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Which Apple TV Model Should You Buy?

A man's hand using an Apple TV remote.

Apple TV is the only way to get iTunes content on your TV. It also offers access to all of the popular streaming services. But which model is best for you?

The Apple TV Models

An Apple TV.

You can buy an Apple TV in either HD or 4K, and the 4K is available in two storage capacities. Your choices are:

  • Apple TV HD ($149 at this writing): The cheapest model uses an Apple A8 processor—the same chip in the iPhone SE. It does the job, but future software updates might cause lag and games might not be as responsive as you’d like. It outputs 1080p HD content in Standard Dynamic Range (SDR). Until recently, this was the best available, and it still provides an excellent image on any screen up to around 60 inches.
  • Apple TV 4K 32 GB ($179 at this writing): This model has a more powerful A10X processor from the 10.5-inch iPad Pro. It’s blazing fast, which might make a difference if you plan to use it for gaming. This model supports 4K content in High Dynamic Range (HDR) with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. This is the Apple TV to buy if you want the best video and audio fidelity.
  • Apple TV 4K 64 GB ($199 at this writing): Identical to the 32 GB model, except this one has 64 GB of storage. You can’t manage that storage, though—Apple does. tvOS offloads apps you aren’t using and also dynamically manages cached app and game data, so you never have to worry about free space. This makes it difficult to recommend this model for most people—the 32 GB version should suffice.

What You Get on Each Model

You can access the App Store on every Apple TV model. You can also watch your favorite source of TV shows and movies if it has an app available on Apple TV. And most do, including:

There’s more to the Apple TV than streaming video. You can also download games and play them with a controller. And if you need to check the weather on your Apple TV, there’s an app for that, too. Many iPhone and iPad apps also have Apple TV apps. They all work fine on all Apple TV models.

Display Resolution, Dynamic Range, and Audio Output Options

A media room with a large TV.

Now that you know which Apple TV supports 4K, HD, HDR, and SDR, it’s time to explain what all of that means:

  • 4K and HD relate to the number of pixels, or dots, that make up an image. This is also called “resolution.” 4K TVs have a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, whereas HD TVs only offer 1920 x 1080 pixels. The more pixels, the sharper the image. So, because 4K TVs have more pixels, they look noticeably better, particularly on larger screens.
  • HDR and SDR relate to the number of colors a display can produce, as well as its maximum brightness. TVs capable of HDR can display deeper blacks and brighter whites than those that only offer SDR. Unlike 4K TVs (the quality of which you might not even notice on a smaller screen), HDR is immediately obvious, no matter the screen size.

Both models of Apple TV 4K support both of the following:

  • Dolby Vision is a version of HDR. Unlike standard HDR, it uses frame-by-frame metadata that provides additional information to the TV. Dolby Vision also supports improved brightness when compared to standard HDR.
  • Dolby Atmos is a version of surround sound that doesn’t map sounds to specific speakers. Instead, it maps them to 3D space between those speakers. This allows improved positional audio on setups that support it.

4K Content

4K resolution compared to HD, HD ready, and DVD resolutions.
Digital abstract Art/Shutterstock

It used to be more expensive to buy the best version of a movie. In some cases, that’s still true: 4K Blu-ray movies invariably cost more than their HD counterparts.

But when 4K movies were announced in 2017, Apple confirmed it wouldn’t charge more for them. So, whether you buy the 4K (if it’s available) or HD version of a movie, you pay the same if you buy it from Apple.

The same can’t be said for other services, however. Netflix charges more if you stream 4K content. Pretty much, if you buy a movie in 4K anywhere other than iTunes, you’ll pay a few bucks more.

Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube, and FandangoNow offer 4K content, and they’re all available via Apple TV apps.

Which Model Is Best for You?

An Apple TV with a remote.
Tom Eversley/Shutterstock

To put it bluntly, if you have a 4K TV (even if it’s SDR-only), you should get the 32 GB Apple TV 4K.

You’ll notice the improvement in image quality—especially on screens 60 inches or larger. And besides, buying a new device that doesn’t make the best of the TV you own doesn’t make a lot of sense.

If you don’t own a 4K TV, you might think the Apple TV HD is the way to go. However, it’s always best to future-proof whenever possible, so the Apple TV 4K 32 GB is the best option for you, too. When you get a new TV, you’ll be glad you don’t have to upgrade your streaming box, too.

With even budget TVs moving to 4K, chances are your next TV will support the higher resolution. And with the Apple TV 4K 32 GB selling for just $30 more (at this writing) than the Apple TV HD, it’s a worthwhile investment—especially if you upgrade your TV later.

Oliver Haslam Oliver Haslam
Oliver Haslam is a professional freelance writer with nearly ten years of experience. His work has been published on Macworld, PCMag, 1Password's blog, and other websites. Read Full Bio »