The new Apple TV 4K 2021 has been unveiled. The long over-due upgrade replaces the old Apple TV 4K from 2017 and leaves buyers with a conundrum: snag the older model at a bargain price, or splash out on the next-generation set-top box?
In this article we'll compare what are, on paper at least, two of the best media streamers, and help you decide whether to buy the new Apple TV 4K or the old box.
Apple announced the new Apple TV 4K on 20th April 2021 at the company's Spring Loaded event. It boasts a faster processor, improved HDR support, a new Siri Remote and unique colour calibration features. But how to the two boxes measure up in terms of price, specs, features and design? And what about the new Apple TV 4K price?
Read on as we put the new Apple TV 4K vs the old Apple TV 4K...
New Apple TV 4K vs old Apple TV 4K: price
The new Apple TV 4K costs £169 ($179, AU$249) with 32GB of built-in storage, and £199 ($199, AU$279) for the 64GB model.
You can order the new Apple TV 4K beginning Friday, 30th April 2021, with availability beginning in the second half of May in more than 30 countries including the UK, US and Australia.
The pricing is nearly identical to the old Apple TV 4K from 2017, but with the new model set to overshadow its predecessor, there's every chance you'll be able to score a decent discount on Apple's 2017 media streamer (here's this week's best Apple deals).
Not bothered about 4K support? Apple will also offer the cheaper, Apple TV HD (2015) bundled with the new Siri remote from 30th April. It will be available as a 32GB model only at a price of £139 ($149, AU$209).
Finally, it's worth remembering that there's plenty of cheaper 4K media streamers to choose from, such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (around £50, $50, AU$99).
New Apple TV 4K vs old Apple TV 4K: design
The new Apple TV 4K is the same size and shape as its predecessor (pictured above). The unobtrusive black box measures 9.8cm x 9.8xm x 3.5cm so it shouldn't be hard to squirrel away.
It's larger than most streaming sticks, but it's also more powerful and offers high-end features such as advanced far-field microphones for hands-free voice controls.
The major difference between the two Apple TV 4K boxes is that the new model comes with a revamped Siri remote, which we'll cover next...
New Apple TV 4K vs old Apple TV 4K: Siri remote
The original Apple TV 4K's Siri-enabled remote control is a mixed bag. In our review, while we called it "really rather clever" we also noted that the touch controls could be "a bit skittish". No surprise, then, that Apple has launched a brand new Siri remote alongside the new Apple TV 4K.
The new remote is thinner, longer and heavier than the one it replaces and is made from a single piece of aluminium. The large touchpad of the old model has been replaced by a much smaller, circular one, with a ring around it that's both clickable in four directions and can be circled with a thumb in order to quickly scrub forwards or backwards through a video. Fingers crossed the controls function more precisely.
On top of the volume, play/pause and home buttons of before, there's also now a dedicated mute button and a power button that can switch your TV on or off. The Siri button, meanwhile, has been moved from the face to the right-hand edge, which is where it's also found on iPhones.
It's worth noting that the new remote is available separately for existing Apple TV boxes, costing £55 ($59, AU$79), which could be a relatively frugal way of upgrading your Apple TV experience.
New Apple TV 4K vs old Apple TV 4K: features
The new Apple TV 4K's processor has been improved from an A10X Fusion chip to the company's A12 Bionic chip. According to Apple, that bump in performance allows for higher frame rates when watching video or playing games via Apple Arcade. You can also expect smoother loading times and a swifter response when navigating the user menu.
Neither the 2021 or 2017 Apple TV 4K boxes support 120Hz frame rates but the new Apple TV 4K does play HDR content in 4K@60Hz. Apple admits such content is limited but says it is working with the likes of FOX Sports, NBCUniversal, Paramount+, Red Bull TV, and Canal+ to offer more high frame rate HDR content. It's also worth noting that videos shot on iPhone 12 Pro can be displayed in 60fps Dolby Vision HDR on the new Apple TV 4K. Both boxes support Dolby Vision HDR, HDR 10 and HLG but neither is compatible with HDR10+.
One of the most intriguing features of Apple TV 4K is something called Colour Balance, which allows users to optimise the colour and contrast capabilities of their TV using an iPhone. That way, the Apple TV 4K can ensure a more accurate and faithful reproduction of TV shows and movies without the need to actually calibrate the TV itself. You'll need an iPhone that supports FaceID and it's due to arrive on both the 2017 and 2021 Apple TV 4K boxes by the end of April 2021.
Sound-wise, both offer Dolby Atmos object-based audio. That's good news for those with a Dolby Atmos soundbar or speaker system, as there's now plenty of Atmos content available from the iTunes Store and Netflix. We've yet to review the new Apple TV 4K but we can tell you that the 2017 version offers "impressively accurate and awesomely atmospheric" sound. It's a precise performer, with greater punch and dynamic range than some of the more affordable media streamers on the market.
Other Apple TV 4K 2021 improvements include a new HDMI 2.1 port and Bluetooth 5.0 (the 2017 model makes do with HDMI 2.0 and Bluetooth 4.0). The newer box also supports Wi-Fi 6, which should boost the solidity of the connection between your Apple TV box and your wireless router.
Finally, there was talk of the latest Apple TV giving top-notch games consoles a run for their money. All Apple TVs support Apple Arcade and Bluetooth gamepads, but they certainly won't trouble the latest Xbox Series X or PS5 consoles.
New Apple TV 4K vs old Apple TV 4K: initial verdict
Is the new Apple TV 4K a game-changer? Not quite, but it still offers plenty to get excited about. The extra power and new Siri Remote will appeal to those who love to stream video (although, it's worth remembering that the new remote can be bought separately). The new Colour Balance feature could be an interesting way to enhance your TV's capability but again, it's available across both the 2017 and 2021 Apple TV 4K boxes.
So, should you upgrade? If you already own the 2017 model – which we still consider to be one the best video streamers you can buy – it might not be worth spending the best part of £200 ($200) on the new model. You could simply upgrade to the new Siri Remote, instead.
If you're new to Apple TV, the company's latest and greatest 4K TV box certainly has plenty going for it (on paper, at least). We'll be putting it fully through its paces shortly.
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