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What are all the differences between the Apple TV 2nd Gen and Apple TV 3rd Gen? How many of these models are there? Which one is best for me?
There is one Apple TV 2nd Gen and two different Apple TV 3rd Gen models. At the time the first Apple TV 3rd Gen model initially was released, the main difference was that it supported 1080p video rather than just 720p video like its predecessor.
However, since that time, software differences also have emerged, which make detailed comparison particularly worthwhile. Identification differences also are very important.
External & Connectivity Differences
Externally, the Apple TV 2nd Gen and 3rd Gen models all look identical.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Apple TV 2nd & 3rd Gen)
All models use a tiny 3.9 inch by 3.9 inch by 0.9 inch black case that resembles a hockey puck and are bundled with the same aluminum Apple Remote.
All models have an optical audio out port, an HDMI port, a 10/100Base-T Ethernet port, a Micro-USB port, and support 802.11a/b/g/n "AirPort Extreme" wireless networking. All models also support Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound via pass-through.
However, the Apple TV 3rd Gen models both support "Bluetooth discovery" of select devices if they are running Apple TV Software Update 6.1 or higher whereas the Apple TV 2nd Gen model does not.
If it is running Apple TV Software Update 7.0 or higher, the second Apple TV 3rd Gen model also supports AirPlay to stream content from a "Mac or iOS device directly to your Apple TV without connecting to your wireless network," whereas the first Apple TV 3rd Gen model does not.
As the cases are identical, the Apple TV 2nd Gen and 3rd Gen models cannot be externally differentiated by appearance, but they can be easily identified by Model Number and EMC Number, both of which are provided in tiny type toward the bottom of the underside of each device:
EveryMac.com's Ultimate Lookup feature -- as well as the EveryMac app -- also can uniquely identify these devices by their Serial Numbers, and this is another method that can be used to find the precise model.
Apple provides only minimal technical information regarding any Apple TV model. Specifically, Apple reveals that the Apple TV 2nd Gen is powered by an Apple A4 processor and the Apple TV 3rd Gen models are powered by an Apple A5 processor, both with a single processor core.
However, iFixit tore apart the 2nd Gen model and discovered that the Apple A4 processor has a 1 GHz clockspeed and that the device has 256 MB of onboard RAM and 8 GB of flash RAM to act as a buffer during streaming.
As first spotted by MacRumors, a curious member of the XBMC forums was the first to teardown the first 3rd Gen model (A1427) and determined that the Apple A5 processor also runs at 1 GHz and the device has a 8 GB flash RAM buffer, too, but it has 512 MB of onboard RAM. Interestingly, further analysis by Chipworks determined that this 32 nm Apple A5 (APL2498) processor actually has dual cores, but only one is activated or operational.
MacRumors likewise was first to disassemble the second 3rd Gen model (A1469), and reported that compared to the original 3rd Gen, it has a smaller 28 nm version of the Apple A5 processor (S5L8947), but otherwise has effectively identical hardware in terms of performance.
All of these Apple TV models run a modified version of the iOS, but are not capable of running standard iOS applications.
The Apple TV 2nd Gen first shipped with Apple TV 4.1 and cannot run versions of the operating system beyond Apple TV Software Update 6.2.1.
The Apple TV 3rd Gen first shipped with Apple TV 5.1 and both can run the latest version of the Apple TV Software Update, but only the second Apple TV 3rd Gen model (A1469) is capable of using AirPlay without connecting to a Wi-Fi network when running Apple TV Software Update 7.0 or higher.
It also is worth nothing that the Apple TV 2nd Gen is quite popular among the "jailbreak" community who want to run their own software hacks and tweaks whereas the Apple TV 3rd Gen has not attracted much interest in this respect. If you have used a quality jailbreak for the Apple TV 3rd Gen models, please share.
The major differences -- technical specs, video streaming, software, feature support, and identifiers -- are summarized below:
Apple TV 2nd Gen
Apple TV 3rd Gen
|Processor Type:||Apple A4||Apple A5|
|Processor Speed:||1 GHz (Variable)||1 GHz (Variable)|
|Standard RAM:||256 MB||512 MB|
|Flash Memory:||8 GB||8 GB|
|USB Ports:||1 (Micro-USB)||1 (Micro-USB)|
|5.1 Surround Sound:||Yes||Yes|
|Original OS:||Apple TV 4.1||Apple TV 5.1|
|Maximum OS:||Apple TV 6.2.1||Current (7.x)|
|Apple Order No:||MC572LL/A||MD199LL/A|
|Apple Model No:||A1378||A1427/A1469|
* The A1469 Apple TV 3rd Gen model supports AirPlay if it is running Apple TV Software Update 7.0 or higher.
So, which Apple TV is best for my needs?
Ultimately, for those who just want a simple "out of the box" experience to sling 1080p video around, the current Apple TV 3rd Gen is the best option. For those interested in saving a bit of money, an older Apple TV 3rd Gen (A1427) also is well worth consideration if you do not mind having to connect to a Wi-Fi network to use AirPlay and the possibility of a shorter support timeframe for software updates, as well.
Because of its popularity with the "jailbreak" community, the Apple TV 2nd Gen models tend to be more expensive on the used market than current ones, but likewise are the ideal option if you're the hacker type.