the latest and greatest Apple TV model to date.)
Equipped with that aforementioned A15 Bionic chip and supported by a 4-core CPU, 2022’s Apple TV 4K finally brought HDR10+ support to the Apple TV family. What’s more, this third-generation Apple TV 4K increased the device’s storage to 128 GB. It’ll be interesting to see what an eventual fourth generation will bring.
How Apple TV HD Compares
When looking at the Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD, it’s obvious that the former has all but replaced the latter. As a matter of fact, the Apple TV HD has been all but discontinued following the release of the third generation Apple TV 4K in October of 2022.
However, the history of the Apple TV HD is nevertheless worth diving into. After all, it served as the first major departure from the base model Apple TV in 2015 — effectively setting the stage for the Apple TV 4K to do the same just a couple of years later in 2017.
The Apple TV HD — initially referred to in some circles as the fourth generation Apple TV — was the first new Apple TV device in three years. (The third generation Apple TV was the last new model to hit the shelves prior to this one, and that was all the way back in 2012.)
It sent waves through the digital media player market in several ways, namely through the complete and total overhaul of its operating system in the form of tvOS and the inclusion of an app store. This was in direct contrast to previous Apple TV models which only came pre-loaded with certain streaming apps.
Apple put the A8 chip inside this new Apple TV HD, which allowed it to support Dolby Digital Plus audio and continued support for 1080p video. Additionally, this new Apple TV HD device was taller in size but lighter in weight than the previous three Apple TV releases.
Apple initially priced the device at $199, which was a $100 jump from the second and third-generation Apple TV devices. Its price was later dropped to $149 with the release of the Apple TV 4K in 2017. But even so, this was still more expensive than the third generation Apple TV 4K’s $129 starting price point.
Apple TV 4K: Pros and Cons
|Pros of Apple TV 4K||Cons of Apple TV 4K|
|Faster, cleaner, and easier to use than a Roku or other rival digital media player||The Ethernet port is exclusive to the 128 GB model|
|Cheaper than its previous generations||Works best for Apple device users|
|Meets (or exceeds) today’s top-notch audio and visual quality standards||Doesn’t come with an included HDMI cord or USB-C cable|
|Support for HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision||A bit pricey for those with just an HD TV|
Apple TV HD: Pros and Cons
|Pros of Apple TV HD||Cons of Apple TV HD|
|The latest model comes with a new and improved remote (same as Apple TV 4K)||The discontinuation will make it harder to find online and in stores|
|Easy to set up||Does not offer 4K streaming support|
|Same app store as the Apple TV 4K||No Dolby Atmos support|
|Superior user experience compared to Roku||More expensive than the Apple TV 4K|
5 Must-Know Facts About Apple TV
- The first generation Apple TV, released all the way back in 2007, retailed for $299. Its subsequent generations dropped the price drastically to just $99. Later, HD and 4K Apple TV models raised their prices back up to the mid-to-upper $100s.
- Apple analysts predict that the Apple TV has become increasingly less popular as the years have gone on. Whether it be their cost compared to rival Roku devices or the simple fact that many 4K UHD TVs already come equipped with smart streaming hubs, it’s been said that the Apple TV devices likely sell at a low (or even nonexistent) profit margin.
- As of 2019, it was estimated that Apple had sold 53 million Apple TV units in all. (For context, more than 305 million digital media players were sold in 2020 alone.)
- Steve Jobs infamously referred to the Apple TV as a “hobby,” thus drawing some scorn for diminishing the significance of the device in comparison to Apple computers, phones, tablets, and the like.
- Upon its introduction in 2007, the Apple TV was dubbed “the DVD killer.” While sales never came near the kind of numbers reported for DVDs — 1.5 million Apple TVs sold for the year compared to more than a billion DVDs sold in the same period — it no doubt contributed to a cultural shift toward streaming over physical media.
Apple TV 4K vs Apple TV HD: Which Is Better?
In 2023, great 4K TVs are practically as affordable as the best HD TVs were just a couple of years ago. For this reason, it only makes sense that Apple would prioritize the latest Apple TV 4K model over the last Apple TV HD model.
With its cheaper price, superior picture quality, better audio, and wide-ranging HDR support, the Apple TV 4K is ultimately and undoubtedly the best Apple TV device that money can buy. Even if the Apple TV HD hadn’t been discontinued, the Apple TV 4K would still be the model to go for.