(Pocket-lint) - Apple has finally announced a refresh of its flagship streaming box, the Apple TV 4K.

The last model was released in 2017 and was decently specced for its time. The new one is faster and includes some extra bells and whistles, but does that mean you need to upgrade?

We look at the features and specifications of both to help you make that decision.

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What's the same?

  • Main "puck"-style box design - measuring 3.9 x 3.9 x 1.4mm
  • Access to thousands of TV shows and movies
  • Streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and, of course, Apple TV+
  • Apple Arcade support
  • Apps and games
  • 4K HDR, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos support
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Available in 32GB and 64GB variants

If you own an Apple TV 4K already, you'll already know much of what to expect. The box itself is identical in size and shape, for starters.

The 2017 model is 4K (2160p) capable, just like the newer version, and is capable of playing all the same content. Both offer access to a wide variety of streaming services, including Apple's own TV+, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer (in the UK). Movie rentals and purchases can be played equally well through them too. And they each can play the games that come with the Apple Arcade subscription.

Both devices are capable of 4K playback in HDR or Dolby Vision (depending on your TV), and can feed Dolby Atmos surround sound to a compatible AV receiver, TV or sound system.

Bluetooth 5.0 is support for connection to the included remote or other accessories. AirPlay 2 is also support by each of the machines. As too is Apple's new TV calibration mode, which is available on the latest version of tvOS.

What's different?

  • A12 Bionic processing
  • HDMI 2.1
  • High Frame Rate (HFR) support - up to 60fps
  • New Siri Remote
  • 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6

While the latest Apple TV 4K model looks the same as its predecessor, there are some differences under the hood, as we detail below. There is also a brand new remote control.

Siri Remote

Perhaps the most obvious generational changes can be found on the included remote. We weren't huge fans of the touchpanel on the previous version, so are pleased to see that's been replaced by a new chickwheel.

There are still touch elements to it, to help with cursor use and navigation, but the Siri Remote now has clickable direction buttons on the wheel. It can also be used as a scroll wheel by running your finger around the circular edge.

The new remote comes in recycled aluminium, and the Siri button has been switched to the side - more like an iPhone. There's a new mute button and a power button at the top that can also be used to turn on/off your TV through IR or HDMI CEC.

As before, the remote is rechargable, with a claimed battery life of "months" on a single charge (in normal use).

A12 Bionic

A new processor (upgraded from the A10X Fusion) means the latest Apple TV 4K should run more quickly than before and is capable of more powerful features - some of which could come down the pipeline at a later date. The A12 Bionic is the same processor used by the Apple iPad mini (4th generation) and 2020 iPad.

High Frame Rate

HFR is supported for the first time, with the new Apple TV 4K able to playback HDR video at upo to 60 frames-per-second. This includes 4K video.

That's especially great for iPhone 12 Pro users who shoot videos in 60fps. You will be able to stream them to your TV in the higher frame rate over AirPlay 2. You will need an HFR supporting TV as well, of course, but most modern 4K HDR TVs are capable of 60fps playback too (ie. 60Hz and above).

HDMI 2.1

The HDMI output has been upgraded to HDMI 2.1 (from 2.0a) to enable the HFR support. Other benefits might become apparent over time.

Wi-Fi 6

With the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless standard now supported you will be able to more seamlessly stream higher bandwidth content - including 4K 60fps video.

Conclusion

To be honest, there's not a load of new changes, even considering the four year gap between models. However, the latest Apple TV 4K will updoubtedly be faster in operation and, therefore, more capable with processing-heavy applications. That will include games on Apple Arcade.

As is the way of such things, you might find some apps and games released in the future will only run effectively on the new model. But then, you might want to hold on from upgrading until then.

The one huge improvement comes in the shape of the new remote. It's definitely better thought out, in our opinion. But even then, you needn't upgrade for that alone as it'll also be available as a optional extra and will work on the 2017 model too.

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There's a much clearer reason to upgrade if you own the standard 1080p Apple TV, though. If you have one of those and have been holding off to see what happens, now's a great time to consider taking the plunge.

Most importantly, the pricing remains the same between generations, so if you've never owned an Apple TV before, you can expect to get all the new features for the same price.

Writing by Rik Henderson.