The $149 Apple TV 4K has one feature worth paying extra for
For $20 more, only the higher-end Apple TV 4K has a feature that will make it a great smart home hub.
At first blush, the most exciting part of Apple’s upgrade to the $129 Apple TV 4K (third-generation) is probably that the pack-in Siri Remote has USB-C. Under-the-hood upgrades — faster chip and Dolby Vision support — are expected generational additions.
But there are new exclusive features on the more expensive $149 Apple TV 4K (Wi-Fi + Ethernet) that position the streaming box as not only a great device for watching video, but also the center of your smart home. Let me explain.
Thread radios and Matter support
Apple helped develop Matter — a new smart home interoperability standard — so touting support for it on a new piece of hardware was really a matter of when rather than how.
With Matter, the Apple TV 4K can act as a smart home hub for all of the smart home devices in your life, provided they support the protocol. Since Matter is all about providing a common “language” between different platforms — like Apple HomeKit and Google Home for example — devices should be able to connect and be controlled with the Apple TV 4K even if they were originally designed to work with something else.
The addition of Thread radios in the Apple TV 4K — low-power mesh networking tech Matter can use instead of Wi-Fi — means even more devices can be included in that list and they can all be controlled without having to connect to the internet (which makes them more vulnerable to hacking).
The future, for a price
Going forward, support for Matter will be the feature to look for in any device that connects to your network and claims to be able to control your smart home. If it doesn’t have Matter, it’s probably not worth buying. Apple isn’t the only company starting to roll out Matter support to its new devices, either. Earlier this month, Google did the same thing with its new Nest Wifi Pro router, and it plans to update some of its existing Nest smart speakers and smart displays with Matter as well.
What the Apple TV 4K upgrade illustrates is where the impact of simplifying the complicated job of building a smart home could fall short. At $149, Apple isn’t exactly charging an arm-and-a-leg for new smart home tech, but it is notably leaving the Thread radios, Matter support (and an Ethernet port) out of the cheaper $129 Apple TV 4K, a surprising omission when the second-generation Apple TV 4K did have Thread inside. If limiting Matter to high-end devices becomes the norm, it could make the “ambient computing” future tech companies love to wax about that much harder to achieve on a budget.
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