The new Apple TV 4K ($179+) looks and feels exactly like the company's two previous streaming boxes, the Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD, both of which are themselves getting up there in years. But the new Apple TV 4K's internals make for a marked upgrade.
The 2021 version's faster processor allows 4K HDR video at 60 frames per second and smooth operation of (and transition between) apps. It also sports modern creature comforts like HDMI 2.1 and support for Wi-Fi 6 to help it integrate better with more modern networks. And, maybe most excitingly, the new Apple TV 4K comes with a redesigned Siri remote, which is thicker, asymmetrical and comes with a dedicated power button.
I've been using the new Apple TV 4K for the past week or so, and it's a noticeable upgrade from the previous versions I've been using for years. Sure, it still runs the same tvOS and it still has access to the same apps. But while the new Apple TV 4K can do everything that the old Apple TV 4K could do, it just does it all a little bit better.
So should you buy the new Apple TV 4K? The answer is if you have a 4K TV and a non-4K Apple TV streaming box: yes. If you have the old Apple TV 4K, however, it's not as straight forward. These are the three main reasons an upgrade would make sense.
If you stream high frame rate sports and movies.
The new Apple TV 4K is a significantly faster machine than its predecessor. With the A12 Bionic chip, it's able to support 4K HDR at 60 fps. For reference, this is twice as much as the old Apple TV 4K, which only supports 4K HDR video at 30 fps.
The big benefit of watching 4K HDR video at 60fps is that it makes content with fast-moving action, such as live sports and action movies, look a lot more smooth and realistic. The problem, as it relates to movies, is that not everybody likes the hyper-realistic effect of a high frame rate film; this is one big reason why most Lord of the Rings fans weren't super happy with Peter Jackson's recent Hobbit trilogy.
As it relates to live sports, frankly there isn't much 4K HDR at 60 fps content available yet. It was made a big deal that last year's Super Bowl was streamed at 60 fps, but that was one of the first options. It's well known that a lot many popular streaming apps, such as FOX Sports, NBCUniversal and Paramount+, are all working on providing more streamable content in high frame rate HDR, but it's still early days for that.
If you hate the old Apple TV remote.
The new Siri Remote shouldn't be your sole reason to upgrade to the new Apple TV 4K. That's because you can buy the new Siri Remote separately. At $59, it's pretty expensive, but it definitely solves the major problems that a lot of people have with the previous model and it will work with your existing Apple TV.
Admittedly, I've always had a soft spot for the old Siri Remote. I liked its small size and trackpad, although I did quite often lose it between couch cushions. But I do like the Siri Remote, too. It's not a night-and-day overhaul compared to the previous model, but it's definitely easier to hold and its new design makes it easier to find the power and Siri buttons in the dark.
That said, there's definitely a learning curve for using its new five-way touch controller (which replaces the trackpad); I found myself relearning how to rewind and fast-forward videos because there's new controls and it feels very different. And, especially at launch, the new controls (and Back button) work better when using Apple's TV app, mostly likely because other apps — like HBO Max, Netflix and YouTube — haven't had the chance to update their UI just yet.
All in all, if you're not a fan of the old remote and the other features of the new 4K TV are tempting, it just might put you over the edge.
If you're an avid Apple Arcade gamer.
If you or your kids are avid gamers and play Arcade, Apple's subscription gaming service and you want to play those games on your big screen TV — and to do so, you need to have an Apple TV. Not all Apple Arcade games don't really need (or benefit from) the high refresh rates that new Apple TV 4K can deliver. However, there are some sports games, like the latest NBA 2K and Ultimate Rivals, and open-word-esque games, like Oceanhorn 2, that run smoother and look nicer on the new Apple TV 4K.
The new Apple TV 4K plays the exact same Arcade games as any of Apple's other streaming boxes — there aren't any exclusive games. So you should probably be a really avid Apple Arcade gamer who spends a lot of time playing on their big screen to upgrade to the new Apple TV 4K. That said, Apple is always adding new games to its streaming service so this new streaming box could open up more opportunities for more intense games (especially now that you can use your Xbox or PS5 gaming controller with it).