A Guide to Apple TV Generations

Apple’s products are often a little at odds with the rest of the tech world. I know, that’s not saying much about a company with “think different” as its motto, but that’s not quite what I mean in this context.

When it comes to certain Apple products customers don’t have much motivation to buy the latest model as soon as it comes out. The iPhone is the only exception to this, for various reasons. At the time of writing the 11th iPhone has just been released and people are still willing to fight each other in order to be the first to get one.

Other Apple products are rather a victim of their own success. The iPad is a prime example. Apple is a little miffed that folks are holding on to their iPads over multiple generations, but the iPad has been just about perfect for years now. It’s not that people don’t like them, they LOVE them. It’s just that new models don’t offer any incentive to upgrade, so people wait until their old iPads break.

The Apple TV has it even worse. As a TV set-top box it has a life cycle similar to actual TVs. Most people buy their TV and then use it for a decade. Apple has been wise to this, at least. They don’t release a new Apple TV every year the way they do with iPads and iPhones. The problem is that they also don’t differentiate between the generations much either, so in this article we’re going to go over the main differences between the generations and talk about whether picking a specific Apple TV up is a good idea or not.

First Generation Apple TVs Model A1218 (2007)

Believe it or not, the first Apple TV is now well over a decade old and it shows! In 2018 Apple officially withdrew support for the 1st-Gen box, which means that you no longer get updates or access to the iTunes store. If you’re still using one of these you should seriously consider upgrading to something newer. It’s basically only good for streaming apps right now, and support for those are probably on the way out as well. If you’re looking at used Apple TVs, definitely avoid this at any price!

Figuring out if your Apple TV is first-generation is actually pretty easy. This model has a massive number of ports on the back – ten, to be precise. Starting with the power port on the far left, you have USB, Ethernet, HDMI, five composite ports, and an optical audio port. If that’s what you’re looking at, it’s time to move on. This first-gen product is comparatively massive to what we got later, weighing in at a whopping 1.1 KG!

Second Generation Apple TVs Model A1378 (2010) & Third Generation Apple TVs Model A1427/A1469 Rev A (2012)

Second- and third-generation Apple TVs look very different compared to the first-gen device, but are basically the same as each other. Both are still supported, but only the third-generation device will give you full 1080p video. On the back you’ll find the power port, the HDMI port with a Micro-USB below it, an optical audio port, and then ethernet. No more composite connections at all!

If you have an Apple TV from either of these generations you’ll still get support from Apple, but expect newer apps either to perform pretty poorly or not work at all. If all you want to do is watch some Netflix, it’s still OK to stick with this model. However, the ending of support for these models can’t be far behind, given Apple’s (already generous) five years or so support time for other devices. So I wouldn’t buy one used at this point.

Fourth Generation Apple TVs Model A1625 (2015)

This is probably the Apple TV most people reading this have right now. It came out almost half a decade ago. The 4th-gen is still very relevant and the main reason to move up from this model is the purchase of a 4K TV. Although, 1080p will still look as good as ever; perhaps even better if your 4K TV has a good upscaler.

The 4th Gen machine takes the port-slaughter even further, cutting down to just four. Power is the obvious one with a USB-C port as a newcomer, trusty HDMI, and ethernet. This product is a good used buy, but has been superseded by a new model. If you already have one of these you can hold onto it, unless you have 4K content. Then an upgrade is worthwhile.

Fifth Generation Apple TVs Model A1842 (Apple TV 4K, 2017)

At the time of writing, late in 2019, this is the latest and greatest Apple TV you can buy. It has the hardware chops to output 4K video, so if you own a 4K TV or plan to buy one it’s a great upgrade, provided you have the bandwidth to stream or download 4K content.

This Apple TV has the fewest ports of any model, with just three. One for power, one HDMI, and one for Ethernet. If you are in the market for a new Apple TV, this should be your first choice and you’ll still have many years of support ahead.