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Apple TV Devices

Apple TV Generations: Here’s Every Apple TV Player To Date

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Apple has released multiple version of the Apple TV player over the years, with each one improving in often minor, but important ways. While some may be surprised at just how long ago the first Apple TV player was released, and in spite of the upgrades under the hood, the Apple TV player has retained its consistent look and design.

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Apple TV is only one of many streaming players available to buy today. Of course, with it being an Apple product, it does come with a strong focus on Apple’s own services and greater compatibility with the company’s other hardware products. Even for those that are new to Apple hardware, Apple TV is still a product that’s worth considering thanks to its focus on high quality hardware and user-friendly software.

The current Apple TV lineup consists of the Apple TV HD and the Apple TV 4K. Both of these players are different to the Apple TV app which is not only available on Apple TV players, but also on a number of streaming players and smart TV from other manufacturers. Likewise, both the Apple TV player and the Apple TV app are different from the Apple TV Plus streaming service which requires a paid monthly subscription for access to Apple’s original shows and movies.

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Apple TV player history

When taking into consideration the multiple players, dedicated app, and standalone streaming service, it is easy to see just how far Apple’s TV ambitions have come since the first Apple TV player was released.

Apple TV (1st generation): Released in 2007

Apple TV (1st generation)
Apple TV (1st generation)

The very first Apple TV was announced and released in early 2007. Unlike modern versions, the original model was more similar to a dedicated iTunes player, allowing Apple users to easily access all of their iTunes content on a TV. In fact, Apple likened Apple TV to a “DVD player for the 21st century” albeit one that plays digital content instead of physical discs. However, it wasn’t just for iTunes content. By June of 2007, YouTube launched on Apple TV, and considering the first iPhone didn’t launch until later that same month, this meant Apple TV had access to YouTube before the iPhone did.

The 2007 Apple TV (1st generation) came equipped with a 40GB hard drive that was capable of storing up to 50 hours of video, a maximum output resolution of 720p, and set buyers back $299.

Apple TV (2nd generation): Released in 2010

Apple TV (2nd generation)
Apple TV (2nd generation)

It wasn’t until September 2010 when the next Apple TV would arrive. Compared to the original model, the second-generation was positioned as a more affordable streaming player and one which expanded on the streaming capabilities with support for many popular streaming services including Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe. The latter of which was Apple’s own subscription-based service. The 2010 Apple TV also allowed users to watch videos streamed from their other devices, as well as rent movies and episodes from iTunes.

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The 2010 Apple TV (2nd generation) came with a maximum output resolution of 720p, introduced the upgraded aluminum Apple Remote, and was priced at $99 in the US.

Apple TV (3rd generation): Released in 2012

Apple TV (3rd generation)
Apple TV (3rd generation)

The third-generation Apple TV officially arrived in March of 2012 and marked the first time that the lineup offered support for 1080p. This was arguably the biggest selling point with the 2012 Apple TV player, although it did also build on some of the core features of the series such as greater support for more services and a simpler, refined user interface. The Apple TV’s iTunes Store support also grew, resulting in the ability to access more than 15,000 movies and over 90,000 TV episodes.

In spite of the upgrade to 1080p, the 2012 Apple TV (3rd generation) was priced at $99 in the US, the same price as the previous version.

Apple TV (4th generation) aka Apple TV HD: Released in 2015

Apple TV HD (4th Generation)
Apple TV (4th Generation) a.k.a Apple TV HD

The Apple TV (4th generation) arrived in 2015 and was the start of what many now know as the Apple TV player. In fact, it is now more commonly known as the Apple TV HD, denotating its relationship and difference to the newer and still-current Apple TV 4K players. Apple even marketed this model as the “all-new Apple TV” further acknowledging the difference compared to older models. These differences included new internal hardware and the introduction of a simplified Siri Remote. The 2015 Apple TV was also the first model to come running on tvOS, the operating system that’s still in use today on Apple TV players.

The 2015 Apple TV (4th generation) was priced at $149 in the US for the 32GB model. Alternatively, buyers could also opt for the 64GB model which increased the price to $199 in the US. Unlike all of the previous models which have all since been discontinued, this Apple TV player is still available to buy through the Apple Store, albeit with an upgraded remote.

Apple TV 4K (1st generation): Released in 2017

Apple TV 4K (1st generation)
Apple TV 4K (1st generation)

The Apple TV 4K (1st generation) first arrived on the scene back in 2017, and, as the name suggests, ushered in the era of 4K. This was a a fairly major shift for the Apple TV lineup and one that built on the 2012 switch from 720p to 1080p. In addition to 4K, the 2017 Apple TV player also came with support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) to offer users a sharper, crisper, and richer viewing experience in general. With 4K the big selling point here, Apple also used the 2017 player launch to announce that iTunes users would get free upgrades to 4K versions of any HD movies they had purchased, when a 4K version became available. Considering the Apple TV app only became available in late 2016, the 2017 Apple TV 4K was also the first Apple TV player to have access to the Apple TV app at launch.

Similar to the 2015 Apple TV HD, the Apple TV 4K (1st generation) was also available in two storage options. The baseline 32GB Apple TV 4K arrived priced at $179 in the US, with the 64GB version version priced at $199.

Apple TV 4K (2nd generation): Released in 2021

Apple TV 4K (2nd generation)
Apple TV 4K (2nd generation)

The Apple TV 4K (2nd generation) arrived in 2021 and should need no real introduction considering it is the newest and best streaming player that Apple offers. It arrived as somewhat of a minor update compared to the first-generation model but the changes were significant enough. These included the use of the A12 Bionic chip to deliver an improved video experiences with support for high frame rate HDR and Dolby Vision. The 2021 Apple TV 4K also comes equipped with the new and much-improved Siri Remote.

Similar to the previous version, the 2021 Apple TV 4K (2nd generation) is available to buy in two storage options with the 32GB model priced at $179 in the US, with the 64GB version costing $199. As is the case with the Apple TV HD, the Apple TV 4K is available to buy today through the Apple Store.

Every Apple TV player summary

Apple has released no less than six Apple TV streaming players since the first one arrived back in 2007, manifesting in three distinct generations of players to date. Those that were limited to 720p, those limited to 1080p, and those that are able to max out at 4K. Along with the changes to the maximum output resolution, each model has made refinements along the way. Even though they might be less noticeable than other product upgrades, they have all paved the way to the current and best Apple TV experience.

Along with the evolution of the Apple TV player, the remote has gone on its own journey. The remote available with the first-generation model was not only updated to an aluminum remote before evolving into the Siri Remote, but has since been updated again with the latest Apple TV player, resulting in the most useful and modern remote so far.

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John Finn

By John Finn

John started Streaming Better to help consumers navigate the live TV streaming and subscription service landscape. John has been writing about technology and TV-related services and devices since 2014 and believes the best streaming approach is to bounce between services as needed. Contact John via email at john@streamingbetter.com or on Twitter

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