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What are the differences between the black 2nd Gen Apple TV and the original Apple TV?
Please note that both the original Apple TV and the black 2nd Gen Apple TV have been discontinued. You may also be interested in "What are all the differences between the black 3rd Gen Apple TV and the 2nd Gen Apple TV? Which one is best for me?" for more on the current Apple TV offering.
Both the original Apple TV and black second generation Apple TV are branded "Apple TV" and are designed to be connected to a television to support content. Other that that, however, there are few similarities in hardware, software, and functionality.
With even a quick glance, it is obvious that the black second generation Apple TV is externally quite different from the original Apple TV. The black second generation model uses a truly tiny 3.9 inch by 3.9 inch by 0.9 inch case in black that resembles a hockey puck and ships with an aluminum Apple Remote.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (2nd Generation Apple TV)
The original Apple TV, on the other hand, uses a relatively large 7.7 inch by 7.7 inch by 1.1 inch gray case and shipped with an white plastic Apple Remote. It is worth noting that although the newer aluminum remote is attractive, some vastly prefer the "play/pause" button in the middle design that the older white plastic remote provides. Both remotes will work with either device.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Original Apple TV)
Connectivity is different as well as external design. Both models have an optical audio out port, an HDMI port, a 10/100Base-T Ethernet port, and support 802.11a/b/g/n "AirPort Extreme" wireless networking. However, the original Apple TV also has a full-size USB 2.0 port, analog audio out ports, and component video out ports, whereas the second generation Apple TV does not. The second generation Apple TV does, however, have a Micro-USB port "for service and diagnostics" (and hacking, no doubt).
The second generation Apple TV also supports Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound via pass-through whereas the original model only outputs a Dolby Prologic stereo signal. Power consumption is considerably different as well, as the original Apple TV uses 48 watts and the second generation model only uses 6 watts.
Although visually identification is simple for these two models based on color and size, it is not for other Apple TV models. Consequently, additional help with differentiation can be useful.
To pinpoint a specific Apple TV by other identifiers, please refer to EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup feature.
Internally, the differences between models are perhaps even more substantial than the external differences.
The original Apple TV essentially is a low-end Intel PC (compared to other systems available upon its introduction). Apple officially only notes that it has an "Intel processor," but as first revealed by AnandTech, it is more specifically powered by a 1 GHz Ultra Low Voltage Pentium M based on the Dothan core with a 400 MHz frontside bus and 2 MB of level 2 cache. It has 256 MB of onboard RAM. For graphics, it uses an onboard NVIDIA GeForce Go 7300 graphics processor with 64 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM and for storage it has a 40 GB or a 160 GB hard drive.
The second generation Apple TV, by contrast, essentially is internally a fourth generation iPod touch without the display. Like its predecessor, Apple officially only notes the processor type -- an Apple A4 -- but iFixit tore apart the second generation model and discovered more details.
Just as it is for the iPod touch 4th Gen, the Apple A4 processor in the second generation Apple TV has a maximum clockspeed of 1 GHz and it commonly runs around 750 MHz to 800 MHz. The second generation Apple TV has integrated graphics and 256 MB of onboard RAM, and although it officially has no internal storage, it has 8 GB of flash RAM to act as a buffer during streaming. It is all but certain that this 8 GB of flash RAM will be used by creative hackers for storage as well.
The operating system used by each model is completely different. The original Apple TV uses software similar to the Mac OS X application Front Row, and it runs a scaled down version of "OS X," but it was not designed to run the full version of Mac OS X. It was hacked to do so, however.
The second generation Apple TV, by contrast, runs a variant of the iOS that powers the iPod touch and iPhone models, but it does not formally run the iOS nor can it run iOS applications either. Time will tell as to whether or not dedicated hackers will be able to use the internal storage and run the library of iOS applications, but odds are good that someone will figure out how to do so and they already are hard at work.
Although both support 720p video, even the basic functionality of each device is quite different. The original Apple TV requires one to sync it to a Mac or PC and makes it possible to wirelessly stream iTunes content -- "music, audiobooks, videos, TV shows, and movies" -- from as many as five Macs or PCs to an EDTV or HDTV (as well as a limited number of SDTV sets). It also can store as many as 50 or 200 hours of video -- on the 40 GB or 160 GB hard drive -- respectively, as well as music and photos. On January 15, 2008, Apple also added the ability to rent movies directly from the original Apple TV.
The second generation Apple TV, by contrast, is a much simpler device. It only works with HDTV sets with an HDMI port, does not have any advertised internal storage and cannot store any video, audio, or photo content. It does not require one to sync it to a Mac or PC.
By contrast, it just streams content from a Mac or PC, an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad (if running iOS 4.2 or later) and initially allowed one to rent (and later buy) movies, in addition to TV shows, from Apple. It has built-in support for Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe streaming as well. Neither generation Apple TV has an optical drive to play CDs or DVDs and neither can record television programs.
These differences are summarized below for your convenience:
Original Apple TV
2nd Gen/Black Apple TV
|Processor Type:||Pentium M||Apple A4|
|Processor Speed:||1 GHz||1 GHz*|
|Standard RAM:||256 MB||256 MB|
|Standard VRAM:||64 MB||Integrated|
|Video Type:||NVIDIA GeForce Go 7300||Integrated|
|Hard Drive:||40 GB, 160 GB||None|
|Flash Memory:||None||8 GB**|
|USB Ports:||1 (2.0)||1 (Micro-USB)|
|Display Ports:||HDMI, Component||HDMI|
|Audio Ports:||Optical, Analog||Optical|
|5.1 Surround Sound:||No||Yes|
|Dimensions (In):||7.7" x 7.7" x 1.1"||3.9" x 3.9" x 0.9"|
|Power Consumption:||48 Watts||6 Watts|
|Apple Order No:||MA711LL/A, MB189LL/A||MC572LL/A|
|Apple Model No:||A1218||A1378|
|Original Price:||US$299, US$399||US$99|
* This processor has a maximum clockspeed of 1 GHz and it commonly runs around 750 MHz to 800 MHz.
** The second generation Apple TV has 8 GB of flash RAM to act as a buffer during streaming. It is not designed for use as storage.
So, which one is best for me?
Ultimately, only you can decide if the second generation Apple TV is better than the original Apple TV for your needs. The market largely dismissed the original and the market will decide whether or not the second generation Apple TV will be more successful (although it seems to be off to a good start). At only US$99, the second generation Apple TV is much cheaper than its predecessor, but it is more limited as well.
If you need a way to stream content from a Mac or PC (or your iPod touch, iPhone or iPad), to your HDTV as well as stream Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe content, and/or are interested in renting content from Apple, the second generation Apple TV makes it simple. If you would rather store content that you own -- or you have an older television without an HDMI port -- perhaps the original Apple TV is worth reconsideration. For those interested in a vastly more powerful -- but likewise much more expensive -- option, it also is simple to connect an Aluminum Mac mini to an HDTV.
Also see: What are the differences between the black 2nd Gen Apple TV and the Aluminum Mac mini available at the time of its release?