It's 2021 and there are fewer reasons to buy an Apple TV streaming box. That’s because Apple has partnered with many of the biggest TV manufacturers, such as LG, Sony, Vizio and Samsung, and integrated most of the Apple TV's best features – HomeKit, AirPlay 2 and even iTunes – into their TVs. The reason is simple: Apple wants as many people to have access to Apple TV+, its streaming service with original films and original shows (aka a competitor to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video).
To watch Apple TV+ you need to have access to Apple’s TV app, which had previously only been available on Apple hardware: iPhone, iPad or Apple TV (it's now available on Macs.) But now it's available on pretty much every smart TV and operating system. This has left Apple's streaming box in a tricky position. Do people really need it?
The answer is: yes. There are still a number of reasons to buy one of Apple's streaming boxes – either an Apple TV 4K ($179+) or an Apple TV HD ($149) — because there are a number of things that Apple’s TV streaming box can do those new smart TVs with Apple TV-esque features can’t. Let’s explain.
The Reasons to Still Buy an Apple TV
Apple's Dolby Atmos Experience
You need to have an Apple TV if you want to use either a HomePod or HomePod mini as a TV speaker. We recommend buying two — either two HomePods or two HomePod minis — that way you configure them in a stereo setup. If you have an Apple TV 4K and a HomePod, it supports Dolby Atmos audio; for Apple's best Dolby Atmos system, you need two HomePods. Please note that the Apple TV HD doesn't support Dolby Atmos and neither does the HomePod mini.
Want to set up a Dolby Atmos system with an Apple TV 4K and a HomePod (or two)? Here's how.
The Multi-User Experience
Similar to how services like Netflix allow you to switch between different profiles, offering individualized experiences split between different members of the household, so too does the Apple TV. For example, if you watch a lot of action movies, and your wife watches dramas, and your son or daughter watches cartoons – all those movie and TV show suggestions don't get muddled together. The Apple TV app that's built into other smart TVs does not offer this multi-user experience.
You Want to Play Apple Arcade on Your TV, Right?
Apple Arcade is the company’s new subscription gaming service which lets subscribers play original games and they will be playable across iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV. If you have a smart TV that supports the Apple TV app, however, it will not support Apple Arcade. If you’re somebody who plans to subscribe to Apple’s new gaming service and you want to play games on your big-screen TV, you’re going to need an Apple TV streaming box.
Apple announces Apple Arcade, its new subscription gaming service, at its March 2019 keynote.
The Apple TV Remote and a Superior Siri for Search
The Apple TV remote only comes and works with Apple TV streaming boxes, and it’s actually a very powerful navigation tool. Not only does it offer a super-easy way to scroll between thousands of Apple TV apps, as well as quickly get back to the Apple TV’s home screen, but it’s integrated with Siri so you can use your voice to quickly find content. Since the Apple TV streaming box is a completely “Apple experience,” Siri is actually a way more powerful tool.
The Epic Screen Savers
A relatively minor feature of the Apple TV that has ardent fans is its screen savers. When your Apple TV is idle for a certain number of minutes, its display switches to a screen saver, typically featuring beautiful videos. To date, Aerial screen savers have been super popular; these Aerials have been shot from places all over the world and from space. If you like these screen savers enough, you can also tap “Menu” button on Apple TV remote while in the main screen and initiate these screensavers whenever you like. Apple constantly rolls new screensavers, such as underwater, aerial and satellite shots. These Apple-specific screen savers are only available on Apple TV streaming boxes.
The Smart Home Advantage
The Apple TV streaming box, HomePod smart speaker, and any iPad can be designated as smart home hubs for an Apple smart home. The advantage of this is it allows you to control your HomeKit smart devices remotely. For example, if you want to use your iPhone to issue a HomeKit command, either through the Home app or using Siri on your iPhone (like “shut the garage door” or “I’m close to home, get the AC running”), the Apple TV or the HomePod is the thing that receives the command and executes it within the house. Since the Apple TV and HomePod are both always on, it also allows you to run smart home automations; a good example is that through HomeKit, you can have your smart lights turn on at sunset. It’s true that there is now HomeKit on non-Apple smart TVs, but they are essentially acting as HomeKit accessories – not as a Home hub. It’s not always on and they won’t let you issue a command remotely; you can’t say “turn on my lights” when you’re at work, for example.
A Superior Processor Means No Lag
The truth is that even though more smart TVs will have more Apple TV-esque features, there’s a good chance that they won’t run like one. All Apple TV streaming boxes have dedicated processors that are designed to make things run as smoothly as possible. Smart TVs that are running Apple’s software have a lot more going on and, the reality is there might be more lag if you don’t have an Apple TV streaming box. It’s still worth trying the built-in option if your TV supports it, but you can always spend the $179 if you aren’t happy.
It’s the Best Portable TV Streamer
Yes, they are expensive, but the Apple TV streaming box (HD or 4K) are still arguably the best portable streamers that you can buy. Most people don’t think of them or use them as portable devices – it’s true – but the Apple TV is actually a great gadget to take on vacation or a work trip. It has 32GB or more or storage, which is room enough to store a great number of apps or games. Or you can easily connect the Apple TV to Wi-Fi and stream any of your favorite shows or movies, across various apps.