First shown in late 2006 and actually released in early 2007, the Apple TV went through a more substantial transformation than any other Apple product in the past decade. The original model was a stripped-down Macintosh computer with a 40GB hard drive, serving as a screenless iPod for playing videos, music, and photos on an HDTV. Apple unveiled a completely redesigned plastic model in 2010, dropping the hard drive in favor of 8GB of flash storage, and the current third-generation Apple TV ($99 from the Apple Store) is heavily based on that version.
One-fourth the size of the original model and made entirely from jet black plastic, the current Apple TV serves three purposes: it streams media directly from the Internet, from computers running iTunes, and from iOS devices. It comes with a silver aluminum remote control and power cable; you supply the HDMI cable to connect it to your TV. Unlike the second-generation model it cosmetically resembles, the current Apple TV supports 1080p HD output, and runs the latest, iOS 8-like version of the Apple TV system software.
On its own, the Apple TV lets you watch video from Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, and major sports networks ranging from ESPN to the MLB, NBA, NFL, and MLS. Using AirPlay with your iOS device or Mac, you can stream videos, photos, and music directly from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac to your HDTV, as well as mirroring their screens. Under some circumstances, Macs can use a TV equipped with an Apple TV as a second display.
The third-generation Apple TV received a stealth upgrade in late January, 2013 to a “Rev A” model with small internal component changes. Persistent rumors have suggested that Apple would replace the Apple TV with a thoroughly redesigned fourth-generation model all throughout 2013 and 2014, but as of 2015, the device remains unchanged.
We love the current Apple TV and think it’s a great value for the $99 asking price, but it has seemingly remained on Apple’s back burner for a very long time. Since it’s cheap, you can buy one now and thoroughly enjoy what it’s capable of doing, but don’t be surprised if Apple releases a new version later in 2015.Read our full coverage for details.