The iPad (3) took front row during the recent launch extravaganza, however Apple also refreshed their Apple TV with a new model sporting a single core A5 SoC and some other noteworthy tweaks. We've spent some time with the new model since its launch, and have found a few interesting new things lurking inside. In addition to decoding 1080p iTunes content as well as YouTube and Netflix streams, the new Apple TV also includes a second WiFi antenna with better gain, which translates to improved reception and network throughput.  

Quick, from the photo above, can you tell which Apple TV is the third generation device? Externally, the Apple TV 3rd generation is virtually indistinguishable from the Apple TV 2nd generation. The new device keeps the exact same dimensions and mass, in fact, during my testing the only way to tell the two apart was to compare the model number at the bottom. This is pretty unsurprising for an Apple product cycle, where you see successive generations inherit the same external design even as internals evolve or change dramatically. On the box, the new Apple TV 3 now includes both a 1080p marking and an Energy Star logo, something the previous model didn't.

Ports on the backside are unsurprisingly identical as well, as are the material choices. I've managed to leave quite a few scratches in the back of my Apple TV 2 over time, and the same glossy (if somewhat scratch-prone) plastic rings the device. No doubt that plastic choice was made originally both for RF propagation characteristics (low density, probably low carbon) and also so that IR works in the front. The real change again is that the Apple TV 3 now supports 1080p50 and 1080p60 over HDMI, where the previous Apple TV 2 only supported 720p50 and 720p60 at maximum over HDMI. Ethernet is still 10/100, there's still a microUSB port for restoring and flashing, and full size optical TOSLINK. 

At the risk of sounding redundant, the accessories and remote inside are the same as the Apple TV 2 as well, namely an aluminum IR remote and the same length power cable. I don't think Apple's neat little aluminum remote needed any changing, nor did the power cable, but it's worth noting. The obvious upside is that if you're upgrading, everything about the current setup (power cable, HDMI, and space required) has stayed the same. If you're as obsessive about having a neatly wired home theater cabinet or stand as I am, this is definitely an upside. 

Inside Apple TV 3 - Single Core A5, Same Power Draw
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  • Fanfoot - Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - link

    One of the things I wish Apple would do with this device is to enable support of HDMI CEC. From the few posts I've seen on the subject it looks like Apple has once again failed to incorporate this into the new Apple TV 3.

    Why does this matter? Because with HDMI CEC if I want to AirPlay something from my iPhone I would just click through to use AirPlay on my iPhone and bang my TV would automatically switch to the Apple TV input without my having to do anything. As it is I have to a) hit the input button on my TiVo remote a bunch of times, then b) because my Samsung monitor is stupid and won't time out and get rid of the input list EVER I have to find my Samsung TV remote and press "OK" THEN initiate AirPlay from my iPhone. Which is STUPID.

    Lots and lots of TVs and receivers and so forth support HDMI CEC now. I don't understand why Apple doesn't support it, even as a user-enabled option...
  • Eug - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Maybe I'm misreading the article, but it sounds like it's suggesting the Apple TV 2 is still limited to 720p playback. This is not actually the case. The new Apple TV 2 OS update that landed when Apple TV 3 was released has allowed playback of 1080p on the Apple TV 2 as well, including iTunes 1080p.

    Sure, the output is still limited to 720p but the key here is that the OS update has allowed much better 1080p support for the Apple TV 2.

    Previously most 1080p I encoded myself would stutter on Apple TV 2. So, I just encoded them at 720p. However, since the OS update, I've tried a couple of non-iTunes 1080p files, and they work perfectly fine now, without stuttering. Going forward, all my encodes for Apple TV 2 will be 1080p.

    It would be nice to see in a future article limitations of 1080p support with Apple TV 2 as compared to Apple TV 3, in terms of things like stuttering, etc. vs. bitrates. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple TV 2 fully capable of smooth 25 Mbps high profile level 4.0 content just like its younger brother, Apple TV 3.
  • MadMacMan - Saturday, March 31, 2012 - link

    Great review, as always! :) Am I too late to the party or are there any Roku 2 (XS or XD) users who can chime in about the performance of WDTV vs. the aforementioned 1080p-capable Roku 2 players vs. the Apple TV 2 or 3? What are the main differences?

    Anand, since you mentioned it, I've been running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and the additional AirPlay mirroring features that you alluded to are indeed extremely useful! Consider this: Running 1080p content in VLC on my MBP and then clicking on AirPlay will mirror the entire desktop quickly and quite beautifully, VLC playing 1080p or 720p or whatever very much included! So far, there are only HiDPI profiles for 1280x720, though, which will hopefully change to include 1920x1080 by the time OS X 10.8 is released to the public.
  • Dug - Monday, April 2, 2012 - link

    I have an iPad2 and Apple TV 2.
    I think the combo is is one of the best as far as entertainment and music playing goes.

    Playing rdio, pandora, movies, music, garage band, icloud, etc is a whole different experience when you have an iPad as a controller because you have essentially a different interface to quickly select things.

    I would like to see an update with the new iPad and Apple TV 3 when you get a chance.
    I'm curious how developers with higher resolution apps work with the Apple TV now. I would also like to see how it handles mirroring.
  • kaki4125 - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    If you are HD 1080P videos crazy fans and are looking for the ways to playing 1080P videos on your Apple TV you can use iFunia Apple TV Video Converter to convert all your HD Videos for Apple TV
  • makuvad - Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - link

    Or then again you might, you be able to know, purchase an old macintosh smaller than normal second hand, equip it with an EyeTV stick or two, and have a truly kick-ass HTPC. There's more than one decision for the TV set in the Apple universe. Nobody's constraining you to purchase an AppleTV if it's wrong for you - that would be as stupid as purchasing an iPod Touch at that point whining that it sucks as a telephone since all it offers is Skype and Vibr, not genuine telephone usefulness.
  • BWMerlin - Saturday, September 7, 2019 - link

    I know this comment is many years after this article was posted but I found the detailed information about the antenna set up, spatial stream, channel width etc extremely useful.

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